At Transformative, we look for projects that will make a difference to the greater good. Our company’s name is not merely aspirational but something we strive to achieve for the companies and organisations with whom we have the privilege to work. We aim for the literal dictionary description of our name...
We recently welcomed just such an opportunity, in the form of a company-defining project to make a difference for a whole country.
On Saturday evening, 22nd March, Transformative’s co-founder Tim Clark received a call from the Head of Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund (CINSF) and a senior finance officer in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) in the Cook Islands government. They were in an unenviable position - working out how to distribute a much-needed multi-million dollar wage subsidy support package to the many businesses distributed over the small island nation, and drastically impacted by the COVID-19 virus and subsequent economic lockdown.
As it is here in New Zealand, a major issue with wage support packages is how to correctly distribute the funds, the rules for eligibility, and how to limit fraud including ensuring the system and process is auditable. Government employees had been tasked with establishing a system to accomplish all of that by the first of April. That gave us ten days. Ten days to design, build and execute the technology platform underlying their programme. The clock was already ticking.
Fair play - we weren't starting from zero. For the past two years, we'd been helping CINSF build and administer a new technology platform to collect Superannuation Fund contributions. This system has been built to enable all employed citizens of the Cook Islands to save for their futures. CINSF is the largest most up to date database of Employers and employees in the country. Their success in establishing and maintaining that superannuation platform made CINSF the logical agency of choice for the Cook Islands’ government to solve their Wage Subsidy distribution conundrum.
For a small nation, the Cook Islands are extremely forward-thinking in their approach to the CINSF. Gaining efficiencies and taking the pain out of complex processes is a goal for their whole team. They’ve told us they discovered our company, and our people, through word of mouth, and references to our ability to solve complex problems - so it wasn't a huge change in thinking to turn the Te Roro (the brain) system (CINSF's software application) from a means of collection to a means of distribution. The biggest issue was time.
We gathered a team of staff, brainstormed (both on our own and virtually with CINSF leaders) an approach, and set to work. Distributing public funds to businesses so they can keep their employees safe and secure had never been done before. The issues we all addressed were unique and needed to be consistently applied in the new system, new governmental processes, and in the official communications from the government to its people. In his address to the nation on 31 March, the Deputy PM Announced the plan, and the supporting system - mentioning both the key criteria for success, and emphasising the magnitude of this first-of-a-kind effort.
Critical to the Cook Islands’ government taking a decision to develop this pioneering platform was their need for data and information not readily available from the current systems and processes. The government needed ease of access to information to enable good decision-making. Our mission was clear - the platform was designed and built to fulfil not only the need for that decision-making information but also to address the needs of employers unfamiliar with a situation of this nature.
With a team of six from Transformative, plus a similar number from the Cook Islands government, we accomplished our shared objective in ten days. On the target date, 1st April, we launched the wage subsidy applications system, and CINSF immediately processed hundreds of applications from businesses starting on Day 1. We couldn't have been more pleased when the Deputy PM and Minister of Finance, in his address to the nation on 2nd April, announced the successful launch of the online platform and statistics around its use.
On 7th April the Cook Islands government released “Payments Processor” which is the first stage to paying the Employers their much-needed grant allocations. By May, the government had released millions of dollars to employers, enabling them to pay and retain staff in a time of crisis. Further, the platform serves as a single source of truth for statistics vitally important to various government employees and Ministers, especially in publicly-released statements.
We have built a new system from scratch which is user-friendly, and have managed to get the funding out to businesses in need.Garth Henderson - Financial Secretary
What began as a way to manage and track the distribution of wage subsidy funds has now become an important part of the Cook Islands government’s overall information and technology landscape. Transformative is now working with the government to enable new features for the platform, such as a self-isolation subsidy, enhanced reporting, dashboards, and audit capabilities. Work is also planned for the system to expand to training subsidies, and to manage the support and administration of other important government initiatives.
A senior official in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management said, “In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, as the extent of the economic impact was beginning to be understood, we knew we had to act to protect the interests of our people and the businesses which rely so heavily on the tourism industry. When we developed our overall Economic Response Plan, we knew that a Wage Subsidy must be a key component of the plan. Because they had developed a digital platform to collect and manage employee contributions, we looked to our sister Ministry, CINSF, for detailed information on employers, employees, and wages. They didn’t just give us information, they gave us help. We worked together with CINSF and Transformative to augment the existing digital platform and develop an easily accessed, secure wage subsidy system - one which we are quite proud to say has delivered millions of dollars, safely, to thousands of Cook Islands residents.”
A spokesperson for CINSF says, “As a component of the government’s plan to provide financial stability for its residents, Cook Islands’ National Superannuation Fund worked with Transformative to develop a comprehensive digital platform to enable the enrolment and administration of the Fund’s objectives. A first of its kind solution, the platform is the most comprehensive and detailed view of employment, employees, wages and earnings in the Islands’ history. We couldn’t be happier to have provided assistance and capacity to MFEM to support our people during this critical period.”
We could not be more pleased with the outcome. We are proud to be a part of a much larger effort. Working alongside a terrific group of client personnel, sharing the mission and objectives of making life better for real people, and finding creative solutions to complex problems has been a fantastic experience for all of us. It has reminded us to be thankful for our opportunities and our ability to work remotely. Most of all, it has reminded us that our work is most meaningful when it’s in service to others.Tim Clark - Transformative co-founder