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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

Dec 22, 2021

Anita Aquino: The lone female member of the Monetary Board

The youngest and lone female member of the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Anita Linda R. Aquino, never thought of entering government. But when the opportunity came, she felt it was the right time.

The offer came through a phone call by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III. MBM Annie was asked to join the government as his Chief-of-Staff. For someone who never imagined serving in the public sector, she was able to serve on the board of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC) and as Board Adviser to the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), a government financial institution, before her appointment to the Monetary Board.

The great dream: To be a banker

MBM Annie had always wanted to be a banker and to work for a global banking company. She finished her Bachelor of Arts in Economics at the Ateneo de Manila University, did a short stint for a local bank, before going to the US to study. She earned her Masters in Economics from Fordham University in New York and completed a special program in Accounting and Finance at Marymount Manhattan College, New York, where she was inducted into the Curian Honor Society.

She lived in New York for five years — part of her stay was spent working at Charles A. Dana Foundation — before coming back to the country through an offer from Citibank, which she considered a major crossroads in her life. Not only would she come back to the Philippines at a time when there were rotating brownouts and the country’s economy was not in good shape, but also, she had to choose between having a permanent position or being a management trainee.

In the end, she chose to come home and to be a management associate so she could learn how a bank operates, a chance she thought would never come again if she missed it at that time. Today, she says those are two well-made decisions.

She only spent four months as a management trainee where she eventually was assigned in Financial Markets — in Manila and in Singapore. During those years, she studied everything she needed to learn to do well in her assignments. She even became the go-to person of her colleagues when they had questions regarding Central Bank regulations.

Now, she sees it all coming together: Her past experiences — private/public sector, domestic/global markets — bringing her the knowledge and experience that are vital to her role as Monetary Board Member. And as fate would have it, in the history of the Central Bank and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Ms. Aquino became the first female banker to sit in the Monetary Board.

Public service calling

While entering government never crossed her mind, MBM Annie said, everything just fell into place,” I felt it was time that I step up and serve my country.”

She shared one memorable experience when she was the Chief of Staff of Secretary Dominguez, who told her that he wanted “to see tomorrow.” She pondered how she would be able to execute it.

 Eventually, she reached out to Alibaba Group founder, Jack Ma, whom she met during his last visit to the country.

Jack Ma and his team came up with a three-day workshop in Hangzhou that included a visit to the Alibaba Business School. The Department of  Finance led delegation underwent the New Economy Workshop that was organized by Alibaba and was tailor-fit to the Philippine setting. It focused on how technology transforms businesses and economies.

 BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno, who was then Budget Secretary, was also part of the delegation.

MBM Annie said that experience proved helpful to her in many aspects — in pushing for digital reforms, in being open to new ideas, in being nimble in accepting disruptions and in looking at ideas from various perspectives.

Investment in people

MBM Annie also believes in investing in people. She would invest time in teaching people under her because she knows it would not only lead to less mistakes, which is costly especially for banking institutions, but also result in efficiency and better productivity.

She shared the story of a new hire whom she taught and trained. She saw his potential and she allotted extra time to teach him the basics of their work. Her efforts proved helpful not only for the employee, but also for their team. When the employee asked Ms. Aquino how he could repay her for helping him succeed in his career, she told him to just do the same as she did to him — teach others, share the knowledge, pay it forward.

For Ms. Aquino, her guiding principle in public service is, “To do what is right, for the greater good.”

It’s a very simple principle, yet not the easiest thing to do. For instance, when crafting policies, she would always think how these would affect people’s lives not only today but also in the future.

Her appointment to the BSP Monetary Board could not have come at a more perfect time. Having worked in financial markets during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, she provides the needed global perspective on how the Monetary Board formulates responses to the current public health crisis.

“I see all my past experiences coming together. My perspective would have been totally different if I did not venture into public service. The years I spent in the banking profession plus my experience in the public sector  — that’s the perfect combination for this role,” she shared.

Never stop learning

I asked MBM Annie of her dreams and aspirations at this point of her life. She told me that, while she may have an idea of what she wants, she has already learned through the decades that her plan never happens, because somewhere along the way, something better comes up.

Instead, she gave an advice to young people, an advice that she herself continues to practice to this day, even with her expertise: “Never stop learning, nothing beats experience and be quick to adapt to changes for there will always be opportunities.”

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