With this sixth episode of SME Banking Conversations with Olena Gryniuk, we are continuing the series of inspiring interviews on SME Banking, digital transformation, and people making innovations happen in the industry!
The recording of the sixth episode took place in Warsaw (Poland), in the office of ITDS Poland. Olena Gryniuk – CEE Director at SME Banking Club, speaks to Charles Gamba – Founder and CEO at ITDS Poland – one of the leading IT companies working in the financial sector in Poland and included in the FT 1000.
Listen to this conversation on our SoundCloud channel:
Olena Gryniuk: Charles, you have been present here in the Polish market since 2016. What are your successes and lessons learned during this time?
Charles Gamba: It’s already been six years. Time flies. ITDS is a fast-growing company, specializing in the IT and financial industry. We also cover other industries, but that’s what we call our USP. Essentially, we have many successes that we`re very proud of. We employ 400 people in Poland and Portugal. We keep up hiring and we are very ambitious. We gain the trust of more than 30 clients across the industry. We work with very large caps trying to help them to design their proprietary systems or integrate software packages for them. On top of that, we have created an excellent company with a great atmosphere, great people, and excellent values. We have a very strong management team that is really pushing the company forward and we have also really amazing people across the board at every level in the organization. And we all have one objective, which is to become one of the leaders in Europe, in the IT industry. We’ve been recognized by the Financial Times twice as one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe, in 2021 and 2022. We also got the certification “Great place to work” here in Poland. We got this certification that we are obviously very proud of, to be one of the top employers in Europe and the Polish market.
OG: Yes, not many companies have this. Great.
CG: Thanks. And on top of that, since 2019 we are a part of a very large group called the House of HR, which is very influential in Europe. This is one of our successes as well. It employs more than 40,000 people in different sectors. It’s a federation of companies with a very strong entrepreneurship spirit, which was lately bought by Bain Capital, which has very big ambitions for the group.
We are very much specialized in the financial industry and especially in the banking industry. We cover different sectors like retail, SME banking, corporate investment banking, asset management, and wealth management. We are working for factoring, and leasing companies. We have a pool of specialists, IT engineers that know the banking industry very well. And that’s one of our strengths in the Polish market, but also in different markets like Portugal or even Holland.
OG: You mentioned that your IT engineers have experience in the financial industry. How important is that, in your opinion?
CG: It depends on the projects and the ambitions. It’s always a strong plus for banking clients, for instance, to hire IT engineers that know the business, that know the processes. Because today we work in Agile Scrum. Product development is done differently and the business is much closer to IT and vice versa. So definitely when you hire engineers, which can be software engineers or analysts or project managers, when they know the business, it`s much easier. And on top of that, if they know the benchmark from the industry, and the best practices, they can really help you to design the best solution and to challenge the business. I mean, to challenge the business, excuse me. Software engineers don’t necessarily need to know the banking industry, they can learn it on the go. For analysts – it’s more challenging, they really need to understand the processes.
OG: Charles, let’s talk about you. What is your path to ITDS?
CG: My path to ITDS Poland, how did I arrive here? There were up and downs, like in entrepreneur life. I got to know Poland a long time ago. It was in 2012 when I had the chance to study in Politechnika Warszawska. It was an amazing experience. I still have very, very good memories from that time. And I really fell in love with the country to start with, you know, with the culture, the people.
OG: I can understand you quite well!
CG: Yeah. And on top of that, Poland is a great country, but it’s also a great market. Definitely, in that time I already started to get a grasp or see the potential of Poland being the IT hub in Europe, which is something that actually became true. You have a very good education system. People are really talented. There is a very good command of English across the board in Poland. People speak very well English. They know how to work in an international environment. So, I decided to look at the market and set up the company together we a couple of co-founders. And we went basically from scratch. We created a company. And today we are more than 400 people. So, we’re very proud.
OG: IT outsourcing. Do you think banks and the financial sector, in general, started to prefer this form of the implementation of IT solutions compared to the buying of ready-made solutions from the providers?
CG: It’s not black or white, there are 50 shades of gray in between. What you can see in the market is that definitely the digital transformation and the adoption of Agile Scrum methodology in the project have really changed the perception of banks, the way they design the system, and they manage IT. So, there is a difference between small caps, mid-cap and large caps companies in terms of the size and their maturity in IT. What you will find out is that small caps, clients, have usually smaller IT departments, and less IT maturity. And those clients will have more tendency to look for solutions from the market because they don’t have the capability to develop by themselves. And here usually they either select a software provider that designed a bespoke solution or a software house, or they will select a software house that does a ready product and then integrate it with an integrator. That’s something we actually do in ITDS as an integrator for companies. After you have midsize and large caps. They became much more mature in terms of IT development. And most of the banks have decided to create their own IT department and become their own software house, with a very strong focus on product development and software engineering, using the latest technologies to make a difference on the market. Because today you make really a difference in the markets with digital solutions, having a fast time-to-market, having flexibility. Today there is really a strong push from large caps, also large companies to have a very strong engineering culture across the department and that’s why IT engineering outsourcing became very famous and that’s why we are also growing because companies are looking for great engineers or good engineers as well to manage their projects, to develop their product and to have their own intellectual property.
OG: And searching for IT engineers fast, I would say. As they usually are needed for yesterday.
CG: You know if you work across the IT department in a bank, usually, the first question I ask is: what is your biggest challenge? And 99% of the time people tell me always talent scarcity. We need good people. We cannot find good people. So that is one of the biggest challenges. Except for the market challenges that we all are aware of with inflation, war, etc.
OG: What are the main advantages of IT outsourcing and what are the risks?
CG: There are a lot of advantages. The first one is that we are right now in a market where talent scarcity is very strong. It’s very hard to find good people and the core business of banks is not to recruit IT engineers, it is to provide financial solutions to their clients. So, there are strong advantages such as, first of all, working with companies that have existing talent pools or companies that know how to source candidates from the market, how to assess them, how to onboard them, how to manage them. That’s what we actually do. The second advantage is, because what you can see in Scrum teams usually clients have their own staff, their own employees, and they have contractors. And you can obviously play between your OpEx and your CapEx to manage the cost of your IT project or your product development. There are also advantages in that you can manage your attrition in a much easier way because as we know, people get into some companies, and they are not getting married to you. They usually come for an experience, they learn and then they are free to go, and usually, that’s what’s happening on the market, especially right now with the new generation. So, it’s very important to always have a partner that is able to backfill your position because your product and the business don’t wait for the backlog to be done. You need to have the people on board to do the projects. So, there are definitely a lot of advantages to working with companies like us because you really get talents, you don’t need to have headaches to solve them, to find them. And you can play with your costs.
OG: What is the risk?
CG: The risk. There are necessarily not many risks. Except if you go for full-blown outsourcing and then you don’t know what’s going on in your core base. I cannot identify that many risks in terms of cooperation in that model when it comes to IT Engineers outsourcing. And that’s why it’s actually very popular across the board for banks right now.
OG: How to choose the right software engineering partner?
CG: If I was a bank and I wanted to select an IT Engineers outsourcing partner, I would go through a couple of assessments. The first one, I would find out if those companies understand my business and if they have good relationship managers that get along with my managers because it’s a business managed by people. You need to also make sure that companies have a good SLA, so they are able to answer fast to all your requests, they are able to challenge you, provide you with the right talents, and make sure that the standards are being cut off. So, you need to also make sure that the suppliers are actually good companies that really take care of the people or so-called great place to work.
On top of that, what we can add is that there are a couple of companies that have this procurement strategy to try to find the cheapest resources. It’s not a good practice on the market. So, I wouldn’t choose the cheapest providers for a couple of reasons. The first one is that usually, the attrition is much higher with the cheapest providers because they are not able to pay their people in a proper way. And also you can have in the long run other problem such as solvency and if those companies don’t have the necessary resources to have people on board, they cannot deliver you the quality of the services that you expect when it comes to IT Engineers outsourcing. So that would be one piece of advice as well.
OG: How big is ITDS in Poland right now?
CG: ITDS in Poland is very fast growing. I mean, faster growing, numbers are changing every month. It’s up, up, up. Right now we are more than 400 people together with our back-office team and our engineers and we keep up recruiting. So every month this number is getting higher and higher. We just also opened a branch in Portugal.
OG: Let’s talk about the IT market here in Poland and the whole CEE region. You mentioned that you are hiring IT engineers nonstop and I know that you plan to hire 300 more till the end of the year. So how do we manage to do this? We all know that there is a very difficult situation in the IT market in the sense that of course there is a big shortage of IT engineers everywhere. They are difficult to find, they are difficult to retain. How do you do this? What are your challenges and how do you address them?
CG: That’s a very good question. The first thing is that if you looked at the market a couple of years ago, it was already hard to recruit engineers and it became much harder after the pandemic. What happened is that if you look at the global picture, we can see already that there is a globalization of the workforce. What it means is that there are a lot of overseas companies from the U.S. and U.K. whatsoever that come to Europe, or especially in Poland, to tap talent, because there are great engineers, they have international experience, they speak English, they have great coding skills, or they know the business. And obviously they are cheaper than basically in a high-cost location like the U.S., etc.
So that’s one of the scenes is that – we are all on the market trying to source for the local market, plus international companies, service centers, etc.
How we solve this problem is that we have very, very good recruiters across the board who are very trained, they know how to find talents, how to talk to them, and how to propose opportunities. But not only. Once we have the people, we identify them, we have to invite them for an interview, and we have to explain what are the opportunities to them. And here is the advantage of ITDS. It`s that because we work with many clients, we have a lot of opportunities and a lot of project opportunities for people. We also work with good technologies, usually advanced technologies, interesting projects, scrum, and international companies.
We offer very good conditions. We pay people well. But we do not only pay well because money is one thing, but on top of that, we offer them a great place to work with a great culture. They also have the possibility to develop themselves. We offer training programs; we offer peer group programs where they can meet people. Friendship is also something we really care about, as one of our values, is that we believe that when people come into companies, they have to make friends. If you look at your personal life, most of your best friends or your close friends are people that either you met at the uni, during your studies, or you met at work. And for us it is very important to unite people together, let them meet, and create friendships. So that’s why we have clubs, ski club, we are creating other clubs. We have peer groups, we have parties. Lately, we were at a festival with a group, so that was really fantastic! So, there are a lot of benefits that we offer to the people. Great conditions, great projects, awesome projects with clients, and names of clients which they can have on their CVs. I really believe we are a great company.
OG: You mentioned that you opened an office in Portugal last year. Right? And you also have your sister company in the Netherlands. So which markets will you focus on? Now I know that you focus mainly here on the Polish market, but do you have in mind or in your plans to target other markets?
CG: We have obviously a lot of ambitions and we are looking at different opportunities all the time because we have this entrepreneurship mindset. What you can find out is that as ITDS we are a boutique of Redmore and House of HR, we have several locations all around Europe.
As a boutique, in ITDS we are looking at other countries. Obviously, there is France, Germany, Nordics, and Switzerland, which can be very interesting markets for us with a strong banking industry, where we can potentially add value as well with all tenants.
OG: What is your source of inspiration to innovate and to do a better job?
CG: What I find fascinating is that we are not looking that much at companies outside. Obviously, we are always aware of companies A, B, C or what competitors are doing. But the way we are going forward with ITDS is that we find our inspiration from inside the company. Again, you have people that have great ideas. Sometimes they are hard to execute, sometimes they are easy to execute. But we really listen to the people, we care, we respect the ideas, we are not judgmental and we let people come to pitch whatever ideas they have. And our best source of inspiration is actually people that always want to improve the processes, and take shortcuts. And from that perspective, we always are going for one and implementing new ideas or new systems or digitizing the company. So that’s our main source of inspiration. That’s all. People.
OG: Thank you very much for this conversation.
CG: Thank you for coming. It was a pleasure to discuss this with you today.
Watch the conversation below: