The Business Year | November 2, 2017
TBY talks to Yoni Epstein, Chairman of itelbpo, on why Jamaica has become a center for the BPO industry, speed of growth in the sector, and connections with the US.
What is the competitive advantage of Jamaica for BPO?
Our company grew from seven employees in 2012 to just over 1,000 five years later. The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is the fastest growing in Jamaica. It can provide jobs at the fastest rate and help boost the country’s economy right now. The primary competitive advantage is our human capital and the fact that we are the third largest English-speaking country in the Western Hemisphere, behind the US and Canada. We have a large, educated labor pool. Jamaica has a long history in the hospitality industry. Therefore, a lot of individuals have been trained in that sales and customer service arena. In call centers, a big part of the job is customer service, and we have that in our DNA. Another aspect is the closeness to the US. Over the years, outsourcing has grown from India, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia, and then moved to Latin America. In Central and South America, English is a second language; thus, there is a huge benefit for Jamaica as English is its first language. The closeness to the US means that travel is faster. From Montego Bay, there are direct flights to all of the major cities in the US. The devaluation of the Jamaican dollar over the last five years has given us a competitive advantage globally, bringing our wage rates more in line to where they are in the Philippines. From a cost perspective, it makes Jamaica more competitive that it used to be. That is also a benefit to coming to operate here.
How is the Business Process Industry Association supporting the industry?
I started the Business Process Industry Association five years ago with JAMPRO. It has been something that has really benefited the industry. The government has always wanted to support the industry. However, call centers are difficult to understand unless the manager knows how to run one and the needs of the clients. Therefore, what the association did, and continues to do, was go through and be that educator to the policy makers. They want to open the doors, make it easier to do business, and make it easier to invest and bring investors to Jamaica. However, unless they have a full understanding of the demands of the industry, it is difficult to make any policy changes. The will might be there, however the want is not. The industry association has been there to hold the hand of the government to drive and steer it in the right direction to continue to make it the industry that investors would like. It is important to drop all of the barriers to entry and the process to start a business made a lot easier.
What can the government do to make the industry even more competitive?
The government should be investing more money into JAMPRO to market the industry. This industry is a business that is all about show and tell. It is all about what there is, what is happening today, what a business can do. The more popular we can make Jamaica’s flag and name, the more influence we will have in the industry and the more successful we will be. We have the infrastructure and several fiber-optic lines running from Jamaica to the US and different parts of the world. We also have the space to develop, and there is a lot of development taking place right now. We have the human capital and the closeness to the largest market for BPO in the world.
Will the BPO continue growing on the fast track in the coming years?
Most certainly, and there are two reasons why. The natural transition of BPO starting in India, going to the Philippines, and coming closer to home is because people are tired of the distance they have to travel and the cost implications of traveling to those centers. Coming to Jamaica is easier for them. Shorter visits are possible and it is cheaper and faster to feel and see a business. Furthermore, the cost implications have significantly dropped, and the service delivery is far better than elsewhere. There is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence in the market, but I do not think this will kill the BPO industry by any means. I think of it as an opportunity. There are certain things, just like data entry, that are automated today. Certain aspects of the job, those that go on at lower level, can be automated through artificial intelligence.
What are the goals and objectives of the company for the coming year?
We have grown significantly over the last five years. We have moved from being a start-up to a medium-sized to a large-sized BPO. We have three main goals that we have continued to work on to grow our business. One is acquisition of new clients. The larger we get, the easier it is to land bigger clients and deals. Another is providing different services as we grow, going back to our existing client base and sharing additional services with them. This is a way we can further entrench ourselves in our client base. The third is acquisition of other call centers. These include medium-sized players that may have difficulty because of capital constraints or getting new business due to the size limitations. We want to bring them into our world, help them grow faster, and help ourselves grow faster.