Crossing the Tasman with Mike Smith

There was a full ballroom at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt today for the Trans-Tasman Business Circle business forum with ANZ CEO Mike Smith. Here’s the key takeaways from my wide-ranging conversation with Mike.

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Asia and the Global Economy

  • The problem with that (central bank money from the US, Europe and Japan providing so much liquidity) is that it hasn’t really found its way into the real economy. It’s found its way into debt and equity markets and that is what has been boosting prices.
  • China has its issues, the struggles with the whole reform and deregulation program, but it is going ahead, it is absolutely focused on moving from a manufacturing and export based economy to a domestic consumption based economy. 

The Australian Economy

  • We are beginning to see a slow return of confidence in the Australian economy, a bit of pent up demand in terms of replacement of capital equipment and indeed on expansion plans but we’ve also got to appreciate that we’re a country in economic transition.
  • The move from a 20th century economic model to a 21st century economic model is happening to us and we’re not always doing it on our terms. I think the new era is going to be very much more technologically driven, dependent, and companies are going to be smaller than they used to be – you won’t have these massive organisations you used to have, they’ll be much more nimble, you’ll need to be more flexible.

Digital Disruption

  • What is going to be different with the digital world is that information and the management of data is going to be absolutely crucial in services. You’ll probably have a chief data officer – someone who looks after the integrity of your business information.

The Business Council of Australia Agenda

  • It’s actually a very well-considered document, very sensible. They weren’t suggesting that government pick winners – we do have to be wary of government running stuff – but what they’re saying is we have to look at sectors where we have a comparative advantage and that to me makes sense.
  • You could look at the agri sector and the way NZ has driven that sector, off the back of the Free Trade Agreement with China, it has just gone through the roof. We could do the same in Australia. 

Australian Financial System Inquiry

  • The interim report was a very considered document. Things like ring fencing, the issue there is how you protect deposits.
  • Then there’s loss absorption – how do you structure a bank so that if it was to fail, it would not touch tax payers? It’s much more than capital.

Business Lending

  • The issue Australia has is access to equity for small business. It is unreasonable for a bank to take equity risk and receive a debt return but we don’t have a deep pool of equity available to small business.
  • The big problem is the tax system doesn’t create incentives for people to put money into ventures – and that’s a simple thing to fix and something we should look at very, very closely.

Asian Leadership Talent

  • The “bamboo ceiling” (the under representation of Asian Australians in management and at board level) is a significant problem. We talk a lot about gender balance being an issue in Australia but this ethnic problem I think is even more of a problem.  If I look at my management board right now, I don’t have an Asian on it, and I feel that’s not right.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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