Swiss banks trade Zurich's costly charm for Polish provinces

Sun Feb 15, 2015 4:23am EST
 
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By Marcin Goclowski and Wojciech Zurawski

WARSAW/KRAKOW (Reuters) - Swiss financial titans UBS and Credit Suisse are expanding their operations in provincial Poland in a cost-saving drive made more urgent by the surge in the value of the Swiss franc.

Economic imperatives are forcing the banks to transfer some of their functions to cheaper locations and swap lakeside Zurich, with its streets lined with luxury boutiques, for the rougher-edged charm of Krakow and Wroclaw.

Even before the Swiss central bank abandoned its cap on the currency in January, the cost of taking on someone in Poland was just 50 to 60 percent as much as hiring an equivalent employee in Switzerland, according to two industry sources.

But since the cap was removed, the savings from shifting operations eastwards have become even bigger. Poland's zloty has fallen 11.6 percent against the Swiss franc since Jan. 15.

UBS is planning to open what it described as a "new business solution center" in the southwestern Polish city of Wroclaw, according to an advertisement it posted on LinkedIn looking for a manager there.

Dariusz Ostrowski, chief executive of the Agency for the Development of the Wroclaw Conurbation, said UBS was considering a city-center location. A spokeswoman for UBS in Zurich declined to comment.

Wroclaw is a far cry from Zurich, where UBS has its main headquarters on the Bahnhofstrasse, lined with Dior and Prada boutiques and shops selling 20,000 euro ($22,800) watches. Wroclaw has a medieval market square but the most prominent international brands are the likes of fast food chain KFC and fashion store H&M.

Reuters has not found evidence that UBS and Credit Suisse are moving operations east directly in response to the surge in the Swiss franc, as both had already begun that process earlier. Credit Suisse has offshoring operations in Wroclaw, several Indian cities and Raleigh, North Carolina. UBS has centers in Krakow, Shanghai and Nashville, Tennessee.   Continued...

 
The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen on an office building in Zurich July 22, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann