Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Adventurous itel, new market entrants boost outsourcing sector cred

Published:Friday | October 1, 2021 | 12:09 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

Gloria Henry, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica.
Gloria Henry, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica.
Yoni Epstein, executive chairman of Outsourcing Management Limited.
Yoni Epstein, executive chairman of Outsourcing Management Limited.
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Two international outsourcing firms expanded their footprint to Jamaica and officially launched operations this month. More firms in the industry alternatively referred to as the BPO sector or the global services sector, GSS, including agents of...

Two international outsourcing firms expanded their footprint to Jamaica and officially launched operations this month.

More firms in the industry alternatively referred to as the BPO sector or the global services sector, GSS, including agents of outsourced business accounts from Fortune 500 companies, are looking to set up shop in Jamaica, largely to maximise on costs and a nearshore labour pool that speaks a compatible language.

That Jamaica is still attractive to the BPO market is for Gloria Henry, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica, GSAJ, cause for optimism about the future prospects of an industry that is evolving, but is yet to achieve primary status as a high-value market. Currently, those contracts just represent one-fifth of the business mix.

Still, not only is Jamaica attractive to outside customer service specialists, its own investors in the sector are themselves forming foreign alliances, as well as seeking out markets overseas.

As the two new foreign customer specialists, Iterum Connections and Ventrica, were settling in, home-grown BPO operator Outsourcing Management, which trades as itel, simultaneously announced plans to open a 34,000-square-foot contact centre in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Jeffersonville will be itel’s first physical customer centre in the United States, and the first Jamaican company to set up a physical customer centre there, but not its first foray into that market. The company, founded and led by CEO and Chairman Yoni Epstein, entered the US market utilising work-from-home contact agents in 2018. Later, itel expanded into the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico.

“Typically, we have international companies coming to Jamaica. This is the first Jamaican company to have gone international,” said Henry.

“While it doesn’t equate to jobs for Jamaicans, it augurs well for the Jamaican brand and the GSS sector on a whole,” she said. “It also helps these businesses with the kind of contracts that they secure going forward and complements their operation in Jamaica, largely from the training that will come with these contracts.”

Some 90 per cent of Jamaica’s GSS international business accounts emanate from the United States. The sector attracts an estimated investment spend of US$700 million per year.

The itel Jeffersonville customer centre will create 150 jobs before year end, with plans to expand to upwards of 300 employees in 2022. From its American site, itel will handle customer care calls, chat and email support for a Fortune 500 luxury fashion retail brand. BPO/GSS operators typically do not disclose the identities of the international companies for which they provide outsourcing services.

By physically entering the US, itel gets to fulfil a desire of some companies that their outsourced business remains onshore — and are willing to pay a premium for it.

The trend has accelerated under the pandemic, itel said in a press release regarding its expansion to the United States. Certain brands, itel’s experience has shown, are committed to onshoring and utilising specialised expertise delivered stateside.

“It depends on what the clients are looking for,” said Henry. “Some clients are looking for cultural affinity, convenience in time zone and so on; so it’s not purely about cost. There are other drivers that will determine where clients will want their business placed,” she said.

Business across the global outsourcing industry plunged last year in line with the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19. Nearshore destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America rebounded quickly, and have continued to be the beneficiaries of a shift in the market towards geo-diversity.

In Jamaica, part of the adjustment has been work-from-home contact agents that required special approval from the authorities. The sector is allowed to continue the temporary telecommuting arrangements until June 2022.

The two new market entrants in Jamaica, Iterum Connections, one of the fastest-growing business process outsourcers in the Americas, and London-based Ventrica, bring 1,200 new jobs.

Iterum Connections has set up operations in Kingston and will in the first instance hire 900 agents to serve clients in North America and the United Kingdom. Ventrica, one of Europe’s leading customer service outsourcing partners, plans to hire 300 agents in the Montego Bay area in 2021-2022.

Ventrica provides customer management and sales support across an array of industries, including retail, FMCG, or fast moving consumer goods, insurance, fintech, healthcare, transport, real estate, leisure, hospitality, construction and publishing.

Ventrica’s focus aligns with Jamaica’s mission to create higher-value BPO/GSS services that will make the local sector even more attractive to international clients.

But for now, 80 per cent of services offered are concentrated in call-centre operations. The remaining 20 per cent is made up of higher-value services, predominantly in HR, financial accounting and information technology outsourcing services, including application development.

“There is a steady move in the direction of higher-value services and its comforting for us. We are seeing success with shared service centre KPMG-JESS and a local application development company Nightfoxx,” said Henry.

“Like itel, we would love to see these outsourcing companies expand outside of Jamaica,” she said.

karena.bennett@gleanerjm.com