Making his first visit to Mildura, ANZ CEO, Shayne Elliott, was in Mildura this week to meet with a number of the bank’s customers and to hear first-hand how they and their businesses have been coping since the pandemic hit last year.
Sunraysia is home to a large number of the ANZ’s customers, many of whom are stakeholders in the agriculture sector, an area of great importance to the bank’s business.
“This is really my first trip since COVID struck. I usually travel a lot as CEO. We are in 30 countries around the world and all parts of Australia and News Zealand and it’s good to get out and meet customers,” Mr Elliott said.
“When restrictions started to ease and things were looking a bit brighter on the travel front, I asked my team to put together a list of important places of interest to visit and Mildura came out on top of that list for Australia and so that’s why I am here.
“That is reflective of the strength of the local economy and the diversity of our customer base here, which obviously has a big agricultural base and other businesses which feed off that. I met with some engineering companies that are supporting agriculture and also with a variety of people from the ag. sector and also some of those people involved in tourism.”
A recent report by the ANZ’s economists indicated that in general, regional areas in Australia have been more resilient to pandemic impacts than capital cities, and this included Mildura, which it said had recovered more quickly.
Google mobility data indicated that the Mildura Local Government area is far ahead of the Victorian average for local movement, including to workplaces, retail and recreation venues, and grocery stores.
In the north-west region of Victoria, including Mildura, the unemployment rate actually fell during 2020, from 3.1 per cent in the first quarter to 2.7 per cent in the fourth.
Mr Elliott said that the customers he met were largely doing quite well despite the head winds the pandemic had created for many businesses.
“The people I met with were doing well in most part and feeling positively surprised I think,” he said.
“When the pandemic struck, we were all thinking this is not going to be good, but people have had really good years and the resilience of their business has come to the fore. The sorts of things I heard was ‘it’s going well’ − ‘lots of opportunities’ and ‘feeling good about things’, but actually there are some real restraints starting to come through the economy and the most obvious one is labour shortage. And I heard that time and time again.”
Mr Elliott said that the customer base in the Sunraysia region was important to the bank.
“We are a big organisation, but we are made up of literally millions of small and medium size business customers and households, and that’s what really sustains us,” he said.
“And somewhere like Sunraysia is important, because one of the critical parts of our strategy, is helping people to start running and growing a small business and we see that throughout places like Mildura and Sunraysia.
“Whether it’s through farming and agriculture, or all of the feeder businesses that come off that, there are some real growth opportunities.”
Mr Elliott pointed out that ANZ has something that is slightly different to their peer group − other banks − and while there are things that are the same, their real specialty is connecting Australia with the rest of the world.
“We do that because we are the largest trade bank in Australia and the largest bank in helping people move goods and capital around the region. And so much of Sunraysia’s opportunity and current success comes off the trade with Asia,” he said.
“There is certainly some concern about the exposure to one dominant market like China, but there are some exceptions to that, and today we spoke to a company that manufactures harvesting equipment and their biggest market is the United States, and so it’s not all about China, but I understand the issue.
“The strategy of the past of all in one market – China – perhaps wasn’t the right thing to do in hindsight. It worked really well – let’s not forget that – and places like this have done very well from that, but going forward I think diversification is probably a good idea.
“And so one of our jobs as the biggest trade bank in Australia, is to introduce customers to where that opportunity may be. Is it Japan, is it Korea, is it India or Singapore or Thailand? Those a places we know really well. For years now, we have been running trade delegation trips with DFAT and we take customers up to those markets and introduce them to people to explore what’s possible. Once we get past COVID I think there is going to be a lot more interest in doing that.”
Mr Elliott is positive in his view of the outlook for the economy in general, including our region.
“If you flew into Mildura and you didn’t know about COVID and the associated issues and you just looked at the economy, you’d say we were in an economic boom. It really doesn’t get much better than this,” he said.
“Unemployment is falling, values are high, liquidity is freely available, there are jobs and growth and opportunity − things are good.
“However, what we are realising is that we are going to be facing a bunch of new challenges around inflation, labour shortages, supply chain challenges − all of those things that we aren’t really used to dealing with.
“It’s therefore the job of ANZ to help people think through what those things may mean to their business and their family and how do they start thinking about those things − but we are really optimistic about the future.”