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Philippines Prospers in Accent Battle

Posted on September 9, 2014

Indians have been losing out in this long-drawl-out battle.

Over the past few years, young, English-speaking Filipinos have increasingly been cornering voice-BPO jobs, their “American” accents more suited for serving corporate clients in the US than the accents of Indians.

Prabhakar Bisen, country head of Cognizant, a BPO company in the Philippines, confirmed the trend. “In voice BPO, India is losing out to the Philippines,” Bisen told Indian journalists here.

Sunset at Fort Bonifacio reflects the shift in this contest of accents. Picture the scene: as evening sets in, groups of smartly dressed young Filipinos get off cars and buses in this urban district in capital Manila and head towards skyscrapers, home to a host of call-centre business process outsourcing units.

Soon, they would be making and responding to calls from clients in America.

Most of the big Indian IT companies, like TCS, Wipro, Infosys and HCL, too, have opened branch offices in Manila, Cebu and other cities in the Philippines.

Bisen said that nearly 2.5 lakh people were doing voice-BPO jobs in the island nation, some 50,000 more than in India. Till five years back, India was the undisputed leader in this sector.

Apparently, Indians have been losing out because of their “British” accents, while the strong “American” accents of Filipinos are preferred by US clients.

But India is still strong in back-office services that employ nearly 10 lakh people in India, several times more than the three lakh in the Philippines. “Indians are doing non-voice-BPO jobs to the satisfaction of the clients,” Bisen said.

However, a study by industry body Assocham and global professional services company KPMG, released in April this year, suggests India has lost about 70 per cent of all incremental voice and call-centre business to competitors like the Philippines and East European countries.

In the ongoing decade, the survey said, India might lose around $30 billion in terms of foreign exchange earnings to the Philippines.

India’s ambassador L.D. Ralte agreed that the BPO sector in the Philippines has grown over the last decade. “There are about 20 large IT and BPO companies in the Philippines and 17 of them are either Indian companies or companies managed by Indians.” He said there was nothing wrong in this trend. “It is a natural phenomenon. They are good in communication skills. That is why they have an edge.”

Sunita Thamaya, an Indian BPO employee doing a non-voice, back-office job, said Indians needn’t be too tense because back-office jobs accounted for the major chunk of opportunities in the BPO sector.

“Indians need not worry about voice-BPO jobs going to Filipinos,” she said. “The non-voice-BPO jobs are more in number and Indians are doing well.”