The new CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, whose leadership also covers both Laos and Myanmar from his Phnom Penh office, is a New Zealander who assumed the presidency of Australian Business Association of Cambodia (ABAC) at the first of the year.
ANZ recently became the first Western foreign bank to gain a licence in Myanmar, an accomplishment Knuckey expressed happiness about during an interview last week.
Knuckey, 42, arrived in Cambodia in June, 2012 following a series of postings in Singapore, Hong Kong and most recently two and a half years in Shanghai.
“Shanghai is an amazing city in an amazing country; very cosmopolitan and international, a wonderful place to live and work.”
Prior to Shanghai he lived and worked in Hong Kong, from 2008 to 2010 where he played a role in a massive expansion program. He was running ANZ’s North Asian financial markets business which included five countries including China, with the hub in Hong Kong.
“There was a desire to build a second hub for the financial markets business and at that stage we only had a small presence.”
When he arrived in 2008 the operation employed six people. When he left in 2010 there were more than 100 employees.
“ANZ was in full flow of a very aggressive expansion at that time. Toward the end of my time in Hong Kong, we bought much of the operations of the Royal Bank of Scotland in Asia, and I was fortunate to get involved in that transaction” Knuckey said.
Knuckey says winning in banking comes back to the old “know thyself” axiom.
“You have to very clearly understand what you’re good at and not good at, and focus with laser precision on building your strengths into something substantial and meaningful. Focus is a very important thing for me.”
Thanks to the success of his stint in Hong Kong, he got sent to Shanghai to run ANZ’s wholesale banking business, across trade and transaction banking, financial markets and structured finance.
“This was a broader role in a very exciting market with fortunate timing as well.”
Even though ANZ was a foreign bank in China, 75 per cent of their client base consisted of Chinese companies, many of them importing commodities from Australia and the region.
“This was somewhat in contrast to many other foreign banks. We have quite a deep Chinese client base and that was originally founded on the import of commodities from Australia. As we built expertise in the Chinese market we were able to broaden that business out”
Knuckey said Chinese companies at that time were focusing increasingly outward and ANZ participated in a lot of foreign direct investment by Chinese companies into Australia and New Zealand and the Asian region.
“We were able to follow those customers into the region as they expanded,” he said. “We had a very intuitive and fairly compelling business proposition and a real reason to exist which is important in the Chinese market.”
Prior to Hong Kong and Shanghai, Knuckey worked five years for ANZ in Singapore, from 2003 to 2008.
He’s originally from Queenstown on the New Zealand’s South Island, a big ski and mountain area. He traces his New Zealand family back to the 1860s.
Knuckey and his wife Jo have a daughter Lily, 6, and a son Jack, 2.
“My children are travelers. My daughter had lived in four countries by the age of five,” he said.
Knuckey received a law degree from Victoria University in Wellington in 1994, intending to practice law, but instead joined ANZ, working in the financial markets dealing room in Wellington.
After about seven years, he went on sabbatical to Dublin, Ireland to study for an MBA at Trinity College.
“Best year of my life,” he said.
As luck would have it, an ANZ job came open in Singapore in 2003, and he was happy to rejoin his former employer.
Distinguishing ANZ from other banks, Knuckey said there was no regional bank that had such a deep presence right across Asia and into Australia and New Zealand.
“In our DNA as an international bank, we are good at following flows of trade and capital across borders. Where customers want to do business across borders, import export, personal business, whatever it might be, we think we are a strong provider of that kind of service.”
Knuckey said the ANZ venture with Royal Group, ANZ Royal, was unique for the region, where generally each ANZ business is 100 per cent owned by ANZ.
“Cambodia is an exception and this association with Royal Group has served us very well. The Royal Group is a very strong and wide-reaching corporate entity, and that network has served ANZ well and accelerated our growth in Cambodia.”
Speaking about his presidency of the ABAC, which he took over from Infinity Insurance’s David Carter at the beginning of this year, Knuckey said he wanted to grow both the membership and the effectiveness of ABAC and provide more business-focused events.
“These chambers and business associations do play a particular role,” he said. “Really the way you succeed is through the network of contacts you can build. ABAC does represent a particular value proposition through a network of people. We want to provide more business-focused events, over the coming year.”
With an ANZ background involved in group strategy during his Singapore years, Knuckey learned to stay focused on what’s important.
“If you chase every rabbit down every hole, you don’t get anywhere. If you understand yourself and your business and strength and stick to operations that look aligned with that, then success is much more likely. That applies to ANZ in Cambodia is well.”
He says ANZ Royal’s plans for Cambodia are about focused yet aggressive growth.
“In our various customer segments, we firstly think about the top end of Cambodian local corporates. We know these companies and we continue to help them grow. In the mid-market, we are focused mainly on the industries we know well: agriculture, resources, primary manufacturing. Then with multi-nationals we think we have a differentiator because we are a truly international bank; there are many companies here we bank outside Cambodia already.”
As for retail strategy, Knuckey said ANZ is focused on what’s called “emerging affluent.”
“We look at those professionals and entrepreneurs who are on the path of building their wealth. There is a desire by many for us to be everything for everyone, but I do not think that’s a recipe for success.”
Knuckey says Cambodia is an open economy relative to many in the region which constitutes a huge advantage.
“Cambodia is starting to form a plan for national development. There is much more a sense of a direction and a plan, around the core infrastructure that will support economic growth sustainably. Sustainable growth is about ensuring you have the hard and soft infrastructure in place to support it.”
Knuckey says those national development plans need to be made more overt.
“One of the strengths of Cambodia relative to other countries I’ve worked and lived is it does have a very consultative model between government and business. But you need to turn that into an overt plan that the business community can rally behind,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]