ON the eve of his departure, outgoing ANZ head honcho, Norman Wilson has one advice on economic growth — invest in agriculture.
He is not the first to make the call but he is different because he has led his organisation to do so.
With the Fiji Sugar Corporation's sweet and sour history, it was a surprise decision that the ANZ bank got itself involved through a $120m structured trade facility.
The bold move and confidence came through a study on the sugar industry, of which the results are only privy to the bank and the state.
As Mr Wilson explained, any company needs finance to fund its operations. And the FSC has in the past borrowed at high costs because of its poor financial performance.
What ANZ has done is give some relief to the FSC by lowering its borrowing costs. Mr Wilson is confident that the sugar industry will improve, not overnight but in the longer term.
Under Mr Wilson's leadership, ANZ took over as bond managers on the second issue of $500million worth of government bonds last year.
Reflecting on his time in the country, Mr Wilson is proud that he was able to maintain the 45 per cent market share of loans in the country, a task he said was possible through the support of his staff members.
But if there was one regret, it is that he was unable to successfully negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with his staff members. This, he said, was probably the regrets of his predecessors as this negotiation had been ongoing for the past seven to 10 years.
"I think the overall highlight in the last three years has been watching ANZ turn from an Australian bank to a truly regional bank. Business in the Pacific has done very well particularly in PNG, which is the real engine of growth in this area in the next few years. PNG is the third most profitable component of the ANZ banking group, Fiji is in the top six.
"The Pacific is important in the ANZ Banking Group," Mr Wilson said. Mr Wilson arrived at a time, he described as difficult for the banking industry in Fiji. With a heavily regulated industry and devaluation, Mr Wilson said things turned for the better once the Reserve Bank of Fiji realised that the banks were all working for the economy and not their shareholders.
The challenge for the industry, however, he believes is the impact of trade unions. While, ANZ has great relations with unions and that it always wants to adhere to UN charters, it avoids getting itself into the realms of controversy.
"Some of the union agreements that exist in the country are quite outdated and I don't think that is beneficial in the long term for staff," he said.