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Flipside - Way ahead, but a long way away

Sitting here in Café Sydney, on the balcony of the old Customs House building overlooking the harbour bridge, it's hard to imagine that anything as frantic and high-powered as international finance is happening in the streets just behind. It isn't. At the so-called four pillars - Westpac, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ - and at most of the investment banks and brokers the food may be international but business is basically domestic.

This is the place where the words "foreign bank" don't mean foreign staff, foreign clients, cross-border flows and superior know-how. They mean a local operation completely foreign to a distant owner. Inside these institutions ex-pats stand out like the bagpiper in front of the opera house. So distant are these outposts that, for example, when Deutsche Bank bought Bankers Trust it forgot not only about BT's extensive and very successful operations downunder, but also about its own top-ranked subsidiary with which BT overlapped. Sydney is littered with bankers for whom the whole affair is still too painful to talk about before six o'clock.

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