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Old Kent road to India

Annie Shaw takes passage to India to look at Kent Reliance Building Society’s unconventional but successful outsourced call centre in Bangalore.

The Indian outsourcing operation of Kent Reliance Building Society looks like a scene from a space station.
The Easiprocess operation in Bangalore’s Internat-ional Technology Park has futuristic pods for desks and a rooftop swimming pool for staff.

This alluring environment is the product of the imagination of Kent Reliance’s maverick chief executive Mike Lazenby – and “maverick” is a sobriquet he revels in.
With staff turnover rates in Indian outsourcing firms as high as an incredible 120 per cent as highly qualified staff balk at relentless data processing and call-handling in a dull environment, the Easiprocess attrition rate is less than 7 per cent.

The company makes efforts to employ the disabled and runs buses to pick up staff across the sprawl of metropolitan Bangalore with all its transport wheelchair-friendly.
It supports Pro-Vision Asia, the charity for the disabled, and the SOS Children’s village, an international charity that cares for orphaned and abandoned children.

There are problems with outsourcing, with concerns about security and lack of control. A recent Datamonitor survey found that three-quarters of UK directors believe organisations in the developed world are better equipped technologically to take on inter-national work than the Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – with data security named as the main problem.

The cost savings are also not great as they were. Research by Compass Management Consulting found that wage rises of up to 15 per cent a year are reducing cost benefits. It looked at 50 call centres and says poor service and language difficulties can lead to calls taking twice as long as in UK operations.

This has not deterred Lazenby who is expanding Easiprocess which as well as serving Kent Reliance and its Jersey Home Loans operation is also taking on back-office functions for the Victoria Mutual Building Society of Jamaica and has recently done a deal with a big legal firm to maintain a library of precedents.

The company claims to be rigorous in recruitment and security. Every employee is educated to at least graduate level and English skills are said to be excellent.
The firm carries out background checks on staff and employees carry electronic ID which tracks their location in the building at all times. There are no USB ports on the computers and all printing, such as letters and statements, is done remotely in the UK.

In January, Easiprocess was accredited with the ISO 27001 certification, the international standard for information security management systems. It outlines the requirements within the context of an organisation’s overall business risks and is designed to ensure adequate and proportionate security controls to protect information assets.
Lazenby points out that although outsourcing has cut costs, the aim of setting up the offshore operation was one of scaleability.

Kent Reliance, which has a history spanning 150 years and with £1.5bn in assets, is the fastest-growing building society in the UK, according to KPMG’s annual review of the mutual lending sector and the UK operation simply could not keep up. The solution was to take the operations offshore. The business started just over two years ago with a staff of three, it now has 89 and by the end of the year it will have at least 120. The office can accommodate 360 people in three eight-hour shifts and when the firm outgrows the building, Lazenby plans to open another office elsewhere, probably in Chennai.

He believes the model could be the saviour of the building society sector and the industry should band together to cut costs to deliver better value. He says: “That is taking the industry back to square one, to its roots.”

He can see a day when building societies are “just brass plates in high streets”, shop fronts with a local branding but all the operational work consolidated behind the scenes.
Of course, you do not have to go offshore to do this. Mutual One, the co-operative of small Midlands societies that banded together to share back-office operations, is still going strong, although 80 per cent of the business was bought out by Skipton Building Society in 2004. Now it supplies a menu of back-office services to smaller mutuals.


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