A World of Networks: COVID-free Cook Islands ready for recovery

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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Nestled between American Samoa and French Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean are 15 small volcanic and coral land forms which make up the Cook Islands.

ANZ has a long history in the Pacific dating back about 140 years, including opening the wholly owned branch of ANZ Banking Group in the Cook Islands in 1988.

"“[In 2019], the Cook Islands were accepting about 170,000 tourists a year. That stopped with COVID-19 and went to nothing - for 14 months we did not have a single visitor to the island.”  – Bernadette Shaw

I recently caught up with ANZ Cook Islands Country Head Bernadette Shaw to discuss the bank’s presence across the islands, how the tourism industry will recover from the pandemic and what she loves most about her job.

Navigating COVID-19

ANZ’s operations in the Cook Islands are located in Avarua on the main island Rarotonga, mainly servicing customers in the tourism industry but also construction, telecommunications and government.

According to Bernadette, it has been a complex few years since she became the local leader in 2019 – when the Cook Islands were reaching the peak of a five-year tourism boom.

“We're tourism based so the [economic] impacts of COVID-19 here have been quite strong,” she explains. “[In 2019], the Cook Islands were accepting about 170,000 tourists a year. That stopped with COVID-19 and went to nothing - for 14 months we did not have a single visitor to the island.”

Because of this halt on travellers, the Cook Islands have remained completely free of COVID-19 infections - one of only 13 countries in the world to do so. On top of this, 97 per cent of the eligible population in the Cook Islands are now fully vaccinated – an amazing layer of protection for the local community.

In May 2021, an international travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand allowed tourists to finally return to the Cook Islands, however the ongoing Delta strain outbreak in Auckland has once again put a pause on tourism.

“What was really pleasing was the demand that came from Kiwi travelers wanting to come back to the Cook Islands,” Bernadette says. “Pre-COVID, 65 per cent of the travelers who came here were from New Zealand.”

Room to grow

Although there is ongoing uncertainty and volatility from the pandemic, there is still opportunity for ANZ to expand its operations in the Cook Islands Bernadette believes.

“In our retail business, we want to support Cook Islanders in their aspirations to either build or buy a home when the time is right,” she explains.

“The other area is in our commercial business and that's about understanding the major capital expenditure requirements of resort operators. Also in the commercial space, (it is about) understanding the infrastructure pipeline our government has in place and whether there are opportunities for ANZ in that.”

Bernadette says the bank has seen significant growth in our eGate payments platform recently which has allowed some domestic customers to become less reliant on tourism for their income.

“It's allowed them to pivot, accept payments via their website and open up [to] a global market. We're the only bank providing that product in-country so it's been quite an exciting growth area for us recently,” she says.

Sense of community

For Bernadette, a Kiwi who was previously running ANZ’s Northern Territory operations before moving to the Pacific, the people are her favourite part of her new home.

“They are so generous, so welcoming, so connected to their culture. They have an amazing sense of community and family,” she says.

Bernadette says she also loves the diversity of her role in the Cook Islands.

“I get to run the end-to-end franchise in-country [which is] pretty unique and very rewarding. [We have] an incredible team here locally but also in the wider team across the Pacific. I feel quite proud to be part of that unit.”

You can hear more of our conversation by listening to the podcast above.

Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ

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

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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