Interview with Carolyn Tremain | CEO and Comptroller of Customs, New Zealand Customs Service

"We've had Smartgates in New Zealand since 2009. We're introducing the next generation gates and have installed nine at Auckland Departures. That's leading technology. We'll be increasing the amount of technology but, frankly, I'd be surprised if in five years if there's actually a gate there."

Around the globe citizens are more demanding of governments in terms of the quality of the interaction that they have with government, but equally on the trade side. New Zealand has been very active in negotiating free-trade agreements, so New Zealand traders have an expectation that we are as good as the biggest economies in the world and perhaps more nimble than most. Those expectations place pressure on us in terms of service standards, in terms of access to markets and assistance with New Zealand trade crossing borders of other countries.

Technology is hugely important to an organisation like ours. We have four major functions: facilitating trade and travellers, security and protection and revenue. Technology is affecting every one of those functions. Risk assessment at the border in an increasingly riskier world and having really good data analytics and technology is critical. We've had Smartgates in New Zealand since 2009. We're introducing the next generation gates and have installed nine at Auckland Departures. That's leading technology. We'll be increasing the amount of technology but, frankly, I'd be surprised if in five years if there's actually a gate there. Our gates already use the latest facial recognition algorithm technology, but whether that's Iris in the future or smartphone enabled – I don't think we know at this point. That technology is moving so quickly.

We use a harm model to measure the effectiveness of some of our work. The problem is putting a dollar value on something. If we intercept child exploitive material then what is the societal harm that's been avoided by us doing that? We use that as one of our key indicators as well. We've developed the model in conjunction with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research. The harm model is well developed with respect to drugs and harm avoided, but it's been broadened over the last 12 months to all other activities that we do. We use it more as a measure of what harm has been avoided by having an effective Customs Service and we use it as a proxy for how effective we are at the border. But it still doesn't measure what I was talking about earlier – what you don't know about, the black market or the hidden economy.

There's certainly truth in the fact that if you have a television programme (Border Patrol) that pushes your brand further into the community, people understand what the work is. It's a mixed blessing. On the one hand it does give you a really attractive employment brand; on the other hand it makes the job look a little bit more exciting than it actually is. There are longer periods of very compliant passengers coming through an airport than you would see on a television programme where they are routinely finding things every half an hour. On balance I think it's really good because I think it does help with compliance. The compliance message that goes out to the community is quite strong and I think that helps in the carrying out of our work.

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