Sunday, April 19, 2009

Outsource? We don't think so!

As you may know, Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae Corporation, a major player in the student lending industry, recently announced that he was bringing back 2,000 call center jobs from out-sourced offices overseas. For whatever reason that Mr. Lord had to make this decision, we have to hope that other companies will follow behind him.

In fact, as Americans, we need to stand together on this issue. Instead of waiting for other CEO’s to make this decision, we need to make it for them. Together, we have the means to make that happen. Why does this matter to us?

Many people mistakenly think that the only problem with call center outsourcing is American jobs. With record unemployment in some areas of the US, that is one aspect to be sure. With our citizens out of work, they are no longer taxpayers; they are “consumers.” Consumers -- as opposed to shoppers -- are people who use our resources, in other words, our tax dollars, in the form of unemployment compensation, food stamps, free medical care and other government services. With the loss of income taxes, plus the need for services, that creates a double whammy on our system.

Another very compelling reason is finances and identity theft. I am -- and you should be too -- very uncomfortable with sharing my personal and financial information with foreign service people. Remember, the reason these jobs were out-sourced to begin with is because the labor is so much less expensive in these countries, meaning that this pool of workers might come from places where it is difficult to make a living wage.

The rep could hate all Americans, like we all know some foreigners do. Though I am sure that many workers in these countries are just happy to have the opportunity to make a living wage, just as many might resent our way of life. I am also sure that there might be many who are as honest and trustworthy as Americans, and that there are many Americans that aren’t honest and trustworthy at all.

Here in the US, we have vigorous hiring policies at most financial institutions. Most prospective employees have a credit history check, criminal background check, prior employment check, drug testing, and whatever else they can come up with. Do all overseas countries issue social security numbers? Do all countries, especially poor countries, have an Experian or Trans Union to keep track of its citizens financial habits? Is it easier to lie on an employment application and get away with it? We don’t know the answers to all of these questions. Certainly, we hope the company who is outsourcing does. What about computer hacking? Are their internet systems and laws as stringent as ours (which leave something to be desired)?

I called Capital One after receiving a legitimate email “fraud alert.” I had not used my account for a while and charged several large car repair bills. As I have another repair bill that I plan to charge there as well, I immediately called them up. I would give the name of the rep, but I could not understand what she said. I did understand that she was in the Caribbean. I asked to be transferred to the US.

I was transferred to Jolene, who spoke perfect English. Don’t be fooled by American names and perfect English speaking reps. Jolene was in the Philippines. I’ve found that the Philippine call centers have workers who do speak English quite well. To be fair, I have also found, in my dealings with Sallie Mae, that those workers were better trained, more polite and easier to deal with than their American counterparts.

However, I still do not want to give my financial information to foreign workers. I asked again to be transferred to the US and got a rep on the phone in Colorado. The problem was that she was not in the Capital One fraud department, so I could not really accomplish what I set out to do. It seems that the whole fraud department is out-sourced overseas.

I asked her, “Do you see the irony in the whole fraud department being in foreign countries where we have no regulations or control of them?”

“Don’t you think we have control of them?” she answered with her own question.

Well, no, frankly I don’t. Sure, Capital One has control of the employee in that they can fire them if they have a detected problem. However, what is to prevent that out-sourced employee from going home and sharing my information with her brother, husband or lover? That could also happen in the US, but at least we have the FBI and current laws in place to help protect us. Overseas, we have no real recourse whatsoever. Look how much trouble we have getting one of our own citizens extradited back to American soil from some of these countries. Are they going to send their own? That is highly doubtful.

I do not want my identity stolen to fund some anti-American hate or terrorist group. I don’t want it stolen at all, but it could happen. By the time you give your account number, birth date, social security number, address, checking account and routing number for billing, phone number and the name of your first grade teacher and your dog, they have enough information to do some serious damage.

This is not only a problem with financial institutions. They are now outsourcing medical billing, giving foreigners access to such privileged information that we have very strict laws about it. Though the job aspect is troubling, computer techs who work for places like Hewlett-Packard in places like India is nothing compared to financial institutions, medical information and other confidential data. What can we do to combat this trend to out-source our very lives to minimally regulated foreign countries?

First of all, we can refuse to input our account numbers by phone as they usually ask us to do. Why we have to do that, I have no idea, as they always ask for your account number when they finally get on the line. No matter what they say or ask you, you do not answer until you ask them where they are. If they are in a foreign location, ask to be transferred to a US rep. Refuse to do business with a company’s foreign out-sourced locations.

Secondly, write to the company. It does no good to complain to anyone low on the totem pole, even to the American worker or supervisor. The Capital One supervisor in Colorado told me bluntly that she had no access to upper management through meetings or in any other way.
When you write to the company, write to the CEO. If it is marked “personal and confidential,” that should at least get it to the CEO’s secretary’s assistant’s assistant.

Most Google searches will yield the name of the CEO and the company headquarters. Tell them you are not comfortable with giving out financial information to foreign workers, outsourced or not. Tell them that in the future, you will only deal with American workers. If enough of those letters happen and you do refuse to talk with foreign workers, they will listen. They won’t have a choice.

Obviously, we can not really boycott their services. Most of us owe them too much money. However, when you are getting a card in the future, you can call to ask them what their business practices are. All of this will go a long way in bringing back our jobs to America.


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