Pleasantly surprised by Romania

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Lieke van den Langenberg is a Finance trainee and has just returned from her second rotation, which she spent at ING in Romania. Every few weeks she blogs about her experiences during her traineeship.

It’s already been two months since I got back from Romania, where I did my second rotation, but I still enjoy looking back on the time I spent there. The experience has definitely made a lasting impression on me. ING Romania has both Wholesale and Retail Banking products and, because there are just 15 people in the Management Accounting team, I had the chance to take a much broader than would be possible here in the Netherlands. Those were two important reasons behind my decision for Romania, plus the opportunity to spend six months there so that I could go into more depth during my second rotation – and of course I was very keen to learn more about the country itself. Until that point, I’d never been to Eastern Europe, so I embarked on my second rotation with high expectations and a certain number of preconceptions – such as that they were a little behind us here in the west, that kind of thing. But all those preconceptions were blown apart pretty much immediately. I joined a young team with an average age of 30-plus and a noticeably high proportion of females. In Eastern Europe, it turns out that finance is very much a women’s world. I definitely wasn’t expecting that! Furthermore, as a woman, you’re also treated with respect – men hold doors open for you and allow you to enter the lift first. That was quite a culture shock at first, because of course we’re not used to that here in the Netherlands. One thing my Romanian colleagues took some getting used to was the Dutch directness, which can sometimes come across a little aggressively. So we all had to adapt to a certain extent.

I absolutely loved living in Bucharest! I had a great apartment in the old part of the city, in amongst all the tourist attractions and just a 20-minute walk from the office. It was ideal. I was pleasantly surprised by Romania. It’s a beautiful country with really friendly people, a hugely rich cultural heritage and wonderful architecture, but there’s also a strong contrast between rich and poor and between city life and rural life. I couldn’t wait for my friends to come and visit me so that they could experience this amazing place for themselves, and a lot of them did – I think I had around 20 visitors in total. I also travelled beyond Bucharest several times with my boyfriend – we went skiing, and to the coast…there’s loads to do within a two to three hour radius of the city. And Romania is so beautiful if you know where to look. In between all those visitors from the Netherlands, luckily I was also able to do some fun things with my colleagues. The Romanians tend to socialise regularly with their colleagues outside of work, and that always involves a lot of eating. And people often brought food into work for everyone to try, which was really great! So we had plenty of things in common, even though it was a little difficult to communicate sometimes. Officially the working language is English; not everyone on the board at ING Romania speaks Romanian, and there are of course colleagues from other ING countries too. But the Romanians in my team occasionally spoke to one another in their own language, of course, which is really difficult to learn. Even after six months, I didn’t get much further than hello, bye, the numbers and a few food and drink-related words – but thankfully, just as in Dutch, Romanian is littered with English words so I could often join in with conversations, in which case everyone effortlessly switched to English.

I had a pretty challenging assignment: I was responsible for preparing a large management accounting report for Retail Banking. It’s a monthly report that gives the business more insight into the developments related to the balance sheet and the workforce, as well as the revenue, costs and margins per product category. The introductory programme that I followed in my first week of being in Romania turned out to be really useful; I spent an hour with each different part of the business which meant I got to hear about all the different products and Romanian customers (who really are very different from Dutch ones). I also got to know the managers for whom I was preparing the report. Besides that, I worked on a couple of smaller self-contained projects such as putting together the presentation of the annual results. The CEO and CFO of ING Romania present the results to journalists in early March each year, and everything naturally has to be planned down to the tiniest detail. I was given quite a lot of autonomy in that project, but I had an almost daily meeting with the person who prepared the presentation last year – because they really don’t expect you to automatically know everything. All in all I learnt a huge amount during that rotation. It always takes you a while to settle in when you go abroad, so things tend to move more slowly at the beginning but I definitely sprinted towards the finish.

The six months literally flew by and it was all over far too quickly. The first two months were especially tough because I also had to study for my Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level 1 exam – but I passed! And I celebrated in true Romanian style by bringing cakes into the office.

It already seems like a long time ago; since April I’ve been working in my new department, Group Finance at the ING Global head office, and within a new team: the Finance Network. After two rotations with a Retail Banking focus I’m now responsible for the Wholesale entities, together with a colleague. I plan to stay here for the next two years so that I can really go into depth and can see and learn about every aspect. I’m looking forward to it!

About Lieke

Lieke did a bachelor in international relations and a master of business administration in Groningen. Her favourite pastime is travelling – currently mainly in the shape of city trips in Europe, which she does at least once a month. For example, she has flown all over Romania and she recently visited Bologna in Italy. Next on her list are Lille and Belgrade. She reads a lot and enjoys cooking – preferably using her home-grown vegetables. Before her trip to Romania she spent a while living close to her father’s greenhouse but she now lives in Utrecht where she has a small garden of her own.

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