What’s inside the most valuable room in Wellington?
Glen Jenkins tosses $106,000 worth of gold from hand-to-hand, as casually as you’d throw a cricket ball while messing around in Rebel Sport. He hands me the bar, about the size of a Kit-Kat. It’s heavier than I expected.
There’s something disconcerting about holding a chunk of metal worth enough money to buy 106,000 bags of dollar mixtures. I feel paranoid, I don’t quite trust myself not to break it or lose it, as if that were even possible.
We’re underneath Willis St in central Wellington. To get here, we had to take a basement elevator, pass an ID check, and be escorted through two thick metal doors. This is New Zealand Vault, a former BNZ bank vault, now a private and highly secure storage area for some of New Zealand’s wealthiest individuals.
I’m here with Jenkins and his business partner Cam MacLachlan, the co-founders of Goldie, a newly-launched startup offering retail investors the chance to buy fractional shares in precious metals. Think Sharesies for gold.
Right now, the single gold bar in my hand is the entirety of Goldie’s company. Customers can invest as little as $10 and buy a share of this specific bar, Istanbul Gold Refinery 036683.
Goldie eventually plans to build up its gold reserves and investments in other physical assets, starting with precious metals and moving to collectibles such as art, sports memorabilia and trading cards.
While we visit the vault, the Goldie boys are on business to purchase a second bar of gold to use as a display, to take around the country and show it off. “We wouldn’t use one that people are investing in,” Jenkins says.
New Zealand Vault contains two highly secure vaults. One vault is filled with small deposit boxes for personal items like jewellery, heirlooms and crypto private keys. The other is the bullion vault, filled with millions of dollars of gold, silver, and platinum bars.
Most people don’t ever get to see the inside of the bullion vault, not even clients. John Mulvey, New Zealand Vault’s managing director, initially didn’t want to let me in either, but after incessantly badgering him with questions like an annoying toddler, he relents. “Alright, let’s take a walk,” he says, with a sigh.
The vault is about the size of a squash court from end-to-end. It is protected by 60cm thick walls of concrete and rebar on all sides. “We’ve had the organised crime unit through and they don’t think anyone in New Zealand is capable of getting in here,” Mulvey says.
Mulvey is exactly the kind of steel-faced, serious guy you’d expect to see running an underground gold vault for discreet rich people. The Goldie guys crack some jokes about whether George Clooney could break in. Mulvey isn’t impressed. “It’s George Clooney-proof,” he says, adding, “Ocean’s 11 does bother me a little.”
Mulvey won’t say how much wealth is stored in the vault, but Jenkins is happy to speculate. “Most people walking down the street don’t realise they’re walking on hundreds of millions, maybe billions of dollars.”
In the centre of the room is a collection of pallets and crates stacked with silver bars. I count one with 10 bars of silver, each weighing 32kg; $418,000 based on current market price, and that’s just one of 30 or so similarly-sized crates.
While silver is laid out on the floor (because it is a pathetic, pleb metal), the precious stuff gets an extra layer of protection. Coffin-sized safes line the walls inside the vault, holding gold and platinum.
Mulvey essentially acts as a middleman for high net worth individuals and funds. If someone decides to buy some gold as an investment asset, Mulvey arranges the purchase and places the gold inside a numbered safe assigned to that person, so the client never needs to worry about personally handling and securing their gold.
Goldie operates the same business model but on a much smaller scale. They purchase gold through Mulvey and allow regular people to buy through them.
“We can sell a decigram for $10, so it means someone like me could invest in it, whereas John’s customers predominantly are higher net worth individuals and institutions buying in bulk,” Jenkins says.
The Goldie safe is number 13, and represents a lot more New Zealanders than the other safes, crates and pallets, says MacLachlan. “The rest of the room is for the one percent, we like to say this safe is New Zealand’s gold.”