An interest in the brain, the sea and superheroes

Diane Maxwell

Executive Director of Policy & Risk, Jersey Financial Services Commission

Could you tell us about your formative years, where you grew up and your childhood?

I was born in New Zealand but moved to England aged ten. We arrived in London on a very cold January day and it was something of a shock!  I had spent my childhood with a lot of freedom, building tree huts and clambering barefoot over rocks at the beach so it was very different. That connection to the land and sea and weather is still important to me. London quickly became home though and is still very much my home turf.

You attended the University of Kent, achieving a BA Hons in Philosophy and Film Studies (Psychoanalysis, Philosophy of Mind, Propaganda). Did you have a clear vision of where you wanted this qualification to take you in your future career path?

Absolutely not. I didn’t have a plan at the time, but I was interested in the brain, what we would now call behavioural economics, and how governments influence populations. It all equipped me wonderfully for later roles, in part because it taught me critical thinking which I think is a much-underrated skill that supports evidence-based innovation.  I also learnt the value of disagreeing constructively and celebrating differences of opinion, which appears to be a dying art.

You started your working life in the Communications and Advertising industry in London and then moved to Auckland, New Zealand to work for Saatchi & Saatchi as a Media Director. What lead you on this journey?

I joined a top London Ad agency in a graduate role which was a structured two-year programme building negotiating, strategic planning and presentation skills etc. It was a very tough, commercial, and formative start to my career working across multiple sectors. I learnt a lot.

Seven years in, I’d had too many burglaries, bomb scares and too much time on crowded tubes so I took a three-month sabbatical to travel and remind myself there was a world beyond London and work.  The agreement was that my job and equity would be waiting for me providing I was sitting back at my desk in three months’ time, but on that appointed day I was climbing Franz Joseph glacier in NZ, wind in my hair and sun on my face. I had let my London boss know I wasn’t coming back which was a financially ludicrous decision but probably a very healthy one.

The ageing population has a profound effect on many societies and economies, but it is fiercely political, not sexy, and not something anyone really wants to think about. It is a problem for tomorrow that needs attention today.

The emergence of the internet in the late 90’s inspired you to build a global consultancy business that advised organisations on how the internet would impact their business model and their customers. Could you tell us about the research you undertook to eventually understand and anticipate broader demographic and social trends facing businesses?

Back then we were called futurists and I suppose the demand was driven by the accelerating pace of change. Businesses needed to evolve at the right pace: move too fast and you alienate your client base, you are out in front with no market, move too slow and you lose relevance and market share. I spent time advising on where that sweet spot was.

Meanwhile, intergenerational blurring and other social changes meant demographics needed to be replaced by psychographics, the influence of age and gender was changing. I was increasingly aware that people often make irrational decisions, are driven by FOMO or fear of ageing, or a range of other fears, and have multiple personalities that come out in different situations. At the time, often traditional research and analytics couldn’t unpack that complex mix of drivers so I worked on delivering bespoke methodologies and insights that matched the challenge.

In your next role, Head of Corporate Affairs at the Bank of New Zealand, you worked on legislative reform, reviews of consumer credit and changes to the Financial Advisers regime. What inspired you to make this change in direction?

Partly because I had my daughter and just didn’t want to do the relentless travel anymore, but also, I had worked out that if you are going to make a change you need to do it from the inside. Over time my client base had become government and financial services, so I joined the Bank of New Zealand leading government and public affairs, sustainability, and complaints. Leading a complaints team for a business with over a million customers was an eye-opener, and gave me a far better understanding of people and money, and business clients going through economic cycles. I loved it. Alongside that, we underwent a wholesale once in a generation change in financial services legislation which was a great learning curve.

Your journey continued as Head of Stakeholder Management at the Financial Markets Authority then you were appointed CEO of the Commission for Financial Capability and Retirement Commissioner for two consecutive 3-year terms. Could you tell us about this time and what it was that made you return to London in 2019 where you founded the ESG consultancy, Lithium Group?

The role of Retirement Commissioner pulled together all my previous skills and experience in policy, communications, and behavioural economics and applied them to a thorny, complex problem: the ageing population. It will have a profound effect on many societies and economies, but it is fiercely political, not sexy, and not something anyone really wants to think about. It is a problem for tomorrow that needs attention today.

I spent six years on OECD Committees collaborating with forty other countries that are experiencing different rates of ageing and different policy responses. I used to describe it as the best job in the world with the worst title. (It is also one of the very few jobs where people regularly accuse you of being too young.)

Nearing the end of my second term I was wrestling with where home was, and that problem of having a foot in two countries. The family drove the decision in the end, and we came back to London, just in time to hit lockdown. I’m still passionate about the theme of financial resilience and I became a foundational Trustee of the Financial Times financial literacy campaign which we launched in 2021. I experienced the joy of being a consultant again, working across sectors and clients on emerging issues including ESG.

Unwinding is all about time with family, cooking, eating and walking, and I love reading. If there’s any time left after that, and there usually isn’t, I paint very large canvases of superheroes.

You were appointed as Executive Director Policy & Risk at the JFSC in November 2020. Could you tell us why you were attracted to this role and the desire to move to Jersey?

One of my consultancy clients was the JFSC. It took about 3 months to get the Jersey bug and work out I could do a challenging regulatory job I enjoyed with a great team of people, have the fresh air and the closeness to the ocean, but still be near London. A no-brainer really! Jersey is both local and global in quite a unique way. Extended family Christmas is only a one-hour flight away, Europe is on the doorstep, and my son gets to climb trees and clamber over rocks and run in and out of the surf for hours (as I did as a child).

What does Diane Maxwell do to unwind after a hard day’s work and what advice would you give to your younger self?

Unwinding is all about the above (clearly with a strong sea theme). Time with family, cooking, eating and walking, and I love reading. If there’s any time left after that, and there usually isn’t, I paint very large canvases of superheroes.

My message to my younger self would be to stop buying useless stuff, it never satiates you in the way you think it will. I think the technical term is Affluenza. And spend your time wisely, it is a precious and finite resource.

What 4 words best describe you?

Curious, measured, driven and hopeful.