New Zealand Money Month Q&A: David Cunningham, CEO of Squirrel

David's an ex-banker with more than thirty years of executive experience across some of Aotearoa's leading financial institutions, including as CEO of one of our major retail banks. Now at the helm of leading mortgage company Squirrel, David's on a mission to challenge the banking status quo in New Zealand and create better financial outcomes for Kiwi homeowners and savers.

Icebreaker! Buy Now Pay Later — yay or nay?

If you’re a business, yay! It’s a brilliant tool for driving sales — even for service businesses. My local hairdresser told me it’s materially lifted sales for them, particularly amongst 18-35 year-olds, because it’s enabled clients to afford a more expensive style.  

But for consumers, it’s a definite nay. You’re spending what you don’t have (essentially it’s a credit card with a payment plan). I see a world of pain amongst many young people who let it get out of control — and Buy Now Pay Later accounts won’t do you any favors when it comes to applying for a mortgage

What’s your approach to managing money?

I love buckets

When the paycheck comes in, I set amounts aside for charity, holidays, the kids’ education, the kids’ KiwiSaver accounts (to help them with their first home), and bills. 

Then I have a “bike” account for my cycling holidays, an account for play money… and the rest is for my wife 😀

Of course, my own KiwiSaver contribution, of 8%, is deducted before I even get my pay.

Do you do anything special to keep engaged with your money?

Knowing what you’ve got helps. In the ‘olden days’ (as my kids would say) that was cash. Today, it’s all done through your banking app. Being able to see what you’ve got in real time is absolute gold! 

How important are financial goals and do you have any you’re working towards?

I’d love to pay off the mortgage and have been working on that for 33 years now. Apart from that, owning shares in Squirrel is my bet on the future!

Where do you get your financial knowledge from?

My dad. He taught me all about investing in the share market when I was about 12.  

At the time, I was earning $2.14 a week delivering the Evening Post. I saved hard, and when I had $100, bought some shares — in Brierley Investments to be precise (well before that name had the negative connotations it does now). 

It was my dad’s teachings that started my life-long interest in finance.

What do you love spending money on?

Cycling stuff. 

There’s a saying in the cycling world that the right number of bikes to have is x + 1 and y - 1. Where x = the number of bikes you have now and y = divorce 😎

What has been the best investment you’ve ever made?

My five kids — they enrich my wife’s life and mine, and keep us both grounded.

And Squirrel shares, of course. 

Have you ever experienced financial difficulties?

Divorce would count I think. Not good for the finances.

What advice would you give someone just starting out with their finances?

Put 10% in KiwiSaver. Use buckets. Have a play money account.

What’s the silliest thing you would put on a new design for the $100 note?


This interview is part of New Zealand Money Month 2023. NZMM is coordinated by trusted personal finance resource Sorted, in partnership with the financial capability community, and it involves events all around the country to encourage New Zealanders to talk about money and develop greater financial capability. To further the conversation about money we got in touch with some of our pals in the personal finance space to get their perspectives on their own finances.

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