Countries of the Caribbean have developed a robust global professional services sector in recent years, spurred by growing expertise in Finance and Accounting and general Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) operations.
Jamaica, with its traditional links to call centers and customer experience, has reinforced its customer service-centred provision, while Barbados has strengthened its legal process outsourcing value proposition and Saint Lucia has attracted leading technology operators, such as Ojo Labs.
Nearshore services have become a major economic lever within the region, with former Saint Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet (2016-2021) in an exclusive 2021 interview with Nearshore Americas advising Caribbean countries, which have limited populations, resources and territories, to expand industries and businesses that can generate greater output in limited spaces.
To delve further into the Caribbean region, and specifically Jamaica, Nearshore Americas spoke with Kishman N. Spence, Executive Director of KPMG Jamaica, who oversees the company’s 540 employees. Spence offered insights on KPMG operations, market trends and his own views about technology within the BPO industry.
KPMG in Jamaica
KPMG Jamaica is a one client-business supporting KPMG’s client base in the United States. This shapes the nature of the operation as employees have to focus and adapt to the needs of Fortune 500 businesses, from finance and accounting to human resources (HR) processing and management.
“We manage constant flows of work in all areas of professional services. We started with payroll services and HR employee processes with our US colleagues, but that opened the door to what I think is perhaps a more nuanced part of our business; risk management,” said Spence.
KPMG Jamaica’s role was not always so clearly set, however.
Indeed, the company’s US headquarters didn’t have Jamaica on its radar at all before 2016, the year when the office was opened in the island, Spence explains. The leaders and partners now in KPMG Jamaica’s operations pitched the idea of the island as a sound destination to open a delivery center, akin to what the company has in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Initially, this idea did not go down well.
“Partners in the US were not interested in that traditional format for Jamaica, but instead shared a need to get help in mid and back office processing. Without any experience in it, we basically enticed the idea of doing a pilot to see if it could work in Jamaica due to the cost, proximity, culture, technology and strong BPO heritage. They decided to try it. The rest is history,” said Spence
As heavy audit operations for publicly traded companies are an essential component of KPMG business in the US, KPMG Jamaica supports these activities making sure that clients comply with a very stringent governance framework and requirement of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
According to the consultancy Allied Market Research, the risk management market size is expected to reach $28.87 billion by 2027. KPMG as well as many other large accounting and financial consultancy firms are taking advantage of the growth in the sector and leading it in terms of market share.
Maintaining a Skilled Labor Pool
According to Spence, it does not matter in which area of professional services companies operate – there is one trend that crosses all areas: the growing relevance of data.
“Data governance, analytics, you name it. This is something that is increasingly shaping professional services and all business sectors,” added Spence.
North America, particularly the US, is the largest market for data governance operations. As the data governance market is projected to be worth US$5.28 billion by 2026, consulting firms and businesses with large risk management needs are increasingly interested in the use of data to better understand their environment and potential courses of action.
“There are some skills that we can’t find in the market in abundance. But that’s not the full story. Jamaica now produces more talent in cutting-edge skills than never before.” — Kishman N. Spence
However, acquiring the required trained talent on data issues is a problem. Data, of course, doesn’t mean much if organizations can’t use it effectively. Even in the US and Europe there is a significant shortage of data analysts and trained professionals. Jamaica has made progress producing training and educational programs to boost the labor pool on data and other skills.
“There are some skills that we can’t find in the market in abundance. But that’s not the full story. Jamaica now produces more talent in cutting-edge skills than never before. The scarcity that we see in Jamaica and around the world of skills such as data or project management forced us to rethink how to attract and compensate qualified employees,” said Spence.
In spite all efforts, Spence acknowledges that data remains the hardest skill to find in the market. As Nearshore Americas reported in the past, Jamaican businesses and industry associations are developing programs to introduce and expand the skills that companies need to successfully operate. Initiatives such as Global Services Skills Council (GSSC), established by the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ), partnerships with international organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and government programs like the joint venture with the Amber Group to teach coding, are important steps to upskill the island’s workforce.
BPO’s Image Problem
For Spence another challenge for recruiting the right talent is what he calls the image problem that the BPO industry has among younger people.
“In the Jamaican labor market space for many young professionals, business process outsourcing is a synonym of call center. Younger people don’t necessarily have a favorable opinion of call center operations. That means that they don’t want to enter the career path,” said Spence.
In countries like the Philippines there is a more favorable perception of BPO than in Jamaica, he suggests. “There is some sort of stigma that hurts our ability to leverage the talent in the marketplace,” said Spence.
Despite this negative perception of BPO in Jamaica, the reality is that the industry now requires more complex skills and more highly trained professionals. The professional services sector has evolved to rely on IT-focused responses in order to face the challenges in the industry. Technology is at the core of the business model of these operations.
“Technology is going to play an even larger part in how we conduct business. We’ve been challenged in a real way when it comes to our own understanding of what technology can do for businesses. Today we still have many simple, repeatable, low-value transactions performed by employees. But many of these need to be and will be automated. So organizations and employees need to think very well about this when preparing for the future,” concluded Spence.