Council sets up in Fiji

Australian High Commissioner John Feakes (7th from left), Minister for Commerce Faiyaz Koya and guests at the BPO Council of Fiji launch in Suva last week. Picture: ATU RASEA

The outsourcing sector was greatly impacted by COVID-19 as global lockdown made thousands of call centre staff unavailable, especially in India and the Philippines.

This according to Business Process Outsourcing Council of Fiji chairwoman, Carol Watkins, who said airlines, banks and telecom companies, as a result of the pandemic, were forced to re-shore jobs.

Speaking during the launch of the council last Thursday, she said the re-shoring of jobs in Australia and New Zealand had opened up opportunities for Fiji in the outsourcing industry.

“First of all, it would be commercially unsustainable for most organisations in Australia and New Zealand to continue to onshore jobs that were previously offshored,” said Ms Watkins.

“Secondly, supply chain robustness and resilience has moved to the top of the key priorities for organisations all over the world with most looking to have smaller BPOs located in different geographical locations.”

She added Fiji ticks most of the boxes when looking to outsource out of Australia and New Zealand.

“We are just three to four hours of flying away, we have customer service in our DNA, our IT infrastructure is reliable, our operational costs are affordable and there’s the availability of a good skilled workforce, many with a neutral accent and with very good English language skills.

“We also have great tax incentives and for companies looking to invest in the industry, apart from the zero-rated duty on equipment, there is also the 13-year tax holiday offered by the Fijian Government.

“The BPO Council of Fiji is determined to create awareness about the Fiji brand as the preferred outsourcing destination, targeting in particular those in financial services, insurance claims processing, accounting back office services, debt recovery, IT help desk services, outbound telemarketing and in-bound multi-channel customer support in Australia and New Zealand.”

According to Ms Watkins, there were about 3000 people working in the outsourcing sector in Fiji, with estimated annual earnings of $90 million for the country.

“The BPO council currently estimates that if we continue to create market awareness for our brand and invest in our infrastructure to get us to the level where banking services can be outsourced to Fiji, then the industry could possibly see the creation of approximately 15,000 new jobs in the next five years which would take the earnings for the sector to over $500 million per year.”

The council has also set up subcommittees to focus on five key areas. Ms Watkins said the first key area of focus is education and training.

“The BPO council is lobbying tertiary institutions to add contact centre courses to their curriculum that are accredited to Australia and New Zealand standards.

“We are also interested in increasing the focus on artificial intelligence to ensure that teaching material is aligned with the world’s demands today.”

The second key area of focus was incentives and policy whereby restrictions which previously existed to qualify for the 13-year tax holiday were removed by Government last year.

“Also, in last year’s budget, the license fee required for BPOs was removed as well.

“The council is also lobbing for separate legislation to protect the industry and is also seeking tax incentives for investors that provide infrastructure and support towards the industry.”

Infrastructure was the third area of focus, according to Ms Watkins, as having an ICT infrastructure which was reliable and affordable was key to their line of business.

She said the council would also work with key stakeholders to provide tailored solutions for the BPO sector.

“While Fiji has made significant improvements in the infrastructure provided, if we are to compete for  banking work, we will need to ensure that our infrastructure is on par with Australia and New Zealand.

“Furthermore, in terms of building infrastructure, the BPO council believes growth is scalable with  major business park investments planned in the Kalabu Tax Free Zone (developed by the Lyndhurst Group)  and Navutu Lautoka (developed by FNPF).

“It is also important to note that under infrastructure, reliability of electricity supply is critical to the  success of the industry.”

She added the fourth area for the BPO council was quality and certification.

“To get more recognition on the world stage, the council will be lobbying for funding to provide  assistance to members of the BPO Council for certification like ISO and COPC Certification.

“Having certification such as these will go a long way towards providing credibility for the industry in Fiji.”

The marketing and branding area of focus for the council was also a priority, mainly because of the  immediate need to create awareness for Fiji as an outsourcing destination on the world stage.

She said most organisations offshore looking to outsource were unaware that Fiji provided these services.

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