Great relationship banking crucial for long term associations

ANZ held its biennial Asia Investor Tour in Hong Kong in July with senior International and Investment Banking executives briefing institutional investors and analysts on the next phase of the bank’s Asian strategy. One of the most highly engaged sessions was a discussion with three major Asian clients, facilitated by senior banker Tony Souza.

This is an excerpt of the client panel discussion, chaired by ANZ’s International and Institutional Banking CEO Andrew Géczy.

Panel guests: Geert Peeters, CLP Holdings Limited, Group Director & Chief Financial Officer, Lincoln Leong, MTR Corporation Limited, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Alex Arena, HKT Limited, Group Managing Director.

Andrew Géczy: What is the most important aspect of your banking relationships? 

Geert Peeters: I would say the broadness, that portfolio approach to be able to offer a large set of products that we need. That's an important thing.  Then there’s duration, to use a financial term, but not so much on the loans rather duration in the relationship - understanding it's not a one year or one transaction thing. Banks need to build it by in-depth knowledge of our business. 

That last one has a lot to do with the bankers you line up and the capabilities of your teams. That's creativity because everyone can try to match any relationship and build on that. We do our business in many regions and because businesses have their challenges and things change, it's very interesting to hear from a bank the insights you have in your institution and the creative thoughts your people have - or that you have seen or been able to observe in other places.

Lincoln Leong: If there are three words, one would be long-term, this is the duration point; banks are with us not just for the next 12 months but perhaps for the next 50 years or 100 years.

Secondly, it's breadth, it's breadth not just of product but also of geography.  We're now operating in a number of different geographies spanning Europe all the way down to Australia. We want banks that can support us across a number of those geographies.

Thirdly it would be service and innovation.  We too look for ideas from our banks and we do reward banks that provide those ideas.

AG: Can you share some of the disappointing moments in your interaction with banks over your career? 

GP: I would say one of the opportunities for a bank to mess up when they deal with us is when we tender out for business - and we would go to a core group bank, one of four or five relationship banks – and have the left arm of the bank telling the right arm of the bank this is how it has to be, this is what the price has to be, or the transaction.  So when we, as a customer, tend to have a holistic view of what the bank delivers, if the bank in front does not match that holistic approach, it can go wrong.

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Alex Arena: In our business, because it's so long-lived, we tend to be control freaks but you can't take control of the whole chain, you've got to work with people.  So we tend to become very intimately involved even in banking transactions.

Jarrod Martin: (Credit Suisse, Analyst): If you reflect on your relationship with ANZ over the last four years, how has that relationship changed?

LL: I think if one looks back over the last four years our relationship with ANZ has definitely broadened and broadened particularly geographically.  We're now working with ANZ in a number of different regions around the world apart from just Hong Kong, whereas four or five years ago it was really very much a Hong Kong-based relationship.  Since then - and this also reflects our development outside of Hong Kong - we have developed much more of a relationship with ANZ in Australia and even in mainland China.  So that is the broadening part of that relationship.

I think overall we've been happy and very comfortable with our relationship with ANZ and the way it's developed.  There is, of course, continued and increasing competition for that business, but then our relationship with ANZ is such that they are able and willing to come to the table when required.

Jonathan Mott: (UBS, Analyst): Is it a fair assumption that you're very conscious you don't want to get too close to your banks and you actually don't want to have multiple products and be too intertwined with the banks? 

GP: We have four or five key banks and ANZ is one of those but each one, as I said, needs to have the breadth to be able to give us several products, including lending.  So we're not just saying you for the investment banking fees, you for your strong balance sheet and you to collect the bills.  No, on the contrary we would want all the banks to be all around the relationship. 

Yes, some are more specialised in one thing than another one, but being able to deliver several products and follow your customer in the long run over a different portfolio of services, is what we would look at.  To qualify in the top five you need to be able to be playing on all instruments.

AA: Well it's no different from what we do with any partner.  Look at our businesses again, when it comes to vendor relationships we have a conscious policy of having at least two vendors.  We don't buy switches from one guy, we buy switches from two or three guys because it's standardised, because we just can't afford our businesses to be at risk of another party, one single party. 

Now - and I don't want to wish ill will on any particular bank and certainly not ANZ - but there have been banks that have got into trouble.  For that period of time, anybody that had them as a house bank exclusively would have suffered with them.  We can't afford that, so we will spread it around and we do have every intention of having some competitive tension in there as well. So we're making sure we satisfy the requirements of our shareholders and our customers that we're getting fair value for the money we spend as well.  It's both a check and balance and competition's good.

Andrew Hill: (Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Analyst): How quickly does that process of relationship building typically take? And are there certain products that you're more likely to farm out to a new bank?

AA: It can happen very quickly.  Nothing breeds success like success, right?  So if you do a good transaction and it worked well and you got good advice from the bankers, then you feel more prone to do another deal.  As far as an introductory deal, we often invite a bank into one of our bilateral arrangements or self-arranged clubs and then we go from there, we start building a relationship.  We've had a bank that wasn't on our radar and within 12 months became part of our core group. 

LL: With us it generally starts with an extension of the balance sheet type relationship and then from there it may go into liability management and then other products.  That's generally the way our banking relationships have migrated.

Photo: Alex Arena, group managing director of HKT Ltd. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

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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