Following the launch of Vox’s Service Delivery Centre, a Belfast-based operation that remotely manages key business processes for banks and other financial institutions, we sat down with Vox Analyst Cal Girvan to talk about the advantages of “near-shoring” in Northern Ireland.
Near-shoring has exploded in Belfast recently. Prior to Vox, I worked in the Belfast office of a well-known global law firm, which was the first law firm in the world to build a service center in Manila in the late 90s. It worked well but was mainly for back-office functions.
The true evolution of near-shoring came with the first global legal services center located in Belfast, and it completely revolutionized the firm’s ability to provide mass legal work directly to clients. And because it was near-shore, the firm’s senior management and partners – largely based in London – could easily and regularly visit to see the quality of work being completed and to interact with the teams conducting that work. The clients absolutely loved this concept because they knew there was experienced oversight and they were getting really high-quality legal work for a much smaller hourly rate.
Now, there are many other ‘white-shoe’ law firms and consulting companies in the UK doing this out of Belfast in the exact same way. This is a great offering for clients, because Belfast has a wealth of highly skilled graduates coming out of Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. Firms like Vox tap into this tremendous pool of talent, providing high quality graduates and work at much lower rates than London.
It’s clear that the landscape for this type of work is very robust in Belfast. What, in your view, sets Vox apart from others in this space?
I think for starters, Vox is home-grown in Belfast. Its HQ is there and that means there is oversight of the operation by experienced members of the executive team. This gives a high degree of reliability and quality output. We are also known as a top-quality local employer, so we can compete with bigger firms for the best staff.
We’re growing quickly but we keep our overheads low, so our rates will always be competitive with the bigger consultancies. We can put quality people anywhere in the world, wherever you want us to put them, but we can also support your team from Belfast for a fraction of the price. That’s a big plus point.
The Coronavirus crisis has inevitably created a time lag for onboarding consultants for remote positions – finding accommodations, getting flights, etc., but with the Service Delivery Centre, we’re able to move quickly in Belfast, because we have a team in place already and the onboarding is much easier.
Vox is targeting the client servicing function, which is much closer to the business. What are the advantages of doing that in a place like Belfast versus Asia or Eastern Europe?
Clearly brand reputation comes into play. Major banks and other financial institutions are always going to strive to be at the top of the market in terms of the quality of their output. Where Belfast has the edge is that the working language of major organisations is English – luckily enough the same can be said of Belfast. That is where you get the advantage over sending work offshore to Asia or to Eastern Europe, quality control in those locations will be very difficult in a client-facing situation.
Just in terms of practical things, if you have a bank in London with a team sitting in London wanting to outsource to Belfast, then the holiday calendar and the working hours are going to be exactly the same.
For example, a banking client could have a Managing Director running the team from London or Paris. Belfast is a short flight away, making it super-easy if they need to pop over. If they want oversight, they can do that. Importantly though, Vox also provides senior-level oversight: the executive team is hands-on and has more than 50 years of banking experience between them. If you are getting that level of oversight there is every reason to trust the quality of the work being done.
Are there lessons that we can learn from the recent ‘work from home’ phenomenon as a result of the pandemic that shows why the Service Delivery Centre can be a viable solution to outsourcing business functions that were previously thought to be untouchable?
There was a general fear from large organisations that you were not trusted to work from home and that the quality of the output wouldn’t be the same. From what we have seen so far, the opposite has proven to be true. People learn to be just as productive, if not more so when working independently – and they can be managed very well remotely. People can be given work and can do it without having someone looking over their shoulder, and I think the whole ‘having to work from home’ experience has really solidified that.
What are the pitfalls or what should potential clients consider before making the decision to outsource this type of work?
When considering outsourcing, here are a few of the key questions to ask: do they have the ability to upskill or down skill very quickly to cope with workload volume and changing mandates? Do they have the adequate physical infrastructure? Do they have computers that can access the client’s networks via low-latency, high-bandwidth broadband, that can run all of their programs as quickly as if physically in the client’s office? Is the service seamless and even more importantly, secure?
Vox has a great deal of experience managing and staffing large critical projects, and the beauty of Belfast over places further afield is that the infrastructure is reliable and the technology is available. Keep in mind the number of larger organizations that have operations in Belfast. Physical office space is abundant, making it easier to keep different client teams apart to maintain confidentiality.
So, it is not only the physical infrastructure but the sensibility to keep things confidential that is critical for clients.
Yes. Finally, I think a major point that clients like to see when they near-shore their work is metrics and reporting. Most clients are keen to see exactly what progress has been made on a particular project or piece of work on a daily basis. When they are paying for it, they want to see what they are getting, especially if they cannot physically see you sitting there doing it. Vox can give clients full oversight over everything that we do, so clients know what they are paying for and the quality of the work is what they need it to be.
Vox’s Service Delivery Centre offers high-quality staff, overseen by an experienced Vox executive team; secure, dedicated office space with secure access to our clients’ systems; and a cost-effective and scalable resource model. Our team specializes in compliance testing, AML/KYC, client outreach, help desks, documentation processes (e.g. IBOR repapering), and more.