February 15, 2015 / 9:24 AM / 3 years ago

Swiss banks trade Zurich's costly charm for Polish provinces

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

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.

However, the rise in the Swiss franc makes the economics of offshoring even more attractive.

“The ... bank is making very big savings here,” said an employee at Credit Suisse’s offshoring center in Wroclaw.

“The pay for a similar job is at least twice as much in London,” said the employee, who was speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“We have 3,000 people here now and I am hearing in the company that it will go up to about 5,000 .... IT, HR, operations and finance processes are being shifted to Wroclaw, mainly from London and Zurich.”

A Credit Suisse spokeswoman in London said the company did not disclose concrete figures on expansion plans.

Credit Suisse is trying to make overall cost savings of 200 million francs by the end of 2017 and has said it will move more jobs to lower-cost locations. UBS, seeking to cut costs by 1 billion francs, has said it has similar plans for offshoring

At the end of last year, UBS added 500 employees at its Krakow operations center, bringing the total there to 1,300 people, said local company spokeswoman Malgorzata Szoka. She said another 700 people work for UBS in Krakow via third party companies.

Many of the UBS staff work at a business park in Zabierzow, in open countryside on the edge of Krakow. A train station was built there to bring in workers from the city center, but the growth has been so fast that in the rush hour passengers have to jostle to get on board.

Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig in Warsaw and Albert Schmieder in Zurich; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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