Software dev: Why do so many finance firms bank on Romania? It's not just pay

Although Romania is exerting a strong pull on top-level banks as a software outsourcing destination, other factors on top of affordable skills are coming into play.

ING Romania

The ING Bank branch in Cluj-Napoca: Romania is becoming a development hot spot for big banks and fintech businesses.

Image: Marek SLUSARCZYK, tupungato

Germany's Deutsche Bank, France's Societe Generale, Italy's UniCredit, Dutch ING, and Swiss UBS are actively expanding their developer teams in Romania, collectively planning to hire about 500 software engineers this year, according to numbers provided to ZDNet by the banks themselves and recruiters.

In Romania, over 2,000 software engineers are already working either directly for fintech businesses, such as Misys, or through outsourcing companies like Luxoft.

And the number keeps growing, as Romania boosts its image as a place where you can find reasonably-priced developers who speak English and understand the rigor of financial software.

Bucharest University of Economic Studies alone offers to educate 1,500 freshmen starting in October, in fields that mix computer science with economics. The latest statistics show that two-thirds of the students manage to graduate from this university.

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Many of these financial companies are making a significant commitment to their Romanian operations. For example, ING, which was late to the table, opened a software development hub less than a year ago. It already employs 150 engineers and intends to add about 100 more each year, until 2019. Other financial institutions aim to do the same.

For software engineers, this level of engagement is clearly good news. "[Those] working in the banking sector often get up to 10 or 20 percent more money compared with average software engineers," a spokesman at local recruitment agency Adecco tells ZDNet.

"A junior employee has a take-home pay of €700 to €1,000 a month, while a senior IT professional working in a software center earns between €2,500 and €3,500 a month," he says.

Their salaries aren't rock-bottom compared with those found in Western Europe. However, business costs associated with employment are significantly lower due to inferior income taxes and the incentives software companies receive from local government to create jobs or conduct R&D. In addition, professionals can take advantage of the tax exemptions that apply to IT jobs.

Despite all those advantages, financial institutions say lower workforce costs are only one of the reasons they decided to open software centers in the country. Marian Ion, CEO at ING Services Romania, says a decision solely based on cost savings wouldn't amount to a successful long-term strategy.

"That Romania is part of the EU, the [reduced] time difference, relative short travel distances, similarity in culture with Western countries, the strong English skills of Romanian IT engineers, those are all secondary reasons for ING choosing Bucharest for its strategic software center," he says.

Romania's similarity to the Western world was regarded as an asset by Deutsche Bank as well, when it decided to do business in the country. "Romania has a very large number of highly-skilled specialists, with great foreign language skills, which was seen as a key driver in choosing Romania," a Deutsche Bank spokesman tells ZDNet.

The German financial giant has its own software center in Romania, and there are also devs working for it through outsourcing company Luxoft.

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"Romania is a desirable nearshore location for European clients and an offshore destination in our worldwide delivery network for our global clients," Luxoft global communications VP Alina Plaia says. "It provides us with a solid engineering talent supply and has a good level of economic and political stability."

Luxoft was among the first big names to run banking software projects in Romania, in 2012, and currently employs 1,000 professionals in Bucharest working for Deutsche Bank and the Swiss bank UBS. The country is a major delivery hub for Luxoft in the EU, along with Poland and Bulgaria.

"We've hired many professionals from the emerging markets around the globe and relocated them to Romania. The government of Romania is providing us with compelling incentives as we help build up Romania's IT sector to a significant level within the GDP of the country," she says.

Luxoft attracts developers by offering them appealing salaries, as well as the chance to use innovative technologies, according to Plaia. Most of the engineers work with Java, but Oracle and .Net/C++ experts are also employed.

Hiring developers is one thing. Keeping them is another. Luxoft encourages its employees to aim for higher positions within the company.

"Our senior management is coaching mid-level managers for them to advance to the next level," Plaia says. "It preserves the company's culture, retains valuable talent, and motivates our employees who can lead others by example."

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