On a wet and cold December day, Warsaw doesn't seem to have much to recommend it. Away from the colourful and Trumpton-esque old town, Poland's capital city is a mass of drab 1960s concrete housing blocks. Paris can seem similarly homogeneous, but while the French capital was designed by Georges Haussmann in the 1800s, Warsaw's post-war architects seem to have been channeling the Gorbals - the notorious Glaswegian housing estate built in the same era. Compounding the bleakness, Warsaw gets dark at 3.30pm in winter. The traffic in and out of the city is awful. The taxi drivers speak hardly any English.
First impressions, however, are not everything. Warsaw's grey 20th century monoliths are increasingly interspersed with shiny 21st century towers. Pockets of the city more closely resemble Manhattan or Canary Wharf than 1960s Glasgow, and you can always summon a bilingual Uber driver. Banks are moving into Warsaw. They've already hired a lot of people, and they have plans to hire a lot more.
Last week, Goldman Sachs announced plans to add another 250-300 people in Poland's capital city. "Generally speaking, it’s very easy to find people here," says Brent Watson, the managing director in charge of Goldman Sachs' operation in Poland. "We’ve already gone from 30 to 530 people in the space of 1.5 years."
Goldman Sachs isn't alone in its enthusiasm. J.P. Morgan said in September that it intends to hire 3,000 people in Warsaw within three years. Standard Chartered plans to add 500 people in the city. Credit Suisse, which has been in the Western Polish city of Wroclaw for over 10 years, leased a Warsaw office in September 2016 and hired 600 people in just 12 months. It too plans to hire more. Credit Suisse has a "long term strategy" of locating jobs in Poland, says Aneta Kocemba-Muchowicz, head of Credit Suisse's office in Warsaw.
As front office banking jobs migrate to Frankfurt on Brexit fears, Warsaw is competing and winning in the battle for jobs in more quantitative middle office areas. These are some of the fastest growing roles in finance, with the result that Warsaw's importance stands to increase exponentially.
When Goldman Sachs announced its expansion last week, it said it intended to broaden the range of jobs it houses in Warsaw to include technology, risk, finance, human capital management and securities division strats. Jo Obstoj, head of fixed income currencies and commodities (FICC) technology at Goldman in Warsaw, says the breadth of roles in the city is snowballing as the office becomes more established. "Currently we have FICC, equities, prime services, and operations technology in Warsaw," says Obstoj. "IBD [the technology teams supporting the investment banking division] is knocking on the door to come to Warsaw too, and we have more markets functions shifting over here." Obstoj says technology is itself enabling Goldman's Warsaw technologists to operate remotely: "It used to be that production support was in London, but now that support is electronic, we have support teams in Warsaw and only a small amount of human support needs to be based in London."
From next year, some of Goldman's most interesting technology jobs will be located in the Polish city. There are plans to increase the number of Warsaw-based developers working on the firm's flagship Marquee product from four to nine, and a team of Warsaw-based data scientists and machine learning specialists is being assembled. "The more teams that come here, the more Warsaw proves its success, the more the business increases its focus on Poland," says Ilona Jeromin, an associate in Goldman's operations division who was one of the first employees in Warsaw when the office opened in 2015.
A similar trend seems to be afoot at Credit Suisse. "Initially, developers in London managed teams in Warsaw and Wroclaw and gave them guidance on what to do," says Kocemba-Muchowicz. "But we are now having more of the full product cycle in Poland, with business analysts and developers based here and Polish teams increasingly empowered."
With Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, and Standard Chartered all hiring hundreds (or thousands in the case of J.P. Morgan) staff in Warsaw, Poland looks like ground zero in the contemporary war for talent. Although Credit Suisse has spent the last year focusing on hiring people with around five years' experience, it's Polish students who are likely to benefit most from the banking influx. The country is host to an unusual number of top technical and finance universities, including: AGH (Krakow), Tadeusz Kościuszko University of Technology (Politechnika Krakow), Warsaw University of Technology (Politechnika), Kozminski University (Warsaw), SGH (Warsaw), and Warsaw University - to name but a few.
"There are 1.3m students in Poland and a good proportion are studying finance or technology. It’s a very deep and broad talent pool," says Watson at Goldman Sachs. Credit Suisse's Kocemba-Muchowicz says Poland is benefiting from its historic technical expertise: "Even if you look back to the communist system, Polish schools had a very strong emphasis on technical education and mathematics."
With so much local talent, global banks in Poland would seem to have little need of hiring outside the country. Indeed, at Goldman and Credit Suisse the vast majority of staff are Poles, but both banks are open to recruiting from elsewhere. "English is a must-have for the people we’re hiring. Polish is secondary," says Kocemba-Muchowicz. "We’re looking to expand the scope of our graduate hiring for Warsaw beyond Polish universities," says Rachel Boyd, head of human capital management for Warsaw and Continental Europe at Goldman Sachs. "Whenever we’re on campus in Europe now, we present Warsaw alongside London. We’ve had particular success hiring people from Bocconi [in Milan] into Warsaw-based roles."
If you're coming from abroad, Warsaw has more than just an abundance of banking jobs to recommend it. In its fast-growing offices, there's arguably greater chance of promotion. Despite the drab Communist-era architecture that emerged from Warsaw's wartime destruction, the city is very green: it has own national park encompassing the remains of ancient forests adjacent to the city. For a country that likes to eat ham and cheese for breakfast, Warsaw is also surprisingly vegan. Poles are interested in quality of life: there's a lot of sport and cycling. At Goldman, there's yoga on the roof in summer (or in the auditorium in winter), as well as bake-offs, Christmas jumper competitions and quiet rooms. Working hours are often shorter than London. Commuting is easier. At Credit Suisse, Kocemba-Muchowicz works alongside a living, 'green wall'.
Thibaut Rouquette, the French FinTech director of The Heart Warsaw, an organisation supporting foreign fintech companies in Poland, is one of the non-Poles enthused about the city. Before coming to Warsaw, Rouquette was in London. "I came here for the adventure," he says. "I saw Warsaw as an entrepreneur would - it was a place where there was still everything to be done. Even in the 2.5 years that I've been here, the transformation has been incredible. I would absolutely bet on Poland for the future."
Last week, Rouquette attended a fintech conference in Katowice: "We presented five high growth companies to J.P. Morgan," he says. "They were interested in exploring all of them,"
For middle and back office staff in London who are worried about Brexit, Warsaw's rise might seem cause for apprehension. However, both Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse emphasize that their decisions to expand in the city were independent of - and in Goldman's case partially predated, Brexit. "The expansion in Poland is not Brexit-related," says Watson. "It would have happened anyway. I was here in May 2015 and the plan to be here was already baked. The growth we’ve seen since then has been facilitated by our ability to hire people..."
Even so, London's cheerleaders might want to note that Warsaw's exponents boast London's most enduring and seemingly irremovable advantage as their own. "Poland is at the very centre of Europe, which also gives it a convenient time zone between Asia and the U.S.," says Kocemba-Muchowicz. Meanwhile, Obstoj challenges a recently resurrected parable which has boosted Britons' perception of their own technological prowess: "It was actually three young Polish mathematicians who really cracked the Enigma code," she says. "They handed their work over to Alan Turing and his team in Bletchley just before the war broke out."
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