The twin island republic of Trinidad & Tobago has until recently not been on the radar of many BPO or SSC operations, but this may be changing. After previous false starts, the government has now sustained a serious long-term effort to diversify the economy beyond its traditional pillar of petroleum exports. To further that effort, the government has established the Trinidad & Tobago International Financial Centre with the goal of making “Trinidad & Tobago the premier location in the Western Hemisphere for financial services.”
An early win has been Scotiabank’s decision to consolidate several critical functions in a brand new, 68,000 square foot Chaguanas, Trinidad based shared services center. Already staffed at just under 400 employees, the center has significant excess capacity, and handles a myriad of processes, including general ledger account reconciliations, operational reviews, project management and support, collections, loan adjudication, wire transfers and processing for small business and commercial customers and branches throughout the Caribbean.
“Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago is a subsidiary of the Bank of Nova Scotia in Canada. We have had a presence in Trinidad and Tobago for almost 60 years and provide financial services to over 200,000 clients across our retail, small business, corporate, life insurance, wealth and capital markets business lines. Trinidad and Tobago was selected as the preferred location for our shared services hub because of the easy access to a pool of skilled labour as well as the necessary physical infrastructure—telecommunications, roads, utilities etc. available in the country,” said Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago’s Managing Director, Anya Schnoor, during a recent visit by Nearshore Americas to the island.
The Scotiabank shared services center is an example of the kind of financial business Trinidad & Tobago wants to attract. To do this, the government is taking general measures to improve the business climate, as well as exploiting a natural affinity for financial services. “We have the highest per-capita population of accountants in the world,” stated the honorable Vasant Bharath, senator and minister of trade, industry and investment. “We have reduced the time from 43 to 3 days to start a business, and from 30 days to 1 day for National Board of Insurance approval (Trinidad’s national social-benefit plan).”
“The capabilities of the candidates we hire are at a high level. Trinidad & Tobago has invested significant public resources into providing their population access to higher level education through various government sponsored programs and this has significantly expanded the population’s access to tertiary level education”
“We are looking for first-movers to set up pilot projects. We have money set aside to invest,” added another Senator, the Honorable Larry Howai, Minister of Finance. Financial services sector development has high-level attention, and consensus between both the current ruling political coalition and the opposition parties.
Trinidad & Tobago already has the infrastructure to support high-level financial operations. Adding to the 5 active undersea fiber cables feeding the country, Columbus Communications is laying additional fiber to create multiple-link redundancy and points of entry for the island of Trinidad, already outside of the Caribbean’s notorious hurricane belt. In addition to a 90,000 square foot tier-3 datacenter opening next year being built by Columbus Communications, Fujitsu already operates an 87 rack, tier-3 data center in Barataria, Trinidad. “The idea came from a local need,” said data center manager Lyndon Sooknanan. “There is a core of domestic demand. It’s also a good location to service other islands, and offer redundancy.” Regarding competitive advantages of locating on the island of Trinidad, Sooknanan cites the lowest electricity cost in the Caribbean, as well as a steady supply of top level talent. “Almost 100% of our management is local Caribbean.”
Part of that talent pool is likely due to the nation of Trinidad & Tobago offering free education through the PhD level to all of its citizens. There are already 2000 chartered (CPA equivalent) accountants in Trinidad & Tobago, and it is home to several institutions of higher learning, including the University of Trinidad & Tobago, the University of West Indies (UWI), and the SAM Caribbean School of Accounting and Management, which itself has turned out 850 MBA graduates in the past 3 years, according to founder Asaf Pirali. Dr. Pirali showed off a new facility designed to provide specialized training for corporate employer needs, and SAM school of management is actively looking for opportunities to co-locate and cooperate with BPO providers, including offering on-campus space for business ventures that want to take advantage of the high concentration of tertiary education providers in SAM & UWI’s St. Augustine, Trinidad area.
The Human Resources
“The talent pool in terms of finance and business graduates provides a great stock for the development of this type of shared services centre,” noted Mahadeo Sebarath, Scotiabank’s vice president for international operations and shared services. “The talent pool is pretty good as there’s a large number of business finance graduates, which provides the resource pool for hiring.” The English-language native country has a population of 1.5 million, and turns out over 17,000 college graduates a year from 86 different post-secondary colleges, technical schools and universities.
“The capabilities of the candidates we hire are at a high level. Trinidad & Tobago has invested significant public resources into providing their population access to higher level education through various government sponsored programs and this has significantly expanded the population’s access to tertiary level education,” continued Scotiabank managing director Schnoor with regards to the education and talent pool. “I believe Trinidad and Tobago does have the capacity to grow this important sector. It already has the necessary infrastructure to support growth and with an active and collaborative approach between the educational providers and the industry there can be adequate provision of skilled labour to meet expanded capacity.”