ANZ's Fred Ohlsson explains how banks are assisting SMEs to gear up for new opportunities; how they see commercial prospects and why they are supporting the city's growth.

Two years ago few could have predicted that confidence among Canterbury's business community would now be at historic highs, well above the national average.

At that time many business owners were on their knees. Like others in the quake aftermath, they were in shock and dealing with unthinkable challenges in their personal lives. For many, their ability to do business at all came to a shuddering halt: many lost access to their business premises, customers or key staff and were staring down the barrel of business failure.

As bankers we know, because many came to their business banking manager for help to get them through. The need was so great that ANZ alone ended up helping nearly 3000 Canterbury retail and business customers with several hundred million dollars in deferred loan payments and interest-free overdrafts.

Canterbury's business community showed remarkable strength and resilience to get through that period, but the environment has remained challenging. Many families and businesses are still affected by earthquake impacts, and the recent floods in Christchurch have presented yet another test.

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But the flood response was also a reminder of the community's ability to deal quickly and effectively with adversity, to support each other, and get on with what needs to be done.

Business owners tell us the experience of facing up to and overcoming the challenges has left them stronger and better able to respond to future shocks.

The mood among business owners has moved from survival to opportunity. Small firms in Canterbury, in particular, lead the country in confidence and there is evidence this optimism has now spread to the rest of the South Island, according to ANZ's Business Micro Scope survey. The survey results are well supported by what we're seeing on the ground. And it's not just emotional resilience behind this growing self-belief. Business owners are placing a real focus on business continuity and putting in place practical measures to equip their operation for future shocks.

Many are diversifying income flows, widening the geographical spread of their customers, and reducing their reliance on physical premises by embracing technology and lifting online sales. As a result of these changes and the step-up in reconstruction, the prospects are strong for a vibrant, diverse and flexible business market in Christchurch, which is not only ready for future risks, but better equipped to take advantage of new opportunities as they emerge.

Let's make no mistake, the opportunities, and the challenges, are immense. Apart from the enormous residential rebuild, two-thirds of buildings in the CBD before the quakes will not be there in future. The Christchurch rebuild is the largest infrastructure event in New Zealand's history and a major reconstruction project on a global scale.

The impact of the rebuild will be felt way beyond Christchurch. The city is home to the South Island's busiest port and airport, and is the tourism gateway to the South Island. The region makes up half of the South Island economy, and 12 per cent of national GDP. What happens in Christchurch matters to New Zealand.

Along with other major New Zealand corporates, we and our staff have been an integral part of the Christchurch community for a long time - in ANZ's case, for more than 150 years. As New Zealand's largest bank, with an extensive network of branches, staff, and customers across Canterbury, we've felt a particular responsibility and commitment to the region. We were proud to be the first bank to get a full service branch back into the CBD and are working on a new branch in Northlands Mall. We're continuing to look at other locations as opportunities come up and are relishing the chance to bring our wider team back into the heart of a renewed CBD as soon as we can.

To help meet the growing demand from Cantabrians starting and growing businesses, we've boosted our business banking team to more than 70 staff.

A dedicated migrant banking team is working with the growing numbers of immigrants - particularly from China, Korea, India and the Philippines - who are arriving to play their part in the rebuild.

These are exciting times for business owners, but times which in their own way call for care and expert support and advice.

Though the majority of businesses have become more agile it remains imperative that owners have strong plans in place to cope with uncertainty, to be nimble and ready to adapt to future changes.

The rapid growth of trades firms driven by the construction boom presents its own challenges. Businesses that once employed a couple of tradesmen may now employ 30. These businesses have a new way of operating and the owner's role is now much less about using power tools, and more about marketing, managing people and cashflow.

We believe this is a key reason we are seeing unprecedented demand for our free business education workshops covering these and other key business topics. Investing in your own growth and development as a business owner is critical to long term success.

Recognising the need for more experts to support the rebuild, ANZ now also has specialised teams in residential construction, commercial developments, and trade and contractor support, all based in Christchurch.

Bankers will continue to play an important role in helping business owners through the transition and developing skills. But, ultimately, it is the remarkable people and business owners of Canterbury who are continuing to adapt, grasping the opportunities and taking the region towards the future it deserves.

A lot to offer: Christchurch, Canterbury and beyond
Connections

Government offices, professional firms and world class retail: All your business appointments are within a 10-minute stroll.

• Central

Transformations

Movement and change come via world-class education and research, specialised manufacturing and of course, Christchurch Airport.

• 15 min time from the city centre

Heavy Lifting

Commercial towns thrive throughout Canterbury, partly because Lyttelton Port's been operating for 125 years.

• 30 min time from the city centre

Growth

Canterbury has 70 per cent of New Zealand's irrigated land. There are agriculture, horticulture and viticulture opportunities.

• 45 min time from the city centre

Tourism

Opportunities abound for adventure or for beauty and solitude.

• 2 hours time from the city centre

Discover
Lord of the Rings territory amid glaciers and mountains. From the shores of Lake Tekapo enjoy some of the best views in the world.

• 3 hours time from the city centre

Fred Ohlsson is Managing Director Retail & Business Banking, ANZ.