Opportunities for Action in Financial Services. Passage to India: The Rewards of Remote Business Processing

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1 Opportunities for Action in Financial Services Passage to India: The Rewards of Remote Business Processing

2 Passage to India: The Rewards of Remote Business Processing Over the past two decades, financial institutions worldwide have transformed themselves in order to improve their competitive positions. As pressures on profit margins increased, banks, brokerages, and insurance companies looked to manage costs first by consolidating business operations locally. With the help of technology, companies are now taking the next step: moving business processing to remote locations, where they often outsource, form joint ventures, or run their own processing businesses much more cheaply. Critics often maintain that the benefits of outsourcing and remote business processing have been overstated. We disagree. Indeed, service companies may now be following the same path that manufacturing companies took some 20 years ago. After two decades of transition, a huge percentage of manufacturing is now done in remote locations and is often outsourced or produced in joint ventures. A decade from now, we believe that the same is likely to be true for business processing and other services essential to the financial industry. Going Global Since the early 1980s, technological advances have allowed institutions to standardize and consolidate business operations. In the first wave of global consolidation, financial institutions used technology to increase scale, centralize and regionalize operations, manage peak loads more effectively, and improve overall resource utilization. After some initial hiccups, many financial institutions achieved substantial cost

3 savings of as much as 25 percent of relevant costs by enhancing quality and improving efficiency. By consolidating operations in a few locations, institutions could consider outsourcing some nonstrategic operations to more streamlined operators with greater scale and lower costs. Why? Because outsourcing removes the need for regular capital investments and replaces relatively fixed costs with variable costs. It also offers scale advantages that permit increased capacity and flexibility in managing human resources. Since the mid-1990s, rapid improvements in infrastructure, and particularly telecommunications, have triggered a second wave of consolidation: the global sourcing of business processing. Technology has allowed operations to become more independent of location than ever before. Financial institutions global sourcing of business processing is similar to multinationals selecting remote locations for manufacturing plants. Competitors can now reap time-zone benefits and adopt round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week services. Several companies have aggressively exploited this global business-processing opportunity. Among the most prominent early movers and the locations they chose are GE Capital (India, China, and Ireland); American Express (India and the Philippines); Bank of America (India and the Philippines); AXA (India and the Philippines); Citigroup (India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore); HSBC (India and China); and Standard Chartered Bank (Malaysia, India, and China). The deconcentration initiatives financial institutions took after the September 11 terrorist attacks spurred this trend. Competitors are often eager to pursue more robust business-continuity processes and

4 contingency schemes by not concentrating their activities in a single point-of-failure location. Many more companies are therefore analyzing remote business processing as they review their global infrastructuresourcing plans. To be sure, those considering global outsourcing strategies have to weigh the potential cost savings against possible pitfalls if business volumes decline. For example, some companies have recently experienced considerable earnings volatility as volumes dropped. Moreover, remote outsourcing can leave companies vulnerable to political risks in the developing countries where they decide to outsource. For that reason, several competitors have decided against global outsourcing. Still, the powerful underlying logic of the trend is making many players ask when and where to outsource. When and Where to Outsource Companies considering outsourcing of business processing should carefully analyze their prospects before proceeding. There are two critical decisions to make when considering global sourcing: whether to process in-house (self-sourcing) or to outsource, and whether to use domestic or offshore locations. Companies therefore have four broad options: domestic selfsourcing, remote self-sourcing, domestic outsourcing, or remote outsourcing. (See Exhibit 1.) To help identify the best use of these four options, each company needs to ask, first, should we outsource? Second, should we process cross-border? An institution s costs and its long-term corporate objectives determine whether or not to outsource. High relative costs and low minimum scale indicate

5 Exhibit 1. Finding the Right Mix Outsourced Captive Concerns about country risk Lower margin pressures High relative costs Low scale Front-office focus Full control Large scale Superior processes Comfort with/knowledge of country risks and contingency plans High margin pressures SOURCE: BCG analysis. Local Remote / cross-border outsourcing, or at least an operations joint venture, as the best option, whereas low costs and large scale suggest that insourcing would be preferable. (See Exhibit 2.) The decision on whether to process cross-border is driven by the tradeoff between economic benefits on the one hand and perceived risks and loss of control on the other. To answer the above questions, a company needs to address additional issues: Is there a strategic rationale for outsourcing? Is the firm ready to outsource? Identifying the strategic rationale means assessing the impact of outsourcing on the company s core business model, competitive position, and economic benefits. In doing so, the organization will need to consider the importance of the processes under review, the need for proximity to customers, the assessment of risks and risk mitigation options, and the ability to meet regulatory requirements and IT standards.

6 Exhibit 2. Players Long-Term Goals: Determining the Best Options Goal Exit noncore functions Use scale to increase revenue Grow despite current lack of scale and scope Outsource Insource Venture Benefit Better systems at lower cost Insourcing company gets scale to invest in best-in-class solutions Scale Technological and process know-how Local contacts and expertise SOURCE: BCG analysis. Companies readiness and willingness to outsource or process beyond their national borders are of critical importance and are defined by three factors. First, management needs to be committed to the strategic importance of addressing continuous and increasing margin pressures. This in itself requires a deep understanding of core and noncore processes. For example, does the institution understand the associated process economics (such as scale and factor advantages) and business impact on customers sufficiently well to achieve savings with acceptable and manageable risks? Second, is the organization able to manage the transfer of processes and ready to continue processing and to perform effective quality control from the remote location? Third, is the organization prepared to address any resulting human-resources and union issues?

7 If a decision is made in favor of cross-border processing, the financial institution needs to begin the work of identifying the appropriate location. That means either relocation cross-border (remote captive) or remote outsourcing. In our experience, the choice of location is determined by five factors: adequate skilled manpower (IT and back-office professionals with the requisite language skills) factor costs (wages, infrastructure, and taxes) risks of location (stable political and legal systems) infrastructure (telecom and power) time zone (compatible hours) The ultimate choice of location will require rigorous analysis of each company s particular situation. Although many prestigious firms have diversified processing locations, India has emerged as one of the most popular remote locations, building on its leading IT insourcing position. Other popular destinations include Ireland, Malaysia, and the Philippines as well as, to a lesser extent, China and Sri Lanka. (See Exhibit 3.) What India Offers India is becoming a premier global technology hub. As a result, a growing number of international companies have started using it as a software development location. Today about 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies source software services from Indian companies. Building on India s remote IT sourcing track record, for example, GE and Citigroup reported sig-

8 Exhibit 3. Rating Outsourcing Locations Criteria India Malaysia Ireland Philippines China Sri Lanka Skilled labor pool English-speaking labor pool Factor costs Stable political and legal systems Infrastructure: telecom and power Time zone Favorable Unfavorable SOURCE: BCG analysis. nificant success in 2001 from outsourcing in the country. GE, with 9,000 employees in its Indian outsourcing operation, reaped $270 million of benefits largely from reduced labor costs. Citigroup reported $75 million of benefits from its 2,500-employee outsourcing operation, also because of reduced costs. Outsourcing to India offers such companies three advantages: Lower Costs. Owing to low factor costs, cost savings in India can be large. A recent Boston Consulting Group analysis of customer service centers showed Indian call centers to be 45 to 50 percent more cost effective than U.S. call centers. (See Exhibit 4.) Skilled Manpower and Improved Quality of Work. India has many graduates and professionals with the skills required for business processing. This is unlikely

9 Exhibit 4. Advantage India: Call-Center Comparison $thousands 6,000 5,000 4,000 3,000 45% savings 50% savings (before profit and tax) 2,000 1,000 0 United States India Profit Tax 1 Overhead Telecom Wages SOURCES: LinxBC study; BCG analysis. NOTE: Comparison is for a 100-seat call center. 1 India has a tax exemption for exports, which includes call centers involved in foreign business. to change. BCG research on changing demographic profiles shows that India will still have a labor surplus in 2020, when most industrialized countries (including the United States, Europe, Japan, and China) will suffer labor shortages. The factor-cost differential allows companies to employ higher-caliber people in India at cheaper costs, resulting in increased productivity with lower error rates. Indian employees have the added advantage of being fluent in English. Call centers in India offer the best example of its citizens English language skills. Call centers train graduates to

10 neutralize their accents and familiarize them with local customer conditions by providing appropriate newspapers and keeping them current with events in the customer area. Such training enables employees to interact effectively with customers in, for example, the United States and the United Kingdom. This combination of a higher-skilled, more productive work force translates into superior quality and differentiates the Indian market. Favorable time zone. The time zone difference favors the Western world and allows round-the-clock service. To be sure, India still needs to develop its physical infrastructure to secure its position in global outsourcing. Although its telecommunications have improved significantly, much of its physical infrastructure is not yet up to Western standards. More important, India needs to reduce political tensions with Pakistan. These tensions present a real barrier to ensuring business continuity. Typically, players have sought to mitigate such risks in two ways: by sharing processing between a host center in the United States or Europe and the remote center in India or by locating in south and west India. Finding the Right Home for Business Processing The decision to outsource offshore is difficult but deserves deliberate consideration. We believe seizing the opportunity requires navigating six key issues. Decide on remote processing versus outsourcing. The decision to go remote is driven by the relative importance of a company s need to attain more variable and less investment-intensive business models, and its comfort with loss of control.

11 Identify the right processes. It is vitally important to carefully select the appropriate processes. The key task is to define the boundaries between local and remote operations while ensuring close cooperation. Players often start with labor-intensive processes that are neither critical nor core and expand only if they are happy with processing quality, reliability, and risk mitigation measures. Decide on vendor choice. The cross-border outsourcing decision requires a company to manage vendorselection and deal-structuring processes in a way that is most appropriate to its individual needs. BCG has developed a simple framework to evaluate vendors, encompassing minimal requirements (such as quality, infrastructure, backups, and the ability to meet strict service-level agreements). The next level in the framework defines essential drivers (such as the ability to increase scale, financial stability, and domain expertise) and, most important, differentiating factors (such as noncompete agreements, options to take over operations after a reasonable time, and openness to establishing joint ventures to mitigate the loss of control). Manage the process very closely. This is critical to ensure the delivery of quality services and mitigate the risk that companies and customers accept in outsourcing. Companies must strictly define service-level agreements, penalty clauses, and various qualitycontrol mechanisms. Start small. It is important to begin with a small pilot to explore practical issues regarding geography, product, and process. Small successes build confidence and momentum and increase acceptance by management. Mitigate risk. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, business continuity and risk mitigation rose to the

12 top of the CEO agenda. Despite today s uncertain economic environment, the emphasis on avoiding single points of failure is motivating companies to incorporate different locations, with a prudent mix of core and noncore activities, into their global production strategies. * * * As more and more companies use remote sourcing and outsourcing to attain higher-quality service and reap margins of as much as 45 percent, institutions have begun to ask themselves, How will cross-border processing enhance my competitive position? What is the opportunity? What are the risks? Shouldn t you be asking the same questions? Antonio Riera Janmejaya Sinha Alpesh Shah Antonio Riera is a vice president and director in the Boston office of The Boston Consulting Group. Janmejaya Sinha is a vice president and director in the firm s Mumbai office. Alpesh Shah is a manager in BCG s Mumbai office. You may contact the authors by at: The Boston Consulting Group, Inc All rights reserved.

13 Amsterdam Athens Atlanta Auckland Bangkok Barcelona Beijing Berlin Boston Brussels Budapest Buenos Aires Chicago Cologne Copenhagen Dallas Düsseldorf Frankfurt Hamburg Helsinki Hong Kong Istanbul Jakarta Kuala Lumpur Lisbon London Los Angeles Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Milan Monterrey Moscow Mumbai Munich New Delhi New York Oslo Paris Rome San Francisco São Paulo Seoul Shanghai Singapore Stockholm Stuttgart Sydney Tokyo Toronto Vienna Warsaw Washington Zürich BCG 12/02

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