A World of Networks: half a century of banking in Japan

ANZ’s network of 32 markets – big and small, advanced and emerging - is really critical to who and what we are as a bank. It's a defining point of difference for ANZ.

In this new series, ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott introduces some of the leaders in ANZ’s various markets to discuss the outlook for their region, opportunities for growth and what they love most about their job.

Click here to browse the full series

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In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan was known as a rockstar economy with a particular focus on management styles. Fast forward to 2021 and Japan remains the headquarters for many global giants and other successful corporations looking to grow and expand internationally.

“Japanese clients value not just price but our longevity and steady commitment to them.” – Mitch Mason

I recently caught up with ANZ Country Head for Japan Mitch Mason to discuss the bank’s long history in the region and why our Asia Pacific footprint makes us the bank of choice for customers.

A wholly owned branch of the ANZ Banking Group, the Japan business has its roots in trade and resources where Australia and Japan are very natural partners. ANZ’s Japan office was established in 1969 – the bank’s first footprint in Asia.

For Mitch and his team, a focus on long-term relationships is key to success in the region.

“Japanese clients value not just price but our longevity and steady commitment to them. Most clients are global so we throw revenue to many other locations throughout our network via the Japan franchise,” he explains.

Today, our 140-person team based in Tokyo and Osaka offer a broad range of banking products and services to customers in financial institutions, resources and energy, transport and logistics, and technology. In 2018, ANZ received approval for a securities license in Japan from the Financial Services Agency - the first Australian bank to do so in the region.

Mitch himself first landed in Japan during his university days in the 1980s. After this initial stint, he completed his education at home in the US then started his career and family before moving back to Japan in the mid-1990s.

Point of difference

Mitch says ANZ is by the far the largest Australian bank in Japan and our book has been growing steadily.

“Oceania is a keen area of focus for many Japanese operators. ANZ has a fantastic advantage with our [Australian] headquarters in the right time zone, it fits really well with our Asia Pacific footprint and - unlike North America or Europe - in Oceania, investment for a Japanese institution is not ‘bet the farm’ stakes.

“ANZ is a natural partner as they're looking to diversify, come out of Japan or deepen their investment.”

Mitch explains that after a solid rollout over the past three years, the Japan team is now in “phase two” of building up the office’s securities business.

“We've recently expanded our foreign exchange and commodities sales teams so the next step for us will be expanding third-party distribution, investing in technology operations and compliance infrastructure to support that expansion,” he says.

“In third-party distribution, we will be taking selected investment products that ANZ manufactures in locations like Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong and selling them through local partners - whether it's asset management companies, local securities companies or possibly even regional banks - to give their clients and investors access to a broader range of products. That's a key area of growth for us.”

Beyond markets and securities, Mitch says ANZ is working with several local banks to pinpoint where we can play a role in Japanese wind and solar projects. In the technology space, he says the bank is focused on network and trade opportunities where Japan fits into the global tech supply chain. 

Economic reform

Japan’s economy has certainly experienced its share of ups and downs over the years, however Mitch says this has created many opportunities for growth.

“[Despite] the struggles and challenges Japan has faced… it is still the number three economy globally,” he says.

“Former Prime Minister Mr Abe put forward his economics platform, which was essentially loose monetary policy, loose fiscal policy and economic reform. Most analysts would give that fair marks and it has largely worked to reflate many of the asset classes where the bubbles had formed and then burst back in the 1990s.

“There's quite a bit more work needed on reform [and] digitisation to further open and improve the economy… but we've seen quite a bit of improvement in the financial economy in the last seven or eight years.”

Mitch says Japan’s ageing population is also leading to a record number of outbound merger and acquisition transactions as Japanese enterprises have bought up assets around the world.

“A favourite place for companies to experiment with their business models offshore is in Oceania and we expect that trend to continue,” he says.

“A good example would be a Asahi's acquisition of Carlton United Breweries a couple of years ago. As of today, over 90 per cent of the beer sold in Australia is from a Japanese-owned brewery.”

A lot of companies around the world and certainly in our region are thinking about diversification and where else they can be growing and investing. I've personally been talking to our customers about the need to focus on Japan as an opportunity market. It's highly sophisticated, very wealthy and, with the right investments and long-term approach, businesses can do well.

The rule of law, regulatory security and long established architecture of relationships with Australia all serve to lower the risk of Japan compared with some faster growing markets.

Personal drivers

Mitch says the best part of his job is getting to interact with so many high-quality people across the network.

“Every day brings a new opportunity. I like that variety and the number of smart, high-integrity players we have on the team,” he says. “I have the opportunity to be up-close with world-class businesses and interact with their people, learn their stories and be part of their success as they grow.”

You can listen to the whole conversation in the podcast above.

Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ

Click here to browse through the full “World of Networks” series

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