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Driving opportunities for a new nation

"The timing of the (Hilton hotel) opening has been planned well, with the Pope planning to visit Timor-Leste in the second week of September. They estimate that there will be a million visitors to Dili during his visit.”

I try to have a very structured work week - as much as I can control it. I recognise I have the privilege of working in one of the youngest nations in the world. It also happens to be strategically positioned as a gateway to both Asia and the Pacific


I get up early and listen to the ABC news while I make my daughter’s school lunch, then I meditate and exercise. 


My daughter and I are in the car by 7am heading to the office. I find peace in our morning routine, and then I’m ready for whatever the day throws at me.


Driving into the heart of Dili, many of the older building which remain are from the Portuguese era and the architecture has a strong influence from that period.




I kicked the day off with the ANZ Pacific Operations monthly meeting and then into our local weekly Commercial and Research & Analysis meeting.


As Timor-Leste is a developing country, we have a heavy focus on Government led regulatory change and legal reform.  


For example, Timor-Leste currently has no accounting and audit standards, but this is a key piece of work for the Ministry of Finance in collaboration with Banco Central Timor-Leste, the local banking regulator, and the World Bank.                                                                                                          

As a key stakeholder, ANZ was provided with the 106-page draft report on the work completed so far and were given a short window to provide feedback.


Consequently, most of today was spent reviewing the report, collating internal stakeholder feedback, ready to present back to our Regulator.




Some of our staff are out of the office in Atauro Island.


The island is fascinating – situated about 24 kms off Dili, which means a boat ride – it is considered an ecotourism destination with cloud shrouded volcanic mountains and one of the most diverse reefs in the world.


Our team was delivering ANZ’s flagship financial education program, Business Basics, in partnership with the University of South Pacific Fiji team.


While this takes staff from their day jobs, the work we do in the communities is what connects us to our Purpose and is incredibly valuable in a country where unemployment and poverty remain a significant issue.  


Our ANZ Timor-Leste staff are incredibly hard-working and committed.  I am learning from them continually, particularly from their experiences growing up and living in Timor-Leste.


Did you know?


  • Tetum is the local Timorese language. Portuguese is the official language of the county, yet only 5 per cent of the population speak it. Tetum is widely spoken, Bahasa Indonesia is well known and English less common.
  • The turning point of the Timor-Leste economy would be the development of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas mega field. The national oil company has a 56.56 per cent stake alongside operator Woodside (33.44 per cent) and Osaka Gas (10 per cent). The business case and feasibility plan are expected to be finalised the end of this year with a decision in 2025.
  • Futsal and soccer are huge sports in Timor-Leste. ANZ have a ladies and men’s team
  • There are two Chinese Naval vessels currently docked in Timor-Leste – one in port and one sitting just offshore. These are a visual reminder of the strategic importance of Timor-Leste from a geopolitical standpoint. 
  • Timorese cuisine is influenced by its Malay and Portuguese colonial heritage. If you find yourself in Timor-Leste, Bernadette recommends visiting:

Agora Restaurant -a social enterprise project showcasing Timorese local food and cooking. 

Pro Ema - a restaurant attached to a cooking school for survivors of abuse. The Sultan of Brunei recently visited Timor-Leste and Pro-Ema hosted a lunch for his visit which was a big milestone for this restaurant. 




The day kicked off with the Pacific Operation Risk and Compliance Committee – this forum is where we discuss all things related to operational risk and compliance. 


We also run this forum at a country level, but I find the Pacific-wide meeting incredibly valuable, as it highlights potential risks in other countries that we can then consider in a Timor-Leste context.


The ANZ Timor-Leste Leadership Team meet weekly – it’s an experienced group with over 150 years of combined banking experience. We are constantly looking for ways to simplify, standardise and take risk out of our business. This meeting was focused on preparations for our annual Business Continuity Plan test. We discussed the upcoming Australian Investor Conference to be held in Dili and ANZs participation. We also got an update on our office renovations (currently underway) from our COO.


In the afternoon, we did a site visit at the new Hilton project – this is a hugely significant project for the country and will tick off one of the key milestones for the Timor-Leste ASEAN ascension. The project has been delayed due to COVID, however we now have a tentative opening date for August this year. 


Officially titled: Hilton Dili Palm Springs, with 150 rooms, it is the first international hotel in Timor-Leste. The hotel is well situated in Dili’s Embassy and Business district.


The timing of the opening has been planned well, with the Pope planning to visit Timor-Leste in the second week of September. They estimate that there will be a million visitors to Dili during his visit.  As a local leadership team, we have already started to plan how we continue to serve our customers with the possibility of significant transport delays and pressure on key infrastructure.


Timor-Leste, alongside the Philippines, is one of Asia’s predominantly Catholic countries, so the visit is a huge milestone in the young country’s journey.




I dialed into the Pacific Credit & Market Risk committee meeting – it’s a monthly forum for Pacific Leaders to manage credit risk in our business. This month’s meeting was of particularly importance as this is where we had the Timor-Leste Risk Appetite Statement annual review approved.


I took time to review our Assets and Liability Committee pack for next week’s meeting. In this forum we are responsible for the oversight and strategic management of the country balance sheet, liquidity and funding positions and capital management activities.


In the afternoon, I attended the opening ceremony of a new clothing store one of our customers has just opened.


Also, as a family we find time to slot in a walk. It is always good for clearing the head!


Dawn and dusk are a popular time for walking and running around Dili – there are lots of fitness conscious people.




We started the day with an all-staff Friday Speak Up series huddle (continuing to build on our risk culture) and this included a fresh fruit breakfast -can’t forget about health and well-being. 


In the afternoon, we headed to the President’s Palace in Balibar to a charity event raising funds for Casa Vida, a project supporting women and girls impacted by domestic violence and abuse. 


Balibar is about half an hour drive from Dili but is set in beautiful surroundings that feels very remote.


Casa Vida was established in 2008 and is now the leading provider of care for survivors of abuse. As well as its shelters, it also operates two of the top hospitality services in Timor-Leste, Kafé Aroma and Arte Vida, to train women from vulnerable backgrounds.


Home by 9.00pm after a long and rewarding week.


After work, we like to relax at home with our beautiful Timorese cat called Zac. After a tough day, he always manages to make me smile – although he is no help when we are working on a jigsaw.


Zac the cat

During the weekend we try to be less structured and take the time to enjoy the local environment with lots of walking and spending time with friends. The hiking here is amazing – with Mount Ramelau being one of the most stunning climbs I have ever done. There are some beautiful beaches but if you fear crocodiles – avoid the water!


It also gives me a chance to reflect on my role, which I see as a huge privilege.


As Country Head, I get to lead a team of incredible people in one of the world’s youngest countries. We have the unique opportunity here to be part of regulatory, legal, and economic development initiatives that will lead to positive outcomes for the country and its people. The highlight for me is that no week is ever the same – always expect the unexpected!


Bernadette Shaw is ANZ Country Head for Timor-Leste

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