Trinidad and Tobago has been making moves to promote itself as a business process outsourcing destination (BPO) for several years, as the country looks to diversify away from its dependency on falling oil revenues and create high-value jobs for its population.
“If you look at Trinidad and Tobago geographically we are very well placed, on the same time zone as North America, we have very high levels of literacy, and a good education system, with excellent English-language skills among the workforce, so there is no language barrier, and there is good technical expertise,” according to Angela Lee Loy, chairman of Aegis, a Port of Spain-based outsourcing and advisory services company that was the first of its kind to launch in the country.
Aegis serves industries such as manufacturing, retail, government, energy and finance, with both local and international clients, mostly in the US and Canada, but also in China and Japan.
The company also has a presence in Barbados, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname, “although in other jurisdictions we do more payroll than accounting”, Lee said.
The company employs about 100 people, excluding contractors.
“We were the first company to set up outsourcing in Trinidad, in 2001, and we have competitors now, and we are looking into certain areas, such as shared services, and what is important for us are strategic alliances, for example with companies that do not have a presence in Trinidad,” she said.
Among Aegis’ competitors are iQor, which entered the country in 2015, and operates two centers in Trinidad and Tobago, employing around 1,000 people, according to Robert Constantine, iQor’s vice president of marketing.
“Young people in Trinidad are truly digital natives. They are tech savvy, active on social media, and have provided a good test bed for us to work with some of our more demanding clients in retail – some of the world’s largest e-retailers,” iQor’s CEO Gary Praznik told Nearshore Americas.
Among the companies that outsource its operations to Trinidad are Scotiabank, which runs its Caribbean finance and administration service operations from the island nation, where it employs 750 people.
‘A tremendous opportunity’
And Lee believes that there is much potential for further growth of the BPO sector.
“There is no lack of skills in Trinidad, but we do employ people from other Caribbean islands, if we need to, which may not be permanent, but for a particular project, particularly consultancy.”
“Trinidad and Tobago has a lot of commercial space, and commercial rents are a good price,” she added.
“The island’s business network is important, too, so another aspect is being able to connect somebody with the right person in order to get things done.”
She also believes that salaries are higher in Trinidad than on other Caribbean islands.
“We are very spoilt, we watch a lot of American TV, and if it’s a family of four they will want five cars, there is disposable income.”
“I think there is a tremendous opportunity here,” she said. “I would say that, in terms of costs, we are competitive, and from an operational point of view, as electricity rates are cheap, which keep operating costs down. I think that is why a lot of people come to us If you have the competence and the pricing, then you have advantages for outsourcing.
“There is a significant workforce, we have a very good network of skilled people in many areas. The major sector here is energy, and the country has a lot of expertise in that area, with an oil industry that has been up and running for more than a century, and the sector is very important for the island’s economy,” she said.
Trinidad and Tobago is ranked 46th out of the 50 countries on AT Kearney’s 2019 Global Services Location Index (GSLI), having dropped seven places from the previous index, published in 2017.
However, a country slipping down the index is not necessarily an indication of it performing poorly, but rather it being overtaken by other countries, Johan Gott, a principal at global strategy and management consultant at AT Kearney, and co-author of the GSLI, told Nearshore Americas earlier this month.
For the first time, this year’s index included a digital resonance category, which takes into account the digital skills of the labor force, the extent to which the legal framework takes digital business models into account, and the amount of corporate activity, defined as the amount of capital invested in startups and the number of deals by venture capitals in 2018, criteria which may have influenced Trinidad and Tobago’s seven-place slide.
But the country has been making moves to promote the BPO sector, efforts which have included, in 2016, the launch of the Global Business Services (GBS) program, a suite of three qualifications designed to enhance the skills of professionals in the finance and accounting outsourcing industry, an initiative carried out jointly by the Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Centre (IFC), established to develop a robust financial services center in the country, and the London-based Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
That same year, Trinidad held its first international outsourcing summit, during which, Richard Young, IFC chairman, highlighted the country’s potential for growth in the BPO space.
“Notwithstanding our size, we can provide exponential value to those who seek long-term, synergistic partnerships and are interested in sustainable successes which will forever change the BPO space,” he said.
He added that the IFC is aiming to add 3,000 jobs to the BPO sector.
And in May of last year, Young again espoused the potential of the country’s BPO sector, “in which we are trying to create value-added jobs for people”, and his desire for the creation of energy sector BPOs as part of the government’s plan for economic diversification, suggesting that contracts between the government and oil companies could stipulate their establishment of a shared services hub to serve their regional operations.
While the oil and gas industry accounts for almost half of the country’s GDP, it only employs about 5% of the population, which totals around 1.3 million, according to Aegis’ Lee.
“The country is also well known for its financial services, there are also a lot of people working in the financial sector,” she said.
She added that the government is interested in the development of the sector because it contributes tax revenues, and Trinidad has seen a drop in its state revenues as a result of falling oil prices, and which has impacted the island’s economy.
“More and more people are looking to outsource, and which obeys our tagline, ‘focus on your core and let us do the rest’, and more companies are seeking to do that to save costs. It’s about making life easier for the client, thinking ahead for the client, and which is how we add value, with the business consultancy side.”
“A big part of what people are doing nowadays has to do with technology, and digitization, and people are realizing that they need to move in that direction or risk being left behind, and that requires intelligence and analytics, and the automation of processes.”
“You need to invest in technology to streamline processes, and that cannot be delayed,” she said.