Tina Lavranos, head of human resources, Hong Kong and North East Asia, ANZ, has a chat with eFinancialCareers about why the firm continues to grow in Asia Pacific, even as some of its rivals scale back in these sombre times.
Q: Media reports say ANZ will increase its China outlets to 20 from the current six over the next few years. What specific functions will you hire in?
A: We are definitely expanding our branch network in China in both our institutional and retail business. ANZ has been in China for 25 years, although media attention on our presence there has been more recent since the launch of our super regional strategy in 2007. China has always been strategically important to the bank. Currently we have around 500 employees in China. The plan is to grow our talent pool steadily over the next three to five years.
Q: Given the tight banking talent pool in China, does ANZ foresee hiring challenges there? For instance, some candidates are switching jobs quickly for fatter pay cheques.
A: Every firm looking to grow in China will admit to drawing from the same talent pool, so that’s a challenge. However, I think ANZ is well placed to meet that challenge. We do spend a lot of time differentiating ourselves as an employer of choice to candidates. What we mean by this, is that by joining us, candidates will be given opportunities to drive a dynamic career, not just draw a pay cheque.
For instance, in China we have a banking associate programme that provides formal training to university graduates and prepares them for banking roles across all areas. We also have a fast-track career programme for candidates from both banking and non-banking backgrounds to help them with career conversion opportunities into commercial front-line roles.
I do agree that the talent war is alive and well in China. I think though that compensation is only one of the factors we look at in terms of our retention strategy. We believe people are attracted to employers not just for compensation but also career progression, career opportunities and talented management. For instance, people may join an institution for a salary but leave because of a poor relationship with a line manager. So one of the strongest levers to apply to retaining staff is having great leaders in an organisation. We’ve attracted great executives into our division over the last three years, and continue to laterally recruit leaders who have a customer-centric management philosophy and big aspirations.
We have a super regional strategy and that has also helped attract candidates. There has been strong revenue growth in 2011: 82 per cent in China, 68 per cent in Hong Kong and 48 per cent in Singapore. So if we reflect on those data points, we’re successfully executing our strategy, and our connectivity with customers is a key advantage.
Q: What has recruitment been like in Singapore and Hong Kong over this past year? Which areas have the firm expanded in? What is the hiring focus for 2012?
A: In Singapore we have grown to around 2,500 from 350 in 2008. In that same period our Hong Kong workforce has jumped to 1,000 employees, up from 130, and China, around 500 from 220 previously. In terms of hiring in Singapore and Hong Kong we recruit across the board in front-line and back-office functions, focusing on commercial, institutional and retail banking as well as wealth management.
In terms of recruitment in 2012, there won’t be a great shift in focus or volumes. We will continue to steadily grow our Singapore and Hong Kong offices over the next three years. Growth will be managed in a disciplined way.
Q: Given recent job cuts at banks in Asia, is ANZ looking to trim staff?
A: ANZ’s approach is to manage growth in a disciplined way. Our organisation is efficiently staffed, so there are no plans for wholesale headcount reduction in the near future. ANZ has been one of the few banks that continued to hire and expand during the GFC and we are taking the same approach in 2012.
The primary reason why we are able to grow in this market is because we are one of the most strongly-capitalised banks in the world and have an AA- rating. Our focus on growth markets in Asia and key markets of Australia and New Zealand has proved to be the right strategy at the right time.
Q: What is your biggest recruitment challenge?
A: From an HR perspective, the challenge primarily is that while ANZ has a footprint in Asia of over 40 years, it was only in 2007 that we pursued a super regional strategy. Hence for some local Asian candidates we are still perceived as a “new player” and they are unaware of our roots in the region. But, this also presents a great opportunity for our staff and prospective recruits; by joining us they understand they can immediately make a difference as there’s not 100 years of process and custom that you have to navigate to get things done. People are also curious about our regional ambition – which is a counterpoint to local and global strategies – we are clearly not all things to all people and staff like the uniqueness of the opportunities that an Asian bank with Australian and New Zealand history presents.
Q: What are some of the qualities you look for in candidates?
A: We are interested in candidates with a can-do attitude and mindset, who can produce deep and meaningful customer relationships. We are a growing institution, so we are looking for candidates who will excel in an environment that is dynamic – as opposed to static – which presents them with real and important opportunities to assess risk, consult with key stakeholders, and make independent decisions.
Will the candidate thrive in a high-change environment? Are they motivated to out perform by looking for opportunities for continuous improvement as versus following the script in a job description? Are they interested in learning? I might ask them when they felt the most excited in their career or at university: was this when they were responsible for a particular initiative, or when they felt they made a difference? Can they show a broad perspective, original thinking, and an ability to work through complexity? If so, they may be a good fit with our organisation.