From speaking to other professionals at recent networking events, I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of firms who are now outsourcing much of their compliance work overseas.
The preparers are a mix of large outsourcing-outfits and smaller boutiques, sometimes even just a single worker, and are often based in India or the Philippines.
“Do you outsource?”
When I ask this question, most positive responses are proudly followed with something along the lines of ‘the quality of work is quicker and better than we can find locally’.
This helps ensure clients get a great service, and eases the staffing issue many firms face – after all, many of the outsourced workers are fully qualified accountants, who have sat the same (or very similar) qualifications to their UK counterparts.
Client experience and high quality work are core values which many firms share, so this seems a perfectly reasonable reason to outsource.
"I tell my clients, if they ask me."
“Do you tell your clients?”
However, when I follow up with this question, the next response I receive is usually a bit more reserved.
One or two had put it on their website, a few more put it somewhere in their engagement letter, but most seem to be relatively shy with their second response.
Almost all say, "I tell my clients, if they ask me."
Therein lies the sticking point for me; when we have brilliant local staff, we’re far from shy about putting them on our website, and shouting from the rooftops about their achievements.
So why are we so reluctant to shout about the relationship we have with our foreign workforce?
Yes the work done by these foreign firms is usually a bit cheaper than firms would have to pay for a local worker of the same standard.
Is there then a worry that if clients believe the work is being done cheaper, they might expect cheaper fees?
To me, this should not be the issue.
The iPhone is the most profitable product in history, but it doesn’t take away from its value in the hands of the consumer; people are willing to pay a premium for the quality they receive.
If clients are indeed getting a better service, and a quicker turnaround on work, this is the real value they are receiving, and they should be willing to pay for that.
The client is still receiving a premium service, regardless of where the majority of the work is being done.
Firms quite possibly have their own expectations of profitability, and earning more than this doesn’t sit well with them.
Maybe deep-down they don’t believe that they provide a premium service, and feel unable to charge premium prices.
As a result, it’s understandable that they might feel they’ve opted for outsourcing as an ‘easy’ way to boost their profitability, without digging deep within themselves, to really increase their offering to clients.
An ‘easy’ life, making ‘easy’ profit, might not sit well with such numbers-orientated individuals.
If it is a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to provide a premium service – or at least to realise that a premium service is already being provided – perhaps a re-basing is needed; both in terms of perceived client-expectations and self belief.
The ‘R’ word?
Is there still a worry of racism on behalf of clients? We’ve all seen them; those in the “they took our jobs” camp.
Is there a perception – or risk - that the business relationship will somehow be altered negatively by the knowledge that work is not being prepared in-office/locally?
Sadly, the cosmopolitan face of Britain does perhaps still harbour an underlying divide. This is a trickier hurdle for businesses to get over.
Even if the business is very comfortable with its use of overseas workers, and genuinely uses them for the right reasons and in the right way, it’s hard to help every potential client see things the way you do.
But in being open and honest, would you not just end up with a client base who are happy to work with you? No secrets needed.
Those potential dissenters might be better off working with another firm anyway.
Perception of working conditions?
If we mention work being done these countries, is there a worry that this drums up the image of the oft-documented young children working in horrendous conditions in sweatshops?
Again, I don’t believe this should be the case. These outfits are hiring highly-trained, qualified professionals.
you should have no problem marketing your involvement with your outsourced team.
Perhaps this misconception is just a marketing/educational issue.
For example, celebrating the exam passes of one of your outsourced team, in the same way as you’d do for your internal team, might be a great chance to close this ‘knowledge gap’.
If you have researched your outsourcing company well, and know that they have fair working conditions, and that you pay them fairly, you should have no objection to using them.
And you should have no problem marketing your involvement with your outsourced team.
If some uneasiness does still lie within you about the firm you’re dealing with – perhaps you need to find a more suitable outsourcing firm.
Supporting only those firms which encourage fair practices will ensure that the outsourcing industry goes from strength to strength in a positive, and prosperous way, for the countries and workers involved.
Job creation here, or job creation overseas – surely everyone agrees that it’s for the greater good when done fairly and correctly?
So where does it leave us?
At present, I don’t use overseas outsourcing firms. There is no right or wrong with it, and it may well be that I’ll use them in the future, but I simply haven’t needed to so far – I currently ‘outsource’ to an absolute superstar based just a couple of hundred miles away, in Aberdeenshire. (More on that soon)
Ultimately though, I do believe that every business should operate in a way that it’s proud to shout about.
If there’s any reservation with promoting what/how you conduct your business, is it first worth asking yourself why that is?
Find your own truth.
Once you understand your own values, it becomes easier to take positive action to position your business around them, and to find clients who share them.