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BESA, the business bank of choice

Article - September 21, 2011
Able to turn profits just a year after its creation, BESA offers world-class services
Banco Espirito Santo Angola, or BESA, began operations in 2002 and has already grown enough to become one of the country’s top-five banks. The lender is controlled by Portuguese financial group Espirito Santo and has been able to grow so quickly by setting and maintaining a clear, well established strategy, says Alvaro Sobrinho, BESA’s CEO.

“When we opened we were made up of a small team, but we started from the very beginning by defining what our goals were,” he says. “In our business plan, we aimed for and expected to reach the break-even point within three years and it was with this transparency that we grew rapidly in the Angolan market.”

The strategy chosen by the lender’s owners and management rested on three strong pillars: aiming for profitability at an early stake of the bank’s growth, taking a strong interest in social responsibility, and supporting economic expansion in Angola as much as possible. The strategy was so successful that the bank reached the break-even point eight months after it opened.

BESA attributes this success to its team being able to take advantage of the Espirito Santo group’s long years of banking experience in Portugal and other countries where it has operations. 

That know-how ensured the bank’s workers would remain focused on providing clients with the highest-quality customer service available in Angola, and led them to target the high-income and business lending and services markets that until then had been neglected by the country’s other financial institutions.

“The banks that existed in Angola were only engaged in one segment, mass-market, and had not targeted the segments of enterprises and the private-banking,” Mr. Sobrinho says. “We began to cultivate this segment which, although it doesn’t include a lot of people, is of great added value.”

To win over these important clients, BESA made sure to offer products and services they would be interested in but that were unavailable from other lenders. It was the first bank in Angola to open a market room that worked directly with financial markets in England and offered brokerage and trading services that high-end clients wanted access to.

Business clients were wooed by the bank’s strong, efficient international trade unit, which issued letters of credit permitting Angolan companies to gain access to more imports. BESA became the most efficient bank in the country for issuing these vital products, and the number of such operations it carried out grew quickly after the product was first introduced.

BESA has also begun to move into other important financial services market segments. Through its BESAACTIF unit offers investment funds to clients looking to expand their savings and through BESA Options it provides pension fund management to companies seeking such services.

All units benefit from the bank’s heavy investment in information technology, which uses an advanced platform permitting each part access to an integrated products and services system that is used by the world’s biggest banks. That gives BESA a big competitive advantage compared with its local rivals.

“This is part of our strategy; we believe that in today’s world a company can grow only if it has an advanced information system,” Mr. Sobrinho comments.

A final and very important aspect of the bank’s activities is its social responsibility programs. BESA understands the importance of education, science and culture to a growing economy, and participates in many different programs to promote them, all to help improve the lives of Angolans on a daily basis.