NAB gears up to grab bigger share of Chinese business

The Australian bank has helped Bright Food get a foothold in Australia and an New Zealand company find a mainland distributor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 1:56am

National Australia Bank, one of Australia's biggest banks, is keen to transform itself into a "go-to bank" for mainland Chinese companies aiming to expand in Australia and New Zealand as competition heats up for Chinese-related banking business Down Under.

Spiro Pappas, NAB's newly appointed Asia chief executive, said the bank had aggressively strengthened its infrastructure and network in Asia in the past few years, and was ready to make bigger moves.

"There has been a lot of very deliberate planning around what I call the hardware [like] technology, core banking platforms, but also the software, so that's about how do we bring the businesses in Asia back to the mothership in Australia," Pappas said.

Such efforts to expand in Asia have been rewarded.

In August, NAB helped China's state-owned Bright Food Group buy Australian business Manassen Foods.

Last month, it helped A2 Corp, a New Zealand dairy company whose products are also sold in Australia, seal a distribution deal with China State Farm, a subsidiary of state-owned China National Agriculture Development Group.

"If we support our customers and their growth ambitions, we will get rewarded. We build trust. We build credibility," said Pappas, adding that NAB was helping Bright Food to look for more opportunities in Australia.

Other Australian banks are also eyeing business related to China.

ANZ Bank has become more focused on businesses outside Australia since it grabbed Michael Smith from HSBC in 2007.

Smith, the chief executive of ANZ, was one of the most senior executives in HSBC in Asia and has been aggressive in expanding ANZ into Asia.

Pappas is aware of increasing industry competition for Chinese business, but said NAB was determined to be ahead of its rivals.

The bank was advising on about A$30 billion (HK$241 billion) of infrastructure and natural resource projects, said Pappas, adding this was significantly more than any of its competitors in Australia.

Pappas, who joined NAB as the head of institutional banking in 2009 after 11 years with ABN Amro Bank, has been driving NAB's "dual hub'' strategy in Hong Kong and Singapore, where he is based.

He travels to Hong Kong at least every other week to meet his team as well as clients.

Recently, Pappas moved David Thorn, NAB's global head of consumer business, to Hong Kong. Thorn, dubbed "a black-belt" expert in Australia's food industry, has been given the mandate to better cater to Chinese clients' needs.

He is focusing on the fast-growing consumer-driven sector, given Beijing wants to boost domestic consumption as part of efforts to reduce reliance on exports for economic growth.

In Hong Kong, NAB has about 300 staff and focuses on business banking, personal banking and wealth management.

"A lot of the revenue that is Asia-connected could be booked in Australia eventually," said Pappas, who reports to financial director, Mark Joiner, in Melbourne.