The Evolution of the Asia Back Office and the Accompanying Demand for Talent

Jul 21, 2016 | CIO Outlook

By Steve Stine, Regional Managing Partner, DHR International

A quiet revolution is unfolding in the back offices of major banks and financial services institutions around the world. A wave that began a decade ago to lower operating costs by shifting back office functions from high-cost developed markets to low-cost developing markets is on the precipice of a new, and potentially more impactful, change.

Today, shared services operating out of markets like India, China and the Philippines are standard operating procedures for multinationals bent on reducing costs and providing a one-stop service for both internal back-office support and customer care. Now firmly ensconced, Finance and IT leaders are contemplating ways of eliciting a next generation of value. This comes on the back of increased pressure to fully utilize the landslide of operational and customer data that flows through the MNC ecosystem on a daily basis.

Analytics are the new holy grail for organizations that have squeezed out costs through relocation and a shared service model, but now need to uncover new means of further reducing “the cost to serve,” or more ambitiously, unearthing new product or service concepts capable of generating top-line revenue.

In conversation with major banks and financial institutions with both front-office and back-office investments in Asia, a pattern could be seen emerging that could alter the face of financial services in the region and around the world.

“Analytics holds the key to unlocking a world of new customer insights,” says one top executive for a major insurance company. “Our industry is renowned for operating in the dark ages,” he says. “For us, the answer lies in building an analytics capability that can provide us with the kind of customer insights to re-engineer the way we sell, support and manage claims.”

This insurer and a handful of others like it, are either building or contemplating the build out of an analytics capability to sit on top of back-office and/or customer-care centers. Each is mandated to analyze at a micro level everything from call-center engagement and selling practices to online exploration of insurance products and benefits. “With our findings, we hope to better understand the psychology of our customers - what engages and benefits consumers in terms of our selling proposition? And what turns off and dissuades a prospect from moving forward with a purchase?” says the insurance executive.

Industry experts say that the objective is to detect patterns in the selling and support process in order to then retrain and upgrade the quality of sales and support. “An incremental change in the way the insurance sector engage on the basis of analytical data discoveries could result in millions of dollars in new revenue,” says one industry insider.

For back-office managers, this signals a sea change in the infrastructure, design, hiring and training of a new generation of technical experts. For back-office and shared-service operators in Asia, it begs the question: Can talent be found and integrated into existing platforms in order to generate the kind of big data discoveries that multinationals are now banking on in order to evolve the business?

“It’s a sea change for traditional back-office operators,” says Ankur Baghel, a Principal at DHR International, who specializes in identifying and recruiting this new breed of back-office leaders. “We can see a growing wave of demand for leaders who understand this new paradigm and can weigh the importance of cost management with new service innovation,” he says.

India, for example, is a font for IT talent. Every year the country produces more than 500,000 IT graduates. The country’s IT programs are on the cutting edge of analytics, producing seven percent of the world’s so-called data scientists and growing at the rate of 25 percent Y-o-Y. “Being the top five producer of data scientists in the world, it’s not a supply but a demand issue, at this stage,” says Dipanjan Sengupta, Associate Partner with DHR International in Mumbai. “Back office organizations in India have an appetite for making this change in support of their organizations, but it will require a shift in mentality, funding and leadership in order to make the dream a reality,” he says.

According to one insurance executive: “There’s no shortage of ambition in our industry. The problem is getting everyone on board with the changes that need to take place,” he says. “When the time is right, we hope not only to use our analytics capabilities to serve our own needs, but to become a 3rd party provider to our banking and channels partners as they see the need to hone their customer selling and servicing skills in their home markets,” he says.

Like all great revolutions, there is a rhetorical tipping point. Companies need to believe in and embrace analytics as the ultimate game-changer. Once they understand the power of data, then the investments and the hiring of key talent follows. 

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