September 15, 2019

Sri Lanka

What If 20 Percent of Audit Work Was Performed Offshore?

You may have heard that accounting firms – primarily Big 4 firms – have been slowly transitioning work to countries like India and Sri Lanka. This particular topic of discussion typically results in a heated/subtly racist conversations about “foreigners taking American jobs” which eventually evolves into a more overtly racist conversation, not unlike what happens on some Deloitte forums.

ANYWAY, just how much work is being sent offshore? The FT reported some recent projections that the UK’s Financial Reporting Council (“FRC”) found for PwC in the UK:

In an annual inspection report, the FRC said the UK arm of PwC might move as much as 20 per cent of its core audit work to Calcutta by 2014. Less than 2 per cent of its work was offshored in its last financial year.

“On the face of it, 20 per cent of an audit being done without any face-to-face contact with the client seems high,” [FRC Director of Audit Paul] George said. He added that all the large UK audit firms were considering offshoring to cut costs but had so far only shifted a tiny fraction of work overseas.

That “20 percent” has a few people concerned and the FRC is looking into it. Granted, this is just an isolated example to audits at PwC, so obviously your offwhoring experience would vary from audit to audit and also for tax and advisory services. And lest you think this is all about money, the article quotes a flak from P. Dubs as saying, “The driver for us was not a reduction in costs. It is an improvement in quality.” O RLY?

Since many of you have worked directly with this process, you may have a difference opinion with this statement and one tipster – who is interested in hearing other people’s offshoring tales – details his:

My experience with this process has been horrendous. Don’t let comments in the article fool you, we are required to send a set amount of hours overseas to be performed by our shared service center. A process that would originally take 1 hour to start and complete (think bank reconciliations) now takes 6 hours. Nothing like writing instructions on how to perform a simple process and receiving a phone call from someone who barely speaks English to ask you how to perform the test. Or receiving a bunch of garbage and re-doing the work yourself.

Teaching someone how to do something, who has presumably never done it before, is difficult. Teaching someone how to do something, who has presumably never done it before, over the phone is worse. Teaching someone how to do something, who has presumably never done it before, over the phone, whose first language is something other than English is maddening.

Arguably, offshoring has benefits but if this trading 1 hour for 6 hours is fairly standard, then quality certainly isn’t one of them. Of course for a firm flak to say otherwise is grounds for a severe beating from his/her superior. The mere idea of trading 1 hour of work for 6 hours is enough to make a manager lose their shit unless the 6 hours are significantly cheaper. Then there’s the whole “client service” thing which is tricky from the get-go. How do you best explain the increased hours and/or the fact that you’re waiting on something from “the offshore team” that’s ordinarily slapped together in a few minutes?

Clearly, this “20 percent” is a shot in the dark but it’s definitely enough to make someone say, “OH HELL NO. NOT ON MY ENGAGEMENT.” But it’s not impossible that some of you have a grand time with the offshoring, so either way, you should let us know.

Watchdogs probe ‘offshoring’ of audit work [FT]

Your Future Accounting Jobs Belong to Sri Lanka

Ahhh, outsourcing. Nothing like American jobs going overseas to whip up fury among the masses. The latest example, via yesterday’s Times, is accounting jobs going to Sri Lanka.

As this tiny island nation staggers back from a bloody, decades-long civil war, one of its brightest business prospects was born from a surprising side effect of that conflict. Many Sri Lankans, for various reasons, studied accounting in such numbers during the war that this nation of about 20 million people now has an estimated 10,000 certified accountants.

An additional 30,000 students are currently enrolled in accounting programs, according to the Sri Lankan Institute of Chartered Accountants. While that ratio is lower than in developed economies like the United States, it is much greater than in Sri Lanka’s neighboring outsourcing giant, India.

But if you think these jobs are just 10-key jockeys and plugging digits into tax returns, you would be wrong, wrong, wrong:

Offices in Sri Lanka are doing financial work for some of the world’s biggest companies, including the international bank HSBC and the insurer Aviva. And it is not simply payroll and bookkeeping. The outsourced work includes derivatives pricing and risk management for money managers and hedge funds, stock research for investment banks and underwriting for insurance companies.

Many developing countries have “one particular competency that they do better than anyone else,” said Duminda Ariyasinghe, an executive director at Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment. “Financial accounting is that door opener for us.”

So all that you put in to knowing derivative accounting inside and out? Yeah, someone in Sri Lanka has a similar level of understanding and naturally, the labor there comes cheap. Extremely cheap:

In the United States, the median annual wage for accountants and auditors in May 2008 was $59,430, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sri Lankan workers in the accounting profession receive an average annual pay package of $5,900, according to a 2010 survey by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Wages in Sri Lanka for financial outsourcing are about one-third less than in neighboring India, and hiring educated employees is easier in Sri Lanka, according to executives who do business in both countries.

Yes, that’s a savings of 90%. No, there’s not much you can do about it. Except discuss below.

Sri Lankan Accountants Lure Global Outsourcers [NYT]