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Mr Smith, who leaves ANZ today, addressed shareholders at the group’s annual general meeting in Adelaide on 17 December, where he noted that over the years he felt there were times when the bank “had to swim against the current”.
In 2007, when the British-born banker joined ANZ, he admits that Australia didn’t see itself as part of Asia.
“Today, we all understand our economic future is directly tied to Asia,” he said.
“Australia’s top three trading partners are in Asia and the region is our largest source of foreign investment, which underpins growth in the resources sector, in agriculture, in education, in construction and in tourism.”
Last month, ANZ released a survey of Australian business experience in Asia. More than half of businesses in the survey said they are now active in Asia; and three quarters of them said their Asian operations are helping them to substantially increase their profits.
“Asia is only going to grow in importance,” Mr Smith said. “At ANZ, we have turned our presence in Asia - which in 2007 was small and based on limited capabilities - into a real business, contributing over 20 per cent of our bank’s revenue.
“Today, we have a physical on-the-ground presence in 32 key markets around the world and we connect our Australian and New Zealand customers with opportunities in what is the fastest-growing region in the world."
Mr Smith said he was particularly pleased that ANZ is now ranked as one of the top four corporate banks in Asia.
“We have achieved that by being prepared to make significant investments in our home markets and in Asia,” he said.
“We have established a presence in four new countries including India, Myanmar and Thailand. Our offices and branches have been upgraded in almost every city and town in the 34 countries where we have a presence, including here in Adelaide; and in 53 new international locations - 11 of which are in China alone.”
Importantly, Mr Smith said, ANZ has deepened its capability, particularly in Asia, which has allowed the group to do more business, for more customers.
“Having made those investments, we are now seeking stronger returns from realising the connectivity of our presence in the region,” he said.
“I know I am leaving ANZ in good hands and I know the best for ANZ is yet to come.”
Shayne Elliot will succeed Mr Smith to become ANZ’s new chief executive officer. He joins the board tomorrow.
[Related: ANZ names acting CFO]