Hiring certified professional accountants is no cut-rate task in London, one of the world’s three financial capitals – New York and Hong Kong being the other two – and Monoj Kumar Talukder, a Bangladeshi expatriate there, realised that eight years ago.
Talukder, a fellow of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants, was haemorrhaging money to keep four accountants in his firm registered in London.
“I spent a lot of money studying accountancy in London and was aware that people with such an expensive education should be compensated well,” said Talukder. “I first started my career at an accountancy firm in London with a good salary. So I knew the price I needed to pay,” he said.
At the start of 2013, Talukder was approached by an Indian firm, whose officials said they could provide certified accountants at half the cost. He began thinking if an Indian company could do so, why not one from Bangladesh. “I had left my country long ago but I got in touch with friends who said there are good accountants in Bangladesh who could work for me,” said Talukder.
One of Talukder’s friends gave him office space in Bangladesh’s Paltan and he started with one accountant. “Within a year, I formed a company named FirstServe Global and got it registered,” said Talukder. He took up a large office space in Monirpuripara. “Now, there are eight certified accountants working for London companies from their cubicles in Dhaka,” he said.
“As an accountant, I can tell you that Bangladeshis are good with numbers. The service I get from the Dhaka office is even better than that at my London office,” said Talukder.
Door to new opportunities
The success of Talukder’s company opens up a new arena for Bangladesh. With the South Asian nation aiming to become the next major global destination for business process outsourcing, or BPO, experts said accounting could be “the best option” to hop on to the bandwagon.
Working on outsourced finance and accounting tasks pays better than most similar jobs that Bangladeshi freelancers and companies are doing now. It also opens up avenues for accounting and business graduates to avail high-paying offshore jobs by staying on their own soil.
Talukder told this correspondent that to initiate the accounting business process outsourcing revolution in Bangladesh, there is no option but to go for matchmaking and business-to-business, or B2B, arrangement.
“There are other accounting firms owned by Bangladeshi people in other countries,” said Talukder. “If only they start outsourcing their accounting tasks from Bangladesh, it will create a good footing for the sector,” he said.
Seezan M Chowdhury, partner at the accountancy firm ACE Advisory, said they also grabbed their first business process outsourcing opportunity through a mutual connection with a London-based accounting firm.
“The owner of that London-based accountancy firm was half Sylhety. I was working in London as an accountant and was planning to move back to Bangladesh. When I spoke to the owner of the London firm, he assured me that he would outsource his accountancy work to Bangladesh,” said Chowdhury.
Chowdhury said that upon getting a steady inflow from the London-based firm, they decided to look for accounting outsourcing jobs in different parts of the world. “Initially, we sent a lot of cold emails showcasing our portfolio. Through our relentless efforts, we were able to get one deal after another,” he said.
Chowdhury believes there is a huge opportunity for accounting business process outsourcing in Bangladesh. “We are a country with a large, young, tech-savvy workforce which is supported by an ever-improving information technology infrastructure,” he said, crediting it to the efforts of the Bangladesh government and its Information and Communication Technology Ministry.
Experts, however, said that paving the way to grabbing a lion’s share of the $27-billion global accounting business process outsourcing market is no easy task as there are many factors which Bangladesh still needs to work on.
Syed Asif Aziz, a London-based accountant who was a former business development manager of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in Bangladesh, said the country’s prospects in the field are not that promising.
Citing data from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, he said there are about 6,000 fresh accounting graduates every year from public and private universities. From the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a global body with representation in nearly 170 countries, there are another 100 certified accountants graduating each year.
“So, numbers-wise, we don’t have any dearth of qualified accountants here. But the problem lies in getting outsourcing jobs from abroad because there are certain factors,” he said.
Aziz said that in the 2021 Global Services Location Index of the American management consultancy firm AT Kearney, Bangladesh ranks number 33. “So, if anyone outside Bangladesh thinks of accounting BPO, they will consider Bangladesh after 32 countries,” said Aziz.
The AT Kearney ranking is based on four components – people’s skill and availability, financial attractiveness, business environment and digital resonance. In the 2021 ranking, Bangladesh’s index is 5.33. Interestingly it scored 2.84 in the financial attractiveness category, which is the second highest score among the 60 countries which were ranked. Only Sri Lanka scored higher than Bangladesh with 2.99.
But in the business environment, Bangladesh scored only 0.96, which is the lowest among all the countries. Bangladesh also scored only 1.04 in people skills and whereas the first two countries in the ranking – India and China – scored 2.18 and 2.30 respectively in this category. In the digital resonance category, Bangladesh scored 0.49, the fourth lowest among all the countries.
“So, we know where we need to improve. We already have financial attractiveness. If we start improving on the other three factors, we will be able to achieve significant success in a few years,” said Aziz.
Ahmadul Islam Babu, owner of Atom AP Limited – one of the largest business process outsourcing firms of Bangladesh – said that in the finance and accounting outsourcing market, or FAO, Bangladesh has a good chance. “But we need to change our mindset to do good in the FAO market and in general in the BPO market,” he said.
Babu said most people have a misconception that the business process outsourcing market is confined to call centre services. “But that’s not the case at all. At present, there are companies in Bangladesh who are engaged in checking the close circuit television camera footage of over 1,000 branches of McDonald’s fast food shops,” said Babu.
“We were not aware of this diversified BPO market. If we were, then we could have been doing much better because we have the edge of providing services at a very cheap rate,” he said.
Babu said Atom AT Ltd began operations in April 2015. “Just within two years, I have been able to employ more than sixty people in my company. I have been providing versatile BPO services in the Japanese market including accounting BPO,” said Babu.
“I was being approached by a Pakistani person who lives in the USA. He wanted to outsource accounting tasks for his firm from my company,” said Babu.
According to Babu, there is a lot of accounting business process outsourcing scope from Pakistani firms. “There are a number of Pakistani accounting firms in the USA as Pakistanis are good with accounting jobs. Now, they want to outsource the accounting tasks but they cannot do it from their own country because Pakistan has some issue with security compliance,” he said.
According to Babu, these Pakistani firms cannot do it from India either because of the bilateral relations between the two countries. “So, Bangladeshi companies are in the best position to grab the accounting tasks from those Pakistani companies,” he said.
Babu said proper communication is the key to get accounting business process outsourcing tasks. “Without communication and reaching out to the outside world, the sector cannot get its desired growth,” he said.
Faisal Mahmud is a Dhaka based journalist.