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Executive Education

Ângela Bilhastre SMB
Ângela Bilhastre SMB
Strategic Management in Banking

Strategic Management in Banking: Taking Ownership of My Learning Path

Ângela Bilhastre

Head of Finance at Standard Bank Angola

I used to think that the most important thing to a client when it comes to digital transformation was that the process was fast and efficient. But through this programme, I’ve come to realise that for some clients, they also value being part of the process.

Born and educated in Portugal, Angela Bilhastre had her first taste of Africa during a business trip to Mozambique in 2012. She enjoyed the continent so much that, now, more than a decade later, she calls Angola home.

She shares that while the main reason for her move to Angola was her husband’s relocation, her professional skillsets in finance made it easy for her to find a job there.

“I started working at PwC Portugal in 2009 as an auditor in banking and insurance, and in 2013, when the time came for me to move to Angola, it was quite easy because PwC had quite a few projects here. In 2014, I moved on to Standard Bank to work as a Financial Control Manager in the Finance Department, which is where I still am today.”

In 2020, Angela was appointed Head of Finance, where she leads a team of 15 and is responsible for three main areas: Accounting and Payments, Financial Control and Regulatory Reporting, and Product Control.


Creating and Sustaining Meaning

Notwithstanding the initial challenges of relocation, which included being far from family and contracting malaria – Angela shares that she has really enjoyed her time in Angola. Aside from living close to the beach and ocean which she loves, she also finds that working in banking in a developing nation has given her job extra meaning.

“I feel that in Portugal, I could be easily substituted by anyone else with the same knowledge as me. But here, there is a real need for people with the knowledge and skillsets, and who are well-trained. So, in a way, I feel that my work is more valued here and that I am really able to help the people around me. There are also a lot more growth opportunities here because a sizable percentage of the population still doesn’t have access to the banking system.”

Whilst enjoying the strong sense of purpose that she gets at Standard Bank Angola, Angela is also quick to recognise the dangers of becoming too comfortable and staying stagnant. This is why Angela appreciates Standard Bank’s strong learning culture, and how it encourages all employees to take ownership of their learning and development path.

“Together with the People & Culture Department and our respective line managers, we are tasked to come up with our own Personal Development Plan (PDP). And, this was how I first got to know about INSEAD’s Strategic Management in Banking (SMB) programme.

My line manager, Raquel Bastos, who went to do this programme last year, told me how great the programme was and how I should consider doing it. So, I went to get more information and ended up seeing many great testimonials from former programme participants. That was when I decided to include SMB in my PDP for this year.”

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

For Angela, a key deciding factor in her decision to choose the SMB programme was also the fact that it was specifically targeted towards the needs of the banking industry. The syllabus covered many topics that were directly relevant to her job.

Looking back at the programme, Angela recalls several of the topics that she found to be particularly helpful.

“I clearly remember the two simulations. One was on asset and liability management, which was more technical, while the other was people-focused and very practical in nature. In this second simulation, we were tasked to reformulate a company, and really the big takeaway for me was the need to communicate, communicate, communicate.

Whether it’s by email or face to face, whether it’s a specific conversation with one person, or a generic communication to everyone. It made me think more deeply about how we should plan our communication based on the culture and the way people are used to working, and what the client is expecting the company to deliver.

It’s really more than just about prices and products, but also really about the people.”

Another key takeaway for her was the idea that speed and efficiency may not be everything.

“I used to think that the most important thing to a client when it comes to digital transformation was that the process was fast and efficient. But through this programme, I’ve come to realise that for some clients, they also value being part of the process. The client also wants to contribute to the process of creating that change. It’s important for them to understand the steps and what it takes to get there. They want to feel like they had a part to play, and not just have someone else do it all for them.”

Impactful Learning Experience

Whilst only a week long, Angela says that she came away from the programme learning much more than she could have expected:

“I remember that even before the programme started, we were given a lot of information and cases to read up on. So, by the time I got to Fontainebleau, I felt like I had already gained a lot of information. The real highlight, however, was getting to discuss these cases with the other participants in small teams, and also as a class with Professor Massimo.”

Angela explains that the reason that these discussions were particularly impactful was due in large part to the quality and calibre of the programme participants and professors present.

“Many of my programme mates held very senior positions. They were CEOs and CFOs at well-known banks and even central banks. I was thus presented with a golden opportunity to discuss banking issues with these very experienced people from the sector. At the same time, I also got to see these experienced and talented senior people as real humans whom I would go out to lunch and dinner with, and interact with during coffee breaks. That was very nice...

I also remember how Professor Massimo would often answer questions with ‘it depends’. I think his approach really impacted me and influenced me in a way that now whenever I hear a question, I don’t just jump to answer it, but instead consider more carefully how every situation can have multiple answers and directions that we can go.

In the end, the week just felt much bigger than the actual five days!”

What Angela has to say about INSEAD’s Strategic Management in Banking programme

Location at Fontainebleau

“I arrived on a Saturday and I went to visit the Chateau, which is very nearby. The city centre was very nice with its small stores and restaurants. I stayed in the hotel within the campus, and there was a forest nearby where I was able to go for runs in. I really enjoyed the experience.”

Teaching Methodology

“I appreciated the interactions with the talented teachers such as Professor Massimo and Professor Jean Dermine. Professor Massimo was extremely clear in his communication, despite going at a very quick pace. The way that he shared the knowledge kept the full attention of the class, and encouraged thinking and participation.”

Real-world learning

“I really liked all the discussions and case studies. For example, in terms of the regulatory environment, we got to look at some cases to analyse what some banks did wrong and what did they do differently from all the other banks in the market. And, how these situations can be prevented in future…

Because, even if we are fulfilling all the requirements, it’s not 100% guaranteed that we won’t face issues. We still have risks and we need to look at our numbers carefully to make sure we are making the right decision.”

Networking opportunities

“I remember looking at the profiles of the other participants before the programme started and I remember thinking ‘whoa!’ They were very experienced people from the banking sector. And yet, at the same time, it’s good to know that these very senior people are also human and it was just a great opportunity for me to spend a week with these participants.”

Business impact

“I remember thinking before the programme that perhaps physical bank branches don’t make sense anymore. But in class, we were presented with the idea that maybe banks have gone too far in closing branches, because human interaction is still at the heart of banking and people still care a lot about building trust. And so, in that sense, in terms of business continuity, I think that was an important thinking point for us to take away.”