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.