In August of this year, the US-based fintech firm American First Finance opened a new site in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The move was not unique. As Jamaica keeps experiencing sustained growth in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, announcements of new operations and investments have become common for industry observers.
Moroccan BPO Intelcia launched a new call center and hired 600 people; companies with operations in the country, such as Concentrix, are growing their business; and the island is expanding office office space through new tech parks. Jamaica is on fire!
What keeps making Jamaica such a prime candidate for new BPO operations?
NSAM spoke with Thomas Nusspickel, COO at American First Finance. Nusspickel discussed the firms’ motivations to open up a site in Montego Bay and some of his general impressions of the development process and the current situation of the industry in Jamaica.
American First Finance focuses on providing alternatives to traditional retail lending. The firm has operations in Dallas, Tijuana, the Dominican Republic and now Montego Bay. In the case of its site in Jamaica, even when executives considered other jurisdictions, a personal connection to the island helped with the decision.
“I’ve been with the firm for four and a half years, but previously I had worked for Amazon in Jamaica and I had contacts there. I knew a little bit of how things worked and the potential they have,” said Nusspickel.
The firm also considered Guatemala and Colombia for its new operation. Those options were very justified. Colombia has become the torch-bearer for the Nearshore services industry in the last few years, having attracted investment from a range of global firms in the digital and outsourcing services industry. Guatemala –particularly its capital– is becoming a regional hub in the Nearshore, with leading companies such as Tata Consultancy Services and Everise opening or expanding operations in the country.
“We looked at Guatemala and Colombia. We liked both of those, and we were drawn to them by their Spanish-speaking abilities, quality and less competition. A big interest for us is the bilingual availability, especially Spanish. But we realized that in Jamaica we could get it as well, though it is a lot more expensive,” explained Nusspickel.
“It’s worth it, though, because the quality in Jamaica is top notch. They look at it as a prestigious industry; there is pride in the work,” he added.
Professional services firms in Jamaica have complained about difficulties finding trained talent, particularly for tech roles. At the same time, the pandemic-induced disruptions in the educational sector created additional workforce problems for BPO firms. Given that BPO companies oftenly hire recent high school graduates into their training programs, school closures during the pandemic had a significant impact on their recruitment. As a consequence, most firms reported a perceived shortage of talent last year.
However, Nusspickel describes a relatively easy hiring process for his firm.
“Hiring people has been smooth. Once we were able to advertise, and especially after we had staff already working there, the word spread and we were able to attract the right talent,” said Nusspickel.
“Quality in Jamaica is top notch. They look at it as a prestigious industry; there is pride in the work”—Thomas Nusspickel, COO at American First Finance
American First Finance has roughly 125 employees already in the new Jamaican location.
“Our office is in the free zone incubator area where we will hire up to 250 people, eventually making it our largest site. We hope to have over 200 workers by end-of-year,” said Nusspickel.
The new site is supposed to have operations in various business areas. Right now, American First Financial’s Jamaica site hosts a small tech support team, but mostly focuses on customer service, collections and quality assurance.
“These services are similar to our other sites, but we will be adding our merchant care team as well soon,” added Nusspickel.
A Paperwork Nightmare
In spite of the excitement from opening the new site in Jamaica, not everything has been easy. American First Finance found itself entangled in red tape, an experience well known by Nusspickel and by many who have tried to do business in the island.
“This whole process obviously was very beneficial in the end. However, we faced many challenges with the paperwork and the bureaucracy,” Nusspickel pointed out. “It takes so much time to make any move or change. We wanted Special Economic Zone certification for tax purposes, and that is something that they could make a lot easier for companies like us. It takes up to six months.”
“We faced many challenges with the paperwork and the bureaucracy […] Nothing has changed in the last 10 years since I first conducted business there. It is very frustrating”—Thomas Nusspickel, COO at American First Finance
“Nothing has changed in the last 10 years since I first conducted business there. It is very frustrating,” he added. “Luckily, I had done it before, but it’s tough to constantly have to tell other people within the firm that it will take longer. There needs to be a better system to manage the process.”
Infrastructure’s Getting Better
In spite of his frustrations with paperwork, as someone who has been traveling to Jamaica for the last few years, Nusspickel has seen progress in areas such as digital and physical infrastructure.
“Overall stability of Internet services has improved for sure. Physical infrastructure has remained relatively stable, with some improvements with the newer business parks,” said Nusspickel.
In terms of digital infrastructure, the island has made significant progress. With the pandemic, many firms initiated broad and complicated remote accommodations. This forced industry players to upgrade their operations in areas like cybersecurity, data privacy, productivity issues and human resources management. Telecommunications providers also had to increase their offering to support larger demand. The result has been the improvement of networks and digital infrastructure in the island.
When it comes to the cost of operating this site, Nusspickel compares it with the firm’s Tijuana operation.
“Not enough of a difference, maybe a little cheaper,” he commented.