According to research by fDi Markets, Bucharest was the leading destination for eurozone FDI investments into the financial services sector in 2011, with more projects in the Romanian capital than in financial centres such as London and Frankfurt. The results took into account 181 investment destinations and 17 source countries. A total of $1.6bn was invested in Bucharest, twice as much as in the UK capital. 

Bucharest received a particularly high level of investment from Italian and Austrian companies. In March 2011, Austrian bank Osterreichische Volksbanken opened its headquarters in the city and Raiffeisen Zentral Bank announced setting up a branch there. 

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In July, Italian bank UniCredit increased its presence in Bucharest by opening more branches – it now has 54 in the city. It also extended its network to two other Romanian cities, Constanta and Bacau. This expansion is in line with UniCredit’s strategy of boosting its presence in central and eastern Europe; the bank plans to open 900 new branches in the region by 2015, 300 of which will be located across Romania and Turkey.

SACE, an insurance and financial group controlled by the Italian ministry of economy and finance, opened a new office in Bucharest, which is intended to serve as company’s operational hub for CEE. Speranta Tirsar, head of SACE operations in Romania, said that the company’s decision to focus on Bucharest is a result of close economic ties between Romania and Italy. “More than 30,000 Italian companies are active here, it is therefore hardly surprising that Romania [accounts for the] lion's share of our activities,” she said.

Relatively low market saturation is cited as one of the main reasons for the increased interest in Bucharest. “The penetration of financial services, measured as loan to GDP, is still lower [if] compared to the EU average, and even by regional standards,” said Alexander Tanase, a senior banker at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and country coordinator for Romania.

Mr Tanase also praised the resilience of the country’s banking system. “[Romania] benefits from reasonable taxation and the sector is very well regulated by the National Bank of Romania,” he said. SACE’s Ms Tirsar was also complimentary of the Romanian banking system. “Banks based here remain well capitalised and liquid. Non-performing loans are increasing, but there are sufficient buffers in place to cushion the impact,” she said.