Wealthtech firms hit by war in Ukraine
Long before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Michael Pinsker jumped into action.
Pinskar, the founder and CEO of DocuPace, a 160-employee Los Angeles-based company that operates a back-office operations platform for wealth management firms, had about 20 developers and support staff spread across Ukraine.
Anticipating a Russian invasion, they searched a hotel near the border in Poland and reserved several rooms for at least a month. Their male employees could not live there, due to the country’s rule forbidding men between the ages of 18 and 60 to leave the country. But members of his family and women employees of the company could.
On the morning of the invasion, Pincer directed them toward safe house, escaping the days-long wait to enter Poland, which soon developed. Eleven family members of the employees are now living there. “We were ready to take action, because we already had a plan,” he says.
Many technology firms, many of which provide technology in the wealth management sector, employ software engineers and programmers in Eastern Europe. According to software development outsourcing company Daxx, there are about 200,000 software developers in Ukraine alone. The level of technical skills and programming knowledge is high. The workforce is motivated and, much more affordable than what can be found in the United States.
Now these US-based companies are scrambling to help their developers survive, while adjusting their operations to the new reality. “The invasion means more disruption to the industry than many may realize,” says Michael Richardson, managing director of New York City-based business tech consultancy Tech-Azur. Works with several fintech firms supporting financial advisors. It has 19 employees in Ukraine and also works with a team of 80 or so contractors.
Many developers live in areas that have survived the worst damage ever, either because they recently relocated or were living there before Russia began building up its troops. Many continue to work, even if they are interrupted by air raid sirens or other demands of defense and war preparedness.
Pinsker recalled the Zoom meetings that took place in the first week of the war, during which team members actually forgave themselves so that they could take refuge in a bomb shelter, only to return on call later. In one example, a participant in a meeting who was a medical professional was asked to conduct a medical triage class for elderly women preparing to care for expected casualties in a planned uprising aimed at resisting Russian occupation. Had to excuse myself for hours.
One The software engineer, living in a suburb of Kyiv, hid in a basement for two days until the neighborhood was bombed, before fleeing with only a bag to a safe area, where fellow employees told him to live. found the place. The company helped them buy clothes and other necessities. The developer insisted on using three vacation days to cover the time it was out of commission, rather than asking for special treatment.
Bradley Deloche, founder and chief product officer of Snappy Kraken, a marketing platform for financial advisors based in Ormond Beach, Fla., explained that the ability to keep working, despite difficulties, provides some normalcy and respite from the chaos. ., with five developers in Ukraine. “It gives them a sense of normalcy in at least one part of their lives,” he says. “They need something to focus on.”
Hiring developers outside Ukraine
Nevertheless, companies with workers in Ukraine are extending deadlines and adjusting projects so that developers can join their families. Snappy Kraken CEO Robert Sofia decided to extend the deadline for the client’s CRM project by two weeks, an unusual move for the company. Other firms with developers are moving their Ukrainian programmers away from mission-critical projects. At INVENT.us, which develops cloud-based systems for wealth management firms and others, CEO Oleg Tishkevich entrusted his developers there to “core” R&D projects, instead of customized work for customers.
Other companies are accelerating the hiring of developers outside Ukraine. Most of Docupace’s 60 or so engineers are in countries ranging from Poland to Portugal, not Ukraine. When Pinsker realized an invasion was likely several months earlier, he began adding to his pool of programmers in Latvia and elsewhere in Europe.
Pinksar also has long term plans based on various scenarios. Should Russia take over the country, making access impossible for developers, for example, it has moves to shut down its data center immediately and move it elsewhere.
Henry Zelikovy, CEO of SoftLab360, a software developer for fintech systems in New York City, says he will hire five more developers in the US by September. “I think I’ll need it to hedge my bets,” he says.
Richardson has taken a different approach. Recognizing that their Ukrainian developers could not put in the number of hours previously done, they hired 15 more people in that country from the current 19. “We recognize that people may have to patrol their streets during their shifts and some work in their downtime regarding their work,” he says.
Companies are taking as many steps as possible to protect their people. Before the invasion, Richardson rented a house on the border with room for the family members of 18 employees. So far there have been six. He also plans to find two to three more apartments in Poland to host 12 family members for longer stays.
Tishkevich faced an additional problem: he has “a few dozen” developers in Russia. Soon after the invasion, he managed to help many of them find temporary apartments outside the country. “There are innocent people who have nothing to do with the conflict,” he says. “There is sorrow on both sides.”