Gonski to aid ANZ push into Asian markets

ANZ's Asian push has been given more drive, with the bank appointing Future Fund boss David Gonski as its chairman while moving to assure shareholders that the regional strategy was key to driving investor returns.

ANZ's Asian push has been given more drive, with the bank appointing Future Fund boss David Gonski as its chairman while moving to assure shareholders that the regional strategy was key to driving investor returns.

Mr Gonski, who spent five years on the board of ANZ before stepping down in 2008, has strong links in Asia through his role as a director of Singapore Telecommunications and formerly Singapore Airlines.

His appointment comes as chief executive Mike Smith stood by the lender's strategy to push the bank further into Asian markets, after some analysts have questioned the level of returns on the investment.

Outgoing chairman John Morschel said Mr Gonski's experience in Asia, as well as "his broad range of involvement with government and with the education and community sectors" would be a significant asset for ANZ. The changes were outlined at ANZ's annual meeting in Brisbane.

He said the appointment of Mr Gonski completed a period of "carefully planned transition" at ANZ's executive level, which began with the appointment of Paula Dwyer and later Graeme Liebelt.

ANZ is aiming to generate more than a quarter of group earnings outside Australia and New Zealand by 2017 despite coming under fire from market analysts amid lower returns in Asia.

Mr Gonski said he looked forward to working with Mr Smith and the management team to realise ANZ's "super regional" strategy.

A former investment banker, Mr Gonski will maintain his role as chairman of Coca-Cola Amatil and a director of SingTel, but said he would step down from the board of the $90 billion Future Fund in January to avoid "any possible conflict of interest".

He leaves the role less than two years into a five-year term, after being appointed by the former Labor government in controversial circumstances.

Former Treasurer Peter Costello - who established the Fund and called Mr Gonski's original appointment by Labor as a "shemozzle" - has now been appointed as acting chairman of the Fund.

The appointment of Mr Gonski comes as shareholders raised fresh concerns about the bank's Asian plan at the company's annual general meeting on Wednesday.

Mr Smith hit back at the criticism, saying China and the south-east Asian markets were key to driving the business.

"There are times when I feel that some domestically focused commentators don't really understand the true potential of what we are creating at ANZ," he said.

"Some still say: 'The local market is attractive. Why do you continue to invest in Asia?' What this fails to recognise is that the opportunity created by Asia's growth and our customers' growing business and personal connections with Asia are actually integrated into every part of our business."

The return on ANZ shareholder funds invested in Asia in the year to September fell short of those in its traditional markets of Australia and New Zealand, with a return on equity from Asia in the low double digits compared with the group-wide return of 15.3 per cent this year.

Meanwhile, Mr Morschel said the bank had observed improvements in the domestic economy. "In Australia, the slowdown in mining investment is being gradually replaced by the non-resource sectors.

"This is being helped by a lower dollar and supportive monetary policy."

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