Offshoring profits lure banking industry

While Australia's largest banks are busy reviewing their call centre operations to identify areas that can be moved offshore, Suncorp has hit out at the local financial services industry accusing it of disregarding customer service levels in favour of profits.

Suncorp general manager for personal customer sales and service, Andrew Mulvogue, said offshoring a call centre tears the heart out of a company and distances both the organization, and ultimately their call centre from the people they wish to serve.

Mulvogue said the business just wouldn't work if a call centre was offshored and questioned how other banks expect to maintain a high level of service.

"Suncorp's contact centre is too important to entrust to an offshore vendor, and that's particularly true for our insurance business," Mulvogue said.

"Outsourcing call centre services offshore is not an option. As Australia's third-largest insurance company, sixth-largest bank and one of the nation's top 25 companies, we're all-Australian.

"Why would you go offshore if you're an Australian-based company wanting to look after Australians when they are making a claim and in a time of need?

"For example, how is someone in another country going to relate to someone in Australia whose house has just burnt down?"

While Mulvogue has taken a strong stance in the debate, his passionate view is not shared by the rest of Australia's financial services industry which is moving toward an onshore/offshore mix to remain competitive.

As reported in Computerworld last week, Banks cover up offshoring moves, (August 2, p1) wages for an agent in Australia are estimated to be $3000 per month compared to $3000 per year in India.

The Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, St George and the National Australia Bank have all admitted to conducting reviews that include offshoring call centres, but no steps have been taken to transition operations to the locations such as India or the Phillipines.

The Australian Banking Association has taken an impartial line towards offshoring, stating it adopts a neutral stance, adding that it is up to individual banks to make their own decisions.

Citibank Australia is the first of the big financial services firms to relocate its call centre operations. Last week the bank announced its call centre is being relocated to the Philippines.

Citibank's current Brisbane-based call centre, established in 1999, employs 120 staff and will be relocated to Manila over the next five months.

The bank said the transfer followed a "rigorous review" of the most efficient and effective way of providing services to customers in what it said was the increasingly competitive Australian financial services market place.

Sandra Rossi contributed to this report