ANZ Bank faces regional talent squeeze as top executives depart

Australian bank loses two regional chiefs this year as it continues its push into Asia-Pacific

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 4:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 6:29pm

ANZ Bank has lost two local chief executives in the space of two months as competition for talent heats up and the Australian-based bank pushes aggressively into the region.

Susan Yuen resigned in June as ANZ's Hong Kong chief executive, spokeswoman Libby Armstrong confirmed. That was followed by the resignation of China chief Charles Li earlier this month.

Li held the top China role for about three and a half years while Yuen took up the Hong Kong position in 2009.

Ivy Au Yeung, managing director of commercial banking for the Asia-Pacific region, is acting chief executive in Hong Kong while the bank finds a permanent replacement, Armstrong said. A search is underway to fill Li's role on the mainland but he will stay in the position until the end of August.

"There is absolutely no change in our strategy," Armstrong said. "These were natural decisions made by the individuals."

Li plans to return to Britain and Yuen to Malaysia, she added.

The resignations come at a time when competition for talent among foreign banks in the region has become increasingly fierce.

The resignations were "obviously surprising", Michael Wiblin, a banking analyst at Macquarie Securities in Sydney, told the South China Morning Post. "Certainly I'd be concerned if this has a further domino-like effect further down the organisation."

ANZ head of international and institutional banking Andrew Geczy, a former Citi banker, told analysts in Hong Kong last week that the bank would target talent at Citibank, Standard Chartered and HSBC.

"Certainly the line that was being taken by Geczy was that bankers were desperate to leave competitors because they were under-capitalised, under pressure from domestic regulators and that they 'preferred' the ANZ Asia strategy," Wiblin said. But ANZ is cutting costs and does not have the money to spend big on new talent across the board, he said.

"Maybe a few headline hires but that's all."

ANZ in May poached Citi banker Farhan Faruqui, formerly head of global banking in Asia-Pacific for the US bank. He will join ANZ in Hong Kong in August to take up the newly created position of chief executive of international banking, with a focus on major corporate clients and related business outside Australia.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report issued early this year listed a talent shortage as one of several key challenges facing foreign banks on the mainland.

"Nearly all foreign banks struggle to find and retain sufficient talent to support and continue growth of their mainland operations," the report said.

Analysts confirmed the shortage, noting that certain areas of the industry had been hit particularly hard.

"Definitely on the investment banking advisory side and the private banking side [there is a shortage]. There will also be a scarcity of transaction banking talent that every bank will bid for," said Chirantan Barua, a London-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, who covers ANZ's competitors in Asia, such as Standard Chartered and HSBC.

ANZ began aggressive expansion outside Australia, in particular into China, after former HSBC veteran Michael Smith was named top boss at the bank in 2007.

Since 2008, the bank has incorporated on the mainland and opened outlets and branches in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing, all part of what it calls a "super regional" strategy. ANZ also bought 20 per cent of Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank in 2009. Staff on the mainland have grown from around 100 to 700 between 2008 and 2012, according to the bank.