Concerns exist over the capacity of Latin American service providers to absorb rapid growth. Several global providers currently have a presence in Latin America, and tax and other trade incentives will help attract more outsourcers to the region. And, many Latin American countries are positioned to further develop emerging areas of specialization. Indeed, lessons learned from India, China, and some Eastern European countries suggest that specialization and quality-focused differentiation will be the keys to success, especially for countries with small populations.
Following is a review of major outsourcing destinations in Latin America, including assessments of strengths and business environments.
Mexico’s Head Start
Mexico benefits from a ten-year or so head start in the outsourcing business (primarily in call centers), proximity to the United States, membership in NAFTA, and a large pool of English speakers. Additional pluses: high-quality telecom infrastructure, good quality road and railway networks, and many airports. Mexico’s growing IT and BPO offerings are expected to increase 10% year-on-year, according to a study by HfS. Several cities offer a variety of trade incentives, including cash grants of up to 50% of total investments, and tax credits up to 30% of R&D expenses. Indeed, competition between states and cities to attract clients is helping to drive Mexico’s outsourcing maturity. While some have expressed concern about Mexico’s ability to develop higher value offerings, a number of initiatives – such as the Programa para el Desarrollo de la Industria del Software (PROSOFT) – are in place to develop skills for the workplace. On the downside, myriad security risks, both real and perceived, have hurt Mexico’s reputation.
Brazil Is Bigger
With the largest IT market in Latin America and the world’s second largest pool of COBOL programmers, Brazil boasts formidable outsourcing resources, characterized by a the presence of several global providers, well-established call center business, many R&D development centers, and a strong global services industry. While English fluency rates are low at 5%, that figure still represents approximately 10 million people, meaning Brazil has the ability to scale. Brazil also has very good telecommunications infrastructure, wide use of broadband, and the second highest number of airports in the world.
With a history as a quick adopter of new technology and methods, Brazil anticipates significant growth in high-value BPO and ITO in the next two years. Labor and export regulations, however, are a negative. And while incentives such as reduction in social security contributions and tax deductions for technology transfers are attractive to IT companies, exports of services are taxed heavily. Moreover, unfavorable labor laws and associated employment costs can be a concern. This paired with their large potential talent base gives them the opportunity to become a large nearshore destination if the government can create better trade incentives and bureaucracy.
Argentina’s Infrastructure and Bilingualism
Argentina boasts the best telecommunications infrastructure, the second-largest IT market, and the largest pool of bilingual employees in Latin America. Following the devaluation of the peso in 2001, Argentina took an economic hit that drove down wages and office real estate, which in turn attracted outsourcers. Responding to the opportunity, the government implemented a plan to develop the IT industry, focusing on software development and technical call centers. The initiative was characterized by a range of incentives for IT companies, including a 60% income tax exemption for software companies, 70% reduction on social contributions, and no restrictions on wiring foreign currencies for imports.
Argentina’s more progressive standards and data protection laws, moreover, are attractive. While Argentina is well-positioned to attract further outsourcing activity, bureaucratic hurdles are an obstacle, as with many other Latin American countries. Also, Argentina is implementing new trade restrictions . To address the challenges, many foreign companies are initially partnering with local providers when entering Argentina’s market.
Chile Seeks Higher Value
Chile’s stable government and currency, well-developed telecommunications infrastructure, and easy immigration policies make for an attractive destination for outsourcers. Recognizing that its small size requires a quality-rather-than-quantity-focused approach, Chile has created longer, more extensive IT education programs geared to high-value KPO, ITO, and shared services. The Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) created InvestChile to provide investment incentives in more high-tech fields. Free trade agreements with the US, Canada, Australia, and China, as well as agreements to avoid double taxation on exports, are also attractive. Although approximately a ten-hour flight from the US, Chile shares time zones with the US. ChileiT is also actively working to promote its members to the international market.
Other Nations on the Rise
Other Latin American countries growing their outsourcing offerings include Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, El Salvador, Colombia, and Nicaragua. Most offer a few tax incentives and relatively good language skills. Key requirements will be to improve telecommunications infrastructure, grow English speaking populations, and develop IT skills. At present, most activity is in call centers, with a focus on specialization as a differentiating factor. Costa Rica, for example, touts its expertise in financial services.
Latin American countries are working hard to gain market share and raise their profiles as outsourcing destinations. Years of developing workforces, improving trade incentives, and building political stability are paying off. Concerns over scale are being addressed through pooling across multiple locations. Providers who are pursuing this strategy include Accenture, Capgemini, IBM, TCS, HCL, Cognizant, and Wipro.
Specialization can help Latin countries gain further advantage aside from being a nearshore destination. Although this strategy includes some risk, as outsourcing trends can change, many large destinations got their start using this approach. So far, Latin America has taken great steps in developing better skilled workforces and better business environments to support their Nearshore advantages of shared time zones, cultural affinity with the US, and more accent-neutral English skills. With proper identification of processes to outsource and the appropriate matchup of location and company, US companies can benefit greatly from Nearshoring to Latin America.
Bill Huber is Partner with ISG, a leading technology insights, market intelligence, and advisory services company. Kristen Elvinger is a research associate.