Faruqui: It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to visit the Bank of Lao PDR and met with senior representatives from the Central Bank. The dialogue was very constructive and focused on how ANZ could enhance banking products and solutions in Laos and bring in more foreign direct investment to the country.
We appreciate the Central Bank fully supports the operations of ANZ in Laos as they believe our focus and commitment to international trade, foreign exchange and wholesale banking are of immense value to the nation.
The Australian Ambassador to Lao PDR is particularly impressed by the bank’s culture which embraces diversity and values women in leadership. These examples serve as a gold standard to any Australian company operating in Laos.
Noel Cheung: ANZ has had a presence in Laos for over a decade now. What role do you see Laos playing in your business strategy?
FF: ANZ is proud to be a part of Laos’ growth story over the years. With our network in 15 Asian markets across 34 countries in Asia, Europe and America, the bank offers a wide range of cross-border services for institutional clients, including trade financing, foreign exchange and payments.
Our DNA has always been intermediating trade and capital flows in the region for large institutional customers. This is considered to be our forte, as we continue to grow our franchise and become a powerful partner of both multinational companies investing in Laos and major Laotian businesses looking to expand abroad.
Our businesses in Laos have undergone some transformations over the years, including the recent transition from a subsidiary to branch, to align with our broader strategy to solely focus on our institutional customers.
Our strategy may be evolving but we have absolute commitment to Laos. We take tremendous pride in our 12-year journey in the country.
In 2007 ANZ was the first international bank to establish a presence here. Since then we have assisted customers entering Laos, helped the country reap economic benefits and aided domestic businesses in their bid to go global. The most-important mission for us is to respond well to the changing needs of customers.
NC: As banking products have become increasingly commoditised, how do you differentiate yourself from competitors across the Asia-Pacific?
FF: There are four points of distinction with our customers that spring to mind. Our biggest differentiator is the connectivity ANZ offers to customers – be it across our international network or our home markets in Australia and New Zealand.
We act as a bridge between networks, facilitating dialogue between parties. We have particularly seen the benefits in increased wallet share compared to our Australian bank competitors.
We bring proactive ideas to the table by providing business solutions to our customers and moving away from generic product-pushes.
End-to-end experience is what customers are looking for these days – providing seamless process for customers and making it easy for them to deal with.
Lastly, building a trusted partnership with our customers is vital to success by adding value in both financial and strategic decisions.
In Laos, ANZ has initiated relationships with foreign multinationals based in the Mekong and helped them expand across ANZ’s network. This illustrates our ability to support the local needs of businesses and create a strong foothold to support them in their home market and expand to offshore locations.
We have a strong track record of deepening existing customer relationships with foreign multinationals in this region, particularly when supporting their regional cash and liquidity management needs.
We have made investments in our local core banking platform, aiming to provide a seamless experience for our customers. This illustrates our commitment to Laos.
Finally, banking is not just about finance. We take pride in differentiating ourselves as a bank that leads with purpose – to be committed to green and social sustainability, as well as nurturing local talents.
NC: With these points of differentiation in mind, how do you view digital disruption impacting the broader banking industry? How is ANZ responding to this?
FF: At ANZ, our overall digital goal is to provide a quick, seamless and automated banking experience for customers and there are some obvious things ANZ and any organisation should do to equip themselves in today’s highly digitised age.
Firstly, investing in automation and solving internal process inefficiencies are critical. Data investment is also another priority and ANZ is already breaking new grounds on this front – this includes our strategic partnership with Google to access their cloud platform, handing Google-powered analytics to our data scientists in order to deliver insights that support our customers in strategic and operational decision making.
We have also undertaken a number of pilot initiatives to explore use cases for distributed-ledger technology, including a proof-of-concept collaboration with IBM and Suncorp in New Zealand, using the tech for reconciliation between insurance companies and brokers.
Data and digital initiatives must also include investment to improve our employee experience. I remember a time not so long ago where new technologies would be introduced to me via my workplace, through new printer models or faster computer processors. Now we see technology developments in our personal lives surpassing that of our workplace, including simple things such as real-time news alerts pushed to mobile phones.
We recognise this as an increasingly important part of the employee experience and have already responded.
NC: Are you optimistic about Laos’ economy?
FF: The Greater Mekong region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) has made considerable progress in bridging the development divide with the rest of the ASEAN region.
Consistent 6 per cent plus real gross-domestic product over the last two decades has enabled greater economic convergence and part of it is driven by the increasingly dynamic energy market, with electricity and natural gas demand set to triple by 2035.
Laos has made good progress over the past twenty years in economic reform, thanks to the government’s tireless efforts in making promising strides to maintain macroeconomic stability and taking actions to improve domestic revenue, controlling expenditure and strengthening public debt management. All these are encouraging signs to ANZ to stay committed to the country.
Another interesting fact about Laos is it is incredibly young, with an average median age of 23 years. It is the youngest population of any Asian countries. This gels with ANZ’s strategy to become a digital-savvy banking partner, as well as our commitment to invest in young talent.
ANZ has the ambition to be the best bank in the world – one that helps customers move goods and capital around. At this pivotal juncture where Laos is boosting its economic proposition and turning into a digital world, with our regional network being a key differentiator, ANZ is well positioned at the centre of trade and investment flows connecting Asia, Australia and the rest of the world for our institutional customers.
Noel Cheung is Senior Manager Communications, Institutional at ANZ