[SYDNEY] ANZ Banking Group, Australia's No.4 lender, said on Thursday Chief Financial Officer Shayne Elliott will succeed Mike Smith as chief executive from next year - a move that is set to intensify speculation about changes to bank's Asia strategy.
Mr Smith kick-started the bank's "super regional" strategy in 2007, making it the only major Australian bank to focus on Asia.
Analysts, who have long been anticipating Mr Smith's departure, have said the Asia strategy needs to be reassessed due to low returns and high costs in the region.
While ANZ is ranked No.5 for arranging loans in Asia Pacific ex-Japan so far this year, it falls to ninth place when Australia is excluded, according to Thomson Reuters data.
However, Mr Elliott's appointment is unlikely to bring in a radical shift in the bank's strategy, analysts said on Thursday, given his long stint within ANZ as well as international experience.
Mr Smith will be retained as a non-executive advisor to the board, initially for one year, when Mr Elliott takes over on Jan 1, the bank said.
Mr Elliott, 51, who joined ANZ in 2009, has been chief financial officer for the past three years. Prior to joining ANZ, he held senior positions in Citigroup over 20 years in Australia and New Zealand, the UK, the United States, Asia Pacific and in the Middle East. He was also a senior executive at investment bank EFG Hermes.
An ANZ spokesman told Reuters last month that the bank was shifting the emphasis of its business in Asia "somewhat from growth to improved returns", although it remained committed to the region. It opened a new branch in China last month.
If ANZ were to place a greater focus on the domestic markets it would join the likes of ING, RBS and Societe Generale which have scaled back operations in Asia after failing to reach critical mass.
Like ANZ, they pushed into Asia attracted by the region's growth projections, but had to retreat due to cut-throat competition, lack of local expertise and low margins.