Financial Wizards of Oz

Features - April 4th, 2008

For a former penal colony in the remote backwaters of the British Empire, Australia has done remarka­bly well for itself. Consistently ranked in the top tier by virtually every international quality of life yardstick, this desert continent with an economy that, up until a century ago, was overwhelmingly dominated by wool production, has gone far towards making itself one of the most attractive places on earth for visitors and immigrants alike—thanks to its enviable climate, awe-inspiring landscape, laid-back lifestyle and booming economy. Moreover, Australia’s vast reserves of natural resources and thriving agricultural sector have made the once isolated continent a crucial trade partner for resourcehungry economies such as Japan, South Korea and China.

Relations with Japan have proven to be particularly vigorous. The decade following the two countries sign­ing of the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1976, saw Australia emerge as Japan’s single largest source of regional imports, which, coupled with thriv­ing tourism and property investment succeeded in generating an ‘Australia boom’ in Japan. While this boom has shown signs of receding in recent years, Australia’s image remains overwhelmingly positive in Japan. Expatriate Australians, representing industries ranging from minerals to beef, and wine to invest­ment banking, continue to expand their presence in Japan, suggesting the emergence of a warm symbiotic relationship between the two countries.

Given the country’s far-reaching presence in the Asia-Pacific region and its vital importance to Japan as a trade partner, it would be surprising if the ‘land down under’ hadn’t established a firm financial foothold on Japanese shores, and indeed a handful of antipodean banks have flourished here. None, however, have achieved as prominent a presence in Japan as the National Australia Bank (NAB), which established a representative office in Tokyo way back in 1969 and a branch office in 1985, (just ahead of the Bubble Economy of the late 1980s, which saw Japanese investment in Australia, and in Gold Coast real estate in particular, shoot through the ceiling). Since then, NAB has served as Australia’s leading financial bridge­head in Japan, and with the recent Australia boom the venerable banking group that encompasses NAB and its life insurance affiliate MLC, the Bank of New Zealand, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank in the United Kingdom, and Great Western in the USA, has succeed­ed in developing a wide base of diverse clients, includ­ing Japanese, expatriate Australians, and others.

“Every person has a connection to a certain place,” Story explains.
“If it’s a market that you know and you have good information,
investing in property is pretty straightforward.”

Currently the Australian face for NAB’s opera­tions is Dr. Greg Story, a 24-year veteran of Japan. Story, is a former senior executive for Shinsei Bank, one time Country Manager for the Australian Trade Commission’s sales and marketing operations, and one of Japan’s most prominent Australians. In Story’s opinion, the Japanese honeymooner tourism boom has now become a thing of the past, but the climate that it created still remains. “Japan is a land of fads, and the honeymooner boom has peaked,” asserts Story, the Brisbane native who joined NAB in July of last year. “However, the basic attraction is still there, Japanese people really love Australia, especially the Gold Coast area.”

As Australia’s preeminent financial presence in Japan, the NAB Group serves a wide range of roles for its diverse client base, and is consistently looking to expand the range of its services. “Basically, we have three primary client bases,” explains Story. “First of all we have Japanese consumers who want to receive high interest rate returns with term deposits in differ­ent currencies, which entail currency risk. Secondly we cater to expats who want access to yen loans in order to buy property in Australia, as well as in New Zealand and the UK. Lastly, we also cater to Japanese clients who want to buy property or invest overseas.” Story also notes that NAB provides a number of important services to expatriate Australians and New Zealanders, including facilitating money transfers home.

While NAB Japan does not yet offer a wide range of financial products such as mutual funds, annuities and structured deposits, Story hopes to see an expansion of the products offered. “We have excellent customers and first rate products,” he asserts. “Our job is to get a better message out there and develop more and better products that fit our customers’ evolving needs.”

As for the overseas property market, Story hesitates to label any particular region as ‘hot’ or not, although he notes that Australia remains a very popular market, the UK a challenging one, and New Zealand maintains a small but steady market. “Every person has a con­nection to a certain place,” he explains. “If it’s a mar­ket that you know and you have good information, investing in property is pretty straightforward. At NAB in Japan, we make the funding component happen.”

The Australia tourist boom may indeed have peaked, but inter­est in the country remains very high in Japan, and, as Story notes, many Japanese—particularly those approaching retirement age—con­sider the country an attractive escape from their crowded home­land, creating a niche business for his financial group. Moreover, while the Australian government has, in recent years, begun gravitating towards emerging Asian markets such as China and India, the Australian presence in Japanese corporate and financial circles continues to expand and diver­sify, and as such, demand for NAB’s services will invariably continue to increase.

National Australia Bank and Overseas Property Finance,
Mitsui Nigokan,
2-1-1 Nihonbashi-Muromachi
Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 103-0022.
Tel: 03-3241-8923, Fax: 03-3241-8951
Email: tokyoocs@nobosia.com or MrRealEstate@nabasia.com
URL: www.nabasia.com