In the period 2003 through 2010, Europe and Asia were the largest recipient regions of foreign investment projects in shared services and BPO activities, accounting for 46% and 29% respectively. Meanwhile, interest in Latin America has clearly been growing. The number of shared services and BPO foreign investment projects in Latin America rose year on year until 2010, when the total number of projects entering the region decreased by 15%.However, in terms of jobs created by these investment projects in shared services and BPO, 2010 saw the highest number in the Nearshore region since 2006, increasing by almost 10% over 2009.
After the Asia-Pacific region, Latin America is now seeing the largest-size centers being set up, and indeed, the region continues to be characterized by a number of labor-intensive shared-services projects, with on average 350 announced jobs per center in 2010.
Typical destinations for shared-services establishments in Latin America, such as Colombia and Costa Rica, continued to lead the rankings in 2010, representing 22% and 14% of regional shared-services job announcements. Brazil and Argentina – as dominant markets in the region – also continue to attract their share of investments.
However, it is the emergence of newcomers in the rankings, such as Nicaragua and Peru, that piques the interest of the observer of the outsourcing industry. These two countries attracted large-scale investments in shared services, demonstrating the widening of investor confidence across the region. Companies are now seeing the potential of previously untapped labor markets. Countries such as Nicaragua and Peru offer companies that are willing to take risks a first-mover advantage in terms of potentially lower labor costs, lower levels of competition from similar operations, and the opportunity to become the major player in a new market.
This would be in contrast to already well established shared-services locations in the region, which offer a more experienced labor pool and potentially higher-quality level of infrastructure, but are also starting to experience side effects such as increased levels of competition and elevated attrition rates.
The Rise of the Second Tier
In 2010, leading agglomerations in Latin America in terms of job creation through foreign investment in shared services and BPO included Bogota, Lima, San José, Guadalajara, Managua, and Medellin, the first four of which make the Global Top 20 ranking. Examples of new investments include Sitel, which announced 450 jobs at its new contact center in Managua; National Instruments, which has announced the establishment of a shared service center in San José creating 200 jobs in CRM, finance, IT, and sales; and Convergys, which has established a bilingual contact center and back-office support site in Bogota, creating up to 1,000 jobs.
The appearance of Bogota and San José, as now-seasoned shared services destinations comes perhaps as no surprise. The Mexican city of Guadalajara and Colombia’s second city Medellin highlight the potential of such second-tier cities in the region to operate shared services at lower cost than their capital cities, whilst still maintaining suitable operating environments desired by investing companies. Recent investments include West Customer Management’s bilingual contact center in Guadalajara and HP in Medellin.
Function-wise, investment in this sector into Latin America has been focused on contact centers (primarily to serve the local market and Spain, but also increasingly bilingual centers to serve the United States). In addition, in recent years, more and more companies have seen the potential for more value-added shared services operations in the region’s more mature locations, where there are now multiple finance and IT shared services, for example.
Sources of Investment
By far and away the largest source country of foreign investment in shared services operations in Latin America is the United States, which between 2003 and 2010 accounted for more than half of the jobs created in the region in this activity, generating almost 70,000 positions. Although Europe and Asia remain the most popular regions for US companies setting up shared services and BPO operations, Latin America remains a key market, in particular for nearshoring activities due to factors including timezone advantages and natural availability of Spanish language skills.
Between 2003 and 2009 Spanish companies (such as Telefonica and Banco Santander) accounted for about 20% of jobs created in shared services and BPO in the region, solidifying Spain’s position as the second largest investing country in this sector in Latin America.
Much has been written on the rise and dominance of India as a destination for shared services and BPO, but it is also interesting to note the rise of India as a source of such activities. Globally, Indian companies created over 15,000 jobs in this sector in 2010, continuing the year-on-year growth witnessed since 2005, accounting for 12% of all jobs created worldwide by foreign investors in this sector. From a Latin American perspective, in 2010, Indian companies such as Wipro, Genpact, and 24/7 Customer created just over 10% of shared services and BPO-related jobs announced by foreign investors in the region – a 60% increase from the previous year. It all represents a move to get closer to customers in a new market, highlighting the rise of India as an outward investor in shared services and BPO activities.
Profusion of Possibilities
Latin America continues to succeed at offering attractive options for companies wishing to establish shared services and BPO activities, as demonstrated by the increasing number of jobs created in the sector from foreign companies in recent years. These options come not only in the form of mature, well-established destinations, but also up-and-coming locations that companies are now finding worth investigating for outsourcing activities.
That is not to say that the mature shared services locations of the region are in decline. On the contrary, mature locations such as Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil continue to attract their fair share of investment. In today’s economic climate, many companies have become increasingly risk-averse, and are content with opting for tried-and-tested options in the region, where costs may be slightly higher but where there is an availability of highly experienced shared-services profiles to recruit from. On the other hand, emerging Nearshore destinations offer those companies willing to be pioneers the opportunity to tap into new sources of talent and at a lower cost base, resulting in these locations now appearing next to traditional shared services locations in our global rankings.
Latin America’s profusion of location possibilities – both mature and emerging – means that it continues to develop as a strategic region that companies are considering for their shared services and BPO operations. Be it North American firms using the region as a nearshoring solution, Spanish companies cementing their presence in countries with similar linguistic and cultural affinities, or companies from emerging countries such as India wishing to extend their global footprint and gain a foothold in a new market, Latin America is sure to remain “on radar” for companies for the foreseeable future.
Reshaad Durgahee is a Senior Consultant at IBM Global Business Services’ Plant Location International (PLI) division. More analysis of location trends is available by download here.