ANZ will soon make a critical appointment that could signal a potential successor to chief executive Mike Smith, when it names the next head of its Asian and international arm.
After previous Asia boss Alex Thursby resigned this month, the bank is well advanced in finding a new head of its international and institutional banking division, with an announcement expected in the coming weeks.
As the bank seeks to expand aggressively into Asia, it is tipped by analysts to appoint an external candidate to replace Mr Thursby, who has quit ANZ to become the boss of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.
Given ANZ's heavy emphasis on Asia, analysts say whoever gets the job will also be seen as a potential next chief executive of the entire group. Mr Smith, who previously ran the Asian arm of global bank HSBC, has signalled he intends to stay on as chief executive for another two to three years.
While the bank has considered internal candidates to replace Mr Thursby, an outsider from a large Western bank with a heavy Asian presence, such as Standard Chartered Bank or HSBC, is seen as more likely.
Macquarie analyst Mike Wiblin said he thought ANZ was more likely to appoint an external candidate to the Asian post, to deepen the bank's management ranks and provide another potential successor to Mr Smith.
"If it was going to be someone external, it might be someone who is more chairman-like, given the Asian strategy is already well developed," Mr Wiblin said.
Unlike its domestic rivals, ANZ has an explicit goal of obtaining 25 to 30 per cent of its income from the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and America by 2017.
Bell Potter analyst T.S. Lim also said an outsider was more likely, arguing that the bank would need someone with top-level connections across government and business circles in the Asia-Pacific region. "Asian banking is relationship banking, so they'll want someone who has been there and done business for a long time," he said.
"Things get done with a handshake sometimes. This is what HSBC and Standard Chartered are good at."
Mr Smith has also fuelled expectations of an external appointment by saying ANZ might "poach" a banker and describing himself and Mr Thursby, a former Standard Chartered banker, as "Asian insiders". Three weeks ago Mr Smith also said he hoped to announce the appointment in "a few weeks' time".
The executives filling Mr Thursby's role, head of Asia Gilles Plante and markets boss Steve Bellotti, are also well regarded in the market.