A World of Networks: supporting customers, staff after a crisis

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

On 15 January 2022, Tonga bore the brunt of an underwater volcanic eruption which was estimated to be 600 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Along with thousands of tons of rock and ash spewing into the sky, a tsunami followed - devastating many local communities.

"When the first eruption started there were five extremely loud bangs - the last two were deafening. Something I've never been through in my life.” – David Dudley

Over the past months, locals and international support groups have been working hard on the recovery and, of course, the rebuild. Along with many other organisations, I'm proud to say ANZ made a $A50,000 donation to support that recovery.

ANZ has a long history in the Pacific dating back about 140 years, including opening the wholly owned branch of ANZ Banking Group in Tonga in 1993.

I recently caught up with ANZ Tonga Country Head David Dudley to discuss his personal experience of that day and what the bank is doing to help support staff, customers and the broader community through the recovery and rebuild.


A frightening Friday

David, who was watching TV at home with his wife when the first earthquake struck, says although Tonga deals with natural disasters regularly, the intensity of this particular event was extremely frightening.

“[When] the first eruption started there were five extremely loud bangs - the last two were deafening,” he recalls. “Something I've never been through in my life. And [Tongans] have lived through very strong category four cyclones and devastating earthquakes - but nothing of this sort. The house was shaking, incredibly shaking.”

“The tsunami was the first challenge. We didn't know where it was going to hit, when it was going to hit or how big the waves were going to be. We were in the dark.”

Assessing the damage

David says his immediate priority was ensuring the safety of his 39 staff and their families,and he was able to check-in with everyone by the next morning. Then his attention turned to the local branch building.

“We couldn't get out to our premises, so we didn't know whether our branches had suffered any damage,.” He says. “On early Sunday morning I managed to get out there and thank goodness none of our branches suffered any damage.”

Because the branches hadn’t been damaged by the earthquake and following tsunami, the ANZ team was able to work quickly to reopen and offer support and assistance to customers.

“On the Monday morning [our team] fronted up to the office to support our customers,” David explains. “Because ATMs were not working, the only way for customers to get money was physically withdraw cash from the branch. We knew they needed cash to buy essentials and support their families to get fresh drinking water.

“The sacrifices [the team] made were highly commendable and I’m extremely proud of their comradery and the way they helped one another.”

Coping with COVID

On top of an already serious crisis, Tonga is now also grappling with a wave of COVID-19 infections in the community – something totally avoided until now. However, David says high vaccinations rates are providing a level of security to the community.

“Tonga was one of the last countries in the world to remain COVID-free,” he says. “In a way, it's been a blessing because over the last 12 months we've been able to get vaccination rates up. Tonga has always had very high immunisation rates so we've been able to avoid any serious illnesses.”

David says although this has provided an extra challenge, the team is coping well and adhering to government restrictions to ensure the safety of both staff and customers.

“We hope at some stage we'll be able to open our borders, which have been closed since May 2020, and be able to connect more freely with the outside world,” he says.

This has obviously been a really distressing period of time for our team in Tonga but they’ve done a great job and I’m very proud of what they are doing for the community, our customers and each other.

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

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28 Jan 2022

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The road to recovery for the Tongan community will be tough. Support from neighbouring nations is essential.