Last month, executives and experts from across the world gathered in Port of Spain to discuss the rise of Trinidad and Tobago as an outsourcing destination. While in the past, few thought of the Caribbean island nation when making their site selection decision, the Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Centre (TTIFC) has made significant strides towards changing that perception.
The agency’s main goal is to promote Trinidad and Tobago’s capability to provide higher-value functions, namely finance, accounting, BPO, and other critical business services. Its goal to add 3,000 jobs and TT$1 billion to the economy is ambitious. But based upon the reactions of those in attendance, the TTIFC International Outsourcing Summit 2016 met its objectives — and more.
Lyndsey Wheeler, managing director of TMF Group Costa Rica, was one attendee who walked away impressed. More than anything, she learned just how many resources are available when it comes to accounting, finance, and legal services. “It would be very interesting for companies to set up a hub in this region for the rest of the Caribbean as well,” said Wheeler. “I see lots of opportunities.”
Trinidad & Tobago’s Business Friendly Environment
The case for Trinidad and Tobago was made by many notable invitees during the two-day summit from June 15-16 at the Hilton Hotel & Conference Centre. Johan Gott, principal at analyst firm A.T. Kearney, offered a litany of evidence during his keynote presentation, which focused on how business environment factors play into the minds of modern decision makers.
When selecting sites, executives weigh key issues like country risk, ease of doing business, infrastructure quality, and IP protection. While labor costs and the size of the workforce certainly matter, Gott said that companies increasingly want to be sure that a location can offer stability and security — in all senses of the word.
Trinidad and Tobago has a leg up on a lot of its competition in this key area. Its high business environment scores are one main reason that the nation recently entered the top 50 in A.T. Kearney’s Global Services Location Index, ranking 42nd overall in the company’s 2016 list.
With an established rule of law and almost no political turmoil, its business environment score of 1.46 puts it well ahead of many other appealing destinations. In this category, Trinidad and Tobago outranks the likes of India (1.19), Indonesia (1.22), Argentina (1.20), Philippines (1.29), Vietnam (1.22), Russia (1.34), Egypt (0.96), Ukraine (1.12), Jamaica (1.31), Ghana (1.07), and Peru (1.26), among others.
In addition to the business environment, A.T. Kearney’s report includes a host of other advantages for companies who choose Trinidad and Tobago as a destination. “Literacy rates are high (99%), more than 7,000 people graduate each year from tertiary learning institutions, and perhaps most importantly, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the largest sources of native English-speaking talent in the Western Hemisphere (outside of Canada and the United States),” states the 2016 Global Services Location Index.
“Add to those advantages a strong telecommunications infrastructure, a nearshore location to the United States, and a host of tax incentives, and it becomes easy to understand why Canada’s Scotiabank runs its Caribbean finance and administration service operations from Trinidad and Tobago,” according to the report.
Infrastructure’s Role in Site Selection
Sebarath Mahadeo of Scotiabank, one of around 25 companies invited to the conference, highlighted Trinidad and Tobago’s progress when it comes to infrastructure. While addressing the summit, he pointed to country’s stable IT environment and range of choice when it comes to selecting third-party service providers. Various options exist in terms maintaining infrastructure — as well as other operational needs — which can be a challenge when it comes to operating in some countries in Caribbean.
The government’s active role in all this added to Mahadeo’s optimism. He broke down the steps the nation has made to advance as an outsourcing destination in recent years, from its incorporating a legal entity to its creation of free zones to the tax amendments it has made to promote financial support services.
Samir Misra of Oliver Wyman offered a similar perspective. Its regulatory and tax environment ranked among his top reasons that a company should look to Trinidad and Tobago, noting its parliamentary laws, free movement of labor, and flat corporate tax rate. Throw in the possibility of free-zone tax exemptions and the quick time it takes to register a business — just three days — and he believes that more companies will begin to realize the potential.
Trinidad & Tobago: The Best Place To Be
The business environment, ongoing infrastructure upgrades, and governmental support are all among the factors that Kapeesh Saxena, group head of international business for Euphoria Technologies, said Trinidad and Tobago is “the best place to be right now.” While visiting Port of Spain for the conference, he discovered a place that he believes can become an innovation center for any organization seeking to tap a talented and larger-than-expected workforce.
He also highlighted that the assistance from the government — in terms subsides, logistics resources, and information — offers a smooth path to getting a new office up and running. “This is a good place for one to come and start their set up given all the possible extended help from the government and TTIFC,” said Saxena. “I would not lose a chance to be here.”
These were the reactions that TTIFC CEO Varun Maharaj was hoping for when he announced the nation’s goals for its outsourcing sector. He knows the potential that Trinidad and Tobago has, and he was happy to invite more that two dozen companies to Port of Spain to see it all up close.
“The BPO services sector has the potential to create as many as 3,000 high-value jobs and can contribute TT$1.1 billion to Trinidad and Tobago’s gross domestic product,” said Maharaj. “The TTIFC International Outsourcing Summit can certainly play a pivotal role in driving job creation and economic augmentation by allowing our prospective new partners to experience — firsthand — the benefits of setting up operations in our location, including the incentives and support available through the government of Trinidad and Tobago. As we look to expand our financial sector, TTIOS is an important strategy in pursuing this objective.”
How the Summit Convinced the Skeptics
There were a lot of newcomers at the event. Rajiv Nayan, senior director of Tata Consultancy Services Canada, had never been to the islands and was surprised to learn about the buzz surrounding this small nation.
“I never knew Trinidad and Tobago as an outsourcing destination for finance and BPO,” said Nayan. “That’s the reason I came here.”
Nayan admits that, while he wanted to remain open minded about what he would discover, he was skeptical. With years of experience in the industry, he understands which data points and prerequisites a location needs to actually become a player in the BPO world. He didn’t expect to find them here.
But Nayan walked away happily surprised. After talking to experts, networking with peers, and sitting through the presentations, the evidence became obvious. Trinidad and Tobago is ready for prime time.
“When I go through the checklist, everything is possible. Everything is ready,” he said. “There is no reason Trinidad and Tobago cannot be a financial center — not only for the Caribbean but for the larger North American organizations. Or any part of the world.”
For him, all the boxes have been ticked. The language makes doing global business in English easy. The facilities and technology is all here. The population is highly skilled. And the government is now putting its foot on the gas to get everything moving. “Overall, you need a ecosystem of people, process, and technology to make things happen,” said Nayan.
Though he was once a skeptic, Naran sees all of that here and thinks the future is bright. All it will take now is getting the word out about Trinidad and Tobago — and a bit of a push from those who already know what the nation has to offer. “The time is right,” said Nayan. “You just have to press the pedal. And I believe it will move.”