There’s a certain symmetry to the respective positions of Poland and Romania on the map of Central and Eastern Europe. Both countries are landlocked on three sides yet benefit from coastlines facing the seaways of the Baltic and Black Sea. This geographical symmetry is echoed in the economic histories of both nations. Both were members of the Soviet Bloc and since the collapse of communism both have adopted free market capitalism, become members of the EU and seen their economies boom as a result.
Prior to the global financial crisis, Poland’s growth rate was around 6.0 percent and while the world recession has taken its toll, GDP has not yet dipped into negative territory. “Only two countries in Europe still have growth,” says Roger Adamovicz, a Senior Manager in IT Advisory based in the Polish firm’s Warsaw office. “One is Cyprus and the other is Poland.”
Romania, which saw growth of more than 8.0 percent in 2008, has been affected by the recession this year just like many neighbors. As Wilson Balachandra, a partner in KPMG’s Financial Advisory practice based in the Romanian firm's Bucharest office observes, the economy certainly hasn’t been able to defy gravity. “Last year the economy grew, but this year a severe contraction is expected,” says Wilson. However, an agreement made with the IMF earlier in the year helped stabilize the state’s finances. Romania is also eligible for large amounts of post-accession EU funding. This should provide the government with an excellent opportunity to carry out much-needed infrastructure projects and at the same time mitigate the effects of the recession by creating jobs.
Wilson stresses that while the economy itself is expected to contract this year, KPMG’s workload continues to increase and the last few years have seen mounting demand for the Romanian firm’s audit, tax and advisory services. It’s been a similar story in Poland, where booming economic activity coupled with an ongoing program of economic liberalization has created an expanding professional services market.
KPMG in Warsaw and Bucharest
KPMG has had a presence in Poland since 1990 and while it currently has offices in six cities, its headquarters are located in the capital, Warsaw. As Roger Adamovicz explains, the modernity of the Warsaw offices is tempered by a sense of the city’s recent history. “We have eight floors of a 36 story office block close to the centre,” he says. “It’s very modern, but the block is in a very historic part of the city — the Warsaw Ghetto.”
KPMG has had a presence in Romania for 15 years and its headquarters are situated at the entrance to Bucharest on the road from the airport. As Wilson explains, this is an ideal location. “A lot of KPMG firms’ clients are investors or businesspeople from overseas and they can call in to see us on the way to their other appointments,” he says. Like their Warsaw counterparts, the offices are modern and airy with plenty of space. “We moved in with a view to expansion and we have been taking on more staff,” says Wilson. “When I joined three and a half years ago there were 500 people. Now there are 650.” Wilson adds, “KPMG in Romania has also developed a network of regional branches, placing us in a better position to give a more personal service to clients throughout the country. When I joined the only branch we had was in Timisoara. Now we also have offices in Cluj-Napoca, Iasi and Constanta.”
Wilson worked in Hungary before transferring to Bucharest and he says there is demand for experience from outside the country, particularly in the Audit and Advisory practices. Local language skills are useful in Hungary, but as Wilson points out English or French are fine to work in Romania. “Business people are fluent in English and use it a lot, because it is the language of communication in any meeting in which a non-Romanian speaker is present. Good English is a requirement for all Romanian firm employees. Many staff are fluent in other languages too; we have a French desk, and we also have Spanish and Italian speakers. I am impressed by the way many KPMG in Romania staff are not only fluent in several languages, but can also switch between them effortlessly.”
The picture is similar in Poland. “Everyone at board level tends to speak English,” says Roger. “However, if you’re working with people at a more junior level within client companies, you will need Polish.” Demand for people from outside Poland is limited and tends to focus on people with specific market knowledge. “For instance, at the moment there is a need for people with experience in shared service,” says Roger. For the past few years, the key market sectors for KPMG in Poland were insurance, banking and the public sector. IT advisory was the fastest growing service line in Advisory.
Life and work
So what can expatriates expect from living and working in these two countries? Well, despite common elements in their recent histories, Warsaw and Bucharest present very different faces to the world. While Poland’s location points to its history as part of the central European mainstream, Romania is something of a bridge between Europe and Asia and the Middle East. Indeed, its teeming capital Bucharest has been described as a cross between Warsaw and Cairo.
Both countries have a huge amount to offer in terms of leisure activities and places to see. Warsaw has thrown off the gloom of the communist years to become a vibrant capital, rich in history and contemporary culture. However, Wilson is keen to counter the impression — dating back to the revolution — that Romania is something of a dull backwater. Not for nothing was Bucharest known as ‘Little Paris’ in the early part of the 20th century. Today, a similar cultural appeal remains. “Romania has many attractions,” says Wilson. “Bucharest has several parks and cafes as well as a vibrant cultural life. The Carpathian Mountains and Black Sea are just two hours from the capital, and there are many other places to visit around the country, such as the famous Painted Monasteries in the north.”
While Bucharest and Warsaw are two very different cities, the factors they have in common are their rapidly developing and — in normal times, at least — fast-growing economies. These in turn have created a thriving market for professional services skills and knowledge.