One of the most striking characteristics of Luxembourg’s financial industry is the international make-up of its work force. Although the diverse background of so many people means they do not all have English as their mother tongue, it has become the common business language.
In a country where just under half of all residents are non-nationals - rising to two-thirds in the capital - employers thus reach a workforce from an incredible 172 nationalities living together in Luxembourg. This international atmosphere can be felt anywhere people work or relax.
For example, if you visit the many public open-air swimming pools across Luxembourg’s cities and villages, you will hear French, Italian, Russian, English, Portuguese, Chinese, Polish and many other languages. The state-of-the-art playgrounds around the country also have a feel of a sandbox United Nations with children from around the world playing together. However, it is in the professional world and in particular Luxembourg’s financial services industry that this linguistic asset is so valuable.
We have spoken to some of the leading institutions in Luxembourg on the advantages and challenges from multi-culturalism within their teams.
State Street, a global bank active in investment servicing and investment management employs about 1100 people at its Luxembourg operation. Its Luxembourg country Head, David Suetens, says that their talents represent 38 different nationalities. “This diversity enriches the working environment”, he explains. From time to time, State Street organises events where employees share their countries’ traditions and food specialties that have been very well-received, he adds. According to Sebastien Danloy, CEO of RBC Luxembourg, “RBC Investor & Treasury Luxembourg employs in excess of 1300 people coming from obviously Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Germany but also from more exotic places such as Armenia, Chile, Indonesia or Vietnam”.
JP Morgan another bank with a large footprint in Luxembourg, in particular on the asset servicing side, also employs people from over 30 nationalities, says Frédéric Mouchel, the bank’s CEO. For the accounting firm PWC, the figures are even higher with 74 different nationalities across its 2600 workforce. All confirmed that there is a growing trend to expand the multinational dimension of their staff. As more Europeans are being recruited from countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy as well as Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria, the net is also being thrown out to the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada and Australia, explains Danloy.
With so many different nationalities and thus languages, English is the key language in financial services in Luxembourg, especially in written internal and external communication. It is therefore no surprise that the Luxembourg administrations and financial supervisory authorities, not only hold meetings in English when it is the common language but also accept documentation in English. This is facilitated by the fact that “English proficiency in the Luxembourg market is very high” as notes Frédéric Mouchel from JP Morgan. Danloy from RBC also says says he is particularly satisfied with the language skills available in the marketplace” as “English is a pre-requisite”. He adds that “my generation and the next speaks excellent English”.
Indeed, Luxembourg is ranked 7th on a global scale in EF’s English Proficiency Index. John Parkhouse, Managing Partner at PWC Luxembourg and a native English speaker himself quips that “the great thing about Luxembourg as a Brit is that English is being spoken so widely and so well by everybody that you can get around without needing to be able to speak a second language”. The disadvantage for Brits however is “they don’t need to speak a second language to survive and do well in Luxembourg and often don’t do so…”.
Marc Schernberg, people leader of PWC Luxembourg, explains that the firm also receives many applications from native English speakers who either live in Luxembourg or want to work in the country. Many of the professionals working in Luxembourg not only come from different nations but also have a career that often spans several locations. This means they bring additional expertise and additional language skills with them. RBC Luxembourg for instance has hired a new CFO who spent his career between Poland, France and Abu Dhabi before relocating to Luxembourg and its COO is originally from Spain, grew up in Germany, then worked all his career with US and UK financial institutions.
One added advantage from this diversity of languages being spoken is that employees also “talk the languages of our global clients” says State Street’s David Suetens. “To me this makes a huge difference”, he adds. The fact that banks can make the most of their multilingual workforce in their client interaction is also highly valued by Danloy from RBC and Mouchel from JP Morgan.
Amazon: The multinational Everythingstore
“There are now just over 2,000 full-time Amazonians based in Luxembourg. We come from all over Europe and right around the world, whilst we all use English as our working language for teams across our global operations. Our employees in Luxembourg represent over 100 nationalities. We are proud to have a diverse workforce inventing on behalf of our customers that reflects the vibrant population mix of Luxembourg. Across Amazon, we value diversity of thought and strongly promote an inclusive internal culture. Our business involves a wide variety of roles, with skills ranging from IT developers and cloud computing specialists through to program, product and project managers in each business area and our entire logistics leadership. We have a phrase in Amazon that we ‘work hard, have fun, make history’ and we try to live that every day as we serve our customers.”
Georgina Yellowlees Director Talent Acquisition for EU Operations HR, Amazon