Raffy Macapagal, CEO and President founder of Ascentology Group revisits Derek for another in depth discussion into Raffy’s founding of a 100% Filipino owned and a 100% Filipino operated boutique BPO.
Ascentology Group comprises of Ascentology, the BPO arm, AscenTPRO, the recruitment outsourcing company. Ascentology was born in 2014, followed by the launching of AscenTPRO in 2016.
Hi, and welcome to another episode of the Outsource Accelerator Podcast. My name is Derek Gallimore, and this is Episode No. 199. So, today I am talking to Raffy Macapagal of Ascent BPO. Raffy has had a stellar career in outsourcing. We actually spoke to him previously in Episode No. 192. If you want to go back and listen to that you will hear about his incredible career, which is essentially a second career after a career in Finance where he joined Teletech which at that stage which at that stage was only 60 employees and he grew with that up into and through senior management to be the country CEO and that company grew to 24000 staffs within the few that he was with the company. So, an incredible growth trajectory and really interesting journey for Raffy into outsourcing.
Now Raffy has Ascent BPO which is a boutique BPO here in Manila and we talked about some of the services he offers. This is a slightly longer episode which I do apologize for if you are into our short episodes, but he shares a lot of experience and I’m sure you will enjoy and gives you a lot of insight into the bigger, more corporate aspect of outsourcing and how he has brought that into the SME boutique space. So, do enjoy. If you want any of the show notes, then go to outsourceaccelerator.com/199. And enjoy!
Welcome back everybody. Today I am happy to be joined by Raffy Macapagal. Again, sorry if I get the pronunciation wrong Raffy.
Raffy: That’s okay.
Derek: You are the founder and CEO, and President of Ascent BPO and also Ascentology Group which caters to the recruitment and BPO functions. And you founded this in 2014 after a stellar, and absolutely stellar career spanning about 12 years in the outsourcing sector. So, huge amounts to learn from you. And you know these BPOs, many of them are founded by people that are very strongly involved in outsourcing and you are a case in point in that. In that all of these inherent expertise and value that come along with these outsourcing operations. So, yes, I’m really excited to hear about that from you. So, I supposed initially I probably kind of punched some of the introduction but maybe you can introduce yourself Raffy.
Raffy: Yes. Hi Derek. Hi everybody. My name is Raffy Macapagal, currently the CEO and President founder of AscenT Group. Ascentology, our BPO arm and AscenT Pro, our recruitment outsourcing company. We are a 100% Filipino owned corporation and we are also a 100% Filipino operating here in the Philippines. The essence of us being able to establish this after more than a decade of really fun riding and growing foreign companies that have invested in the Philippines, we believed that we need to take it to the next level and show that Filipino leadership is actually world-class. And when we established this, we didn’t want to go against the big players. It’s not our intention. We believed that there is an opportunity for every business person, or business groups to be able to take advantage of the outsourcing industry and the workforce that we have in the Philippines. So, we establish like a boutique or a shop that caters only for specific needs, I mean whatever it is that you specifically need, we can cater you, not necessarily end-to-end. We believe that it can be a start of cost-savings for most small-medium enterprises and at the same time, they can get hold of the best practices and advance probably technology insights and processes also that can grow their companies. We can serve as the conduit for the growth potential of their companies having been with the big players and having to deal with the blue chips all over the world spanning thousands of people that needed to be outsourced. We as a team decided that we will cater to the smaller ones.
So to be honest with you, right now the model of our company is that we continue to just farm in and serve small-medium enterprises across the globe. It doesn’t matter whether you need one, two or three initially, we are definitely going to be the best place for you to outsource whatever your need is. Initially we’ll find that it is something that we need to invest on particularly because there’s technology involved. But once you get hold of how we as a company have shared all of our learnings and all of the things that we have taken from the companies that we’ve grown, you can definitely say that it is going to be worth every buck because we streamline processes, we can definitely grow your business to the point that you understand what your customers feel and how you maintain these customers and grow them. Essentially as you continue to progress, invest, you continue to do your business…
Raffy: … and how to actually establish processes that maintains the quality which is what is essential these days in the market. You should have, let this, take advantage and you should continue to measure the satisfaction of your customers.
Derek: Absolutely, I agree with you in terms of the world-class leadership, that kind. I’m actually, the Outsource Accelerator was trying to position and brand the Philippines as the Swiss Banking of outsourcing because I really feel it does have an excellent, excellent level of English. It has huge cultural alignment with the west and yes, I think it’s really a valuable proposition to people, isn’t it?
Raffy: That’s right. And not only that we’re culturally aligned, but our culture is pretty much westernized. I mean the television shows that are present, the educational system, the language that is being used in the schools.
Derek: Yeah. It’s amazing, huh? I really, I mean it’s incredible people, I’ve just realized…
Derek: …quite how Americanized it is. It’s all NBA basketball. It’s all pizzas.
Raffy: Oh, absolutely.
Derek: It’s [crosstalk 00:07:31] cover in it.
Derek: And a lot of the television is English-spoken, isn’t it?
Raffy: That’s right. That’s right.
Derek: It is quite amazing[?].
Raffy: In fact, you will be surprised that, even, because we have like a thousand dialects across the archipelago. But there will be surprise that our common language as Filipinos is English.
Derek: Because of all those dialects?
Raffy: Well, because if you go to the Visayas, that people speak Visayas. And if we come into Luzon, speak Tagalog. Visayas speaks Visayas, but they do not understand each other if they don’t speak English. So, I mean, English become our common ground. And so if you will hear Filipino speak English it’s as if it’s their mother tongue.
Raffy: A little bit of an accent of course, because of our influence, but essentially something that can easily be addressed, given a good program. And it’s a no different from like listening to people from the west or the east in the United States.
Raffy: I mean, they do have their own accents and intonations.
Derek: So how has outsourcing changed in the time you’ve been involved with it back in sort of 14 years ago? It was the kind of earlier growth spurt of outsourcing, I supposed. It was all the big boys that were really outsourcing. You were involved in TeleTech. They expanded very quickly up to 24000 employees in the Philippines, and a lot of the clients they would have had, would have had talking in the numbers of thousands of seats it’s two, three, four, ten thousand. And how is that now changing? Because there is commentary around the industry that is a sunset industry. Yet I’m seeing a lot of boutique BPOs, a lot of SME type BPOs targeting more the SMEs in the world and I really see that as a growth opportunity now. And do you think that the era is over for these big, big BPOs into sort of talking about 10,000 seats, and is it more about BPOs servicing the SME sectors?
Raffy: I wouldn’t say that it has reached its peak. I would say that there are still industries where outsourcing hasn’t really sprung as it was in the telecommunications world, in the ISP world, or in the retail sector. I think there are still huge opportunities in the health care segment. I mean as it is, we see that it’s going to grow still probably ten times more on where it is now. Considering the Philippines having so much health care professionals that are essentially a good resource for a lot of the health care companies out there. And this is something that is not the same as what it was in the past as you mentioned. For me it has become commoditized. I mean you see people or like representatives as numbers rather than people. Now we are getting into the era where we believe that it is becoming more specialized. I mean the professional services are coming into play like nurses are with doctors, we have lawyers, we have accountants. These are like people that you don’t hire in bulk. You don’t need, or if you’re company you don’t need 1,000 accountants, right? You don’t probably need 100 doctors.
Raffy: These are like specialized professional services that can be outsourced and through technology, can be utilized very well at a lesser cost, a huge savings. But what companies do now is they have to have a number of clients so that they can pull this type of support in one area, one office, and supports different types of clients. So, the model has turned around. And also, when it comes to performance, before, it is all about service level. Being able to answer the calls, being able to actually pick up the phone and someone talk to the customer. But it has turned into how have we resolved issues? So, it’s all about cases resolved, resolution rate. It has become customer experience. It has become pay for support meaning you don’t pay me if you’re not going to get what you need.
Raffy: So, this is already a very, very strict competition where only the best can really, it can really thrive because it’s like putting your money where your mouth is that you know if you don’t get what you are looking for, you are not going to pay me.
Raffy: And that, that is a big risk for those companies before that just went on for the quantity side, right? They have grown to 10,000, but they don’t ask how many clients are satisfied from a scale of 1 to 10. Eight up clients are satisfied. So for me, we will see only a handful of clients are satisfied with these types of companies. There will always be relationship issues, and because there are a lot of changes that has already occurred in the outsourcing world getting smarter in terms of analyzing data, having technology to really understand like key performance indicators unlike before where we just put it because we want it. Now there’s really science in everything. The science of outsourcing has become really solid to a point where if you commit mistakes, then there’s another one waiting out there.
Derek: Yes. And you’re dealing with large numbers, aren’t you? So, statistically it’s very easy to see performance and enhancements in performance and…
Raffy: Correct, absolutely. So, it has become unstable for those that are this big and the only way for them probably to get some stability in some of their revenue-generating programs is like look at the SMEs where specialized service are being provided, it is relationship-driven and that is why we really decided to go in front of this, in focus on this. Because again as I said, we wanted to see our employees as people. We wanted to know the date of their birth. We wanted to be able to know how many kids they have. You know, growing a company of like 24000 is unbelievably impossible. It’s impossible for you to know everybody. It’s impossible for you to care for people that you don’t see.
Derek: Yeah, of course.
Raffy: So, our concept is like we wanted to have this very limited people but has very great specialization that can provide superior services to multiple companies across the globe that are highly, highly technical, or highly professional, and not necessarily just doing a regular operator job. It used to be like that, a regular operator job. Now, this is all about like a doctor being called for like a specific case. His opinions. What does he think are the procedure that was done? So, there is this type of consultancy and professionalism that we provided.
Derek: So, what sort of specialisms do you focus on? And what kind of SMEs are you dealing with? And what is an anecdote maybe of a recent client who has come to you, and have you been able to help?
Raffy: I’ll give you some. As the biggest physician of the healthcare company in the US initially came to us, or came to the big boys like the Accenture, and the Hinduja, the UHG. But they weren’t able to get what they needed because of course, you are very small, and you are not going to attract them. You wanted to only outsource 20 people essentially. So, they don’t have rooms for that. The big boys don’t have rooms for that, right? So, second, these big boys, I mean they heard that it is us who does the recruitment for these people, so they went straight to us, because we have the recruitment outsourcing. So, initially they just wanted to have us recruit for their staff. They needed the US registered nurses, then Philippine registered nurses, or nursing graduates. So, there were like three tiers that they needed. And this is one expertise that we have in terms of our recruitment, in terms of our operations, I mean my experience in UHG[?] also played a good part of it. We were able to actually help not them not only through sourcing, but we were able to help them establish an operation here in the Philippines, through our company. They didn’t have to establish their own company here. We’ve been explaining to them that this can be done through outsourcing, through this particular arm of ours. And essentially, they didn’t realize that that is possible, and the budget that they had was really, really huge because of their understanding that they need to make a lot of investments. Unlike when we presented to them that we have already this established, all you needed to do is like probably have someone in the States that they’re going to be like an SME for us and to be a point of contact, and we will establish everything here in the country without you having them to spend up much because we already have an office space, we already have the name, we have already the business permits, and all these things. So, having said that, they weren’t familiar with that, we immediately started the operations in probably a couple of months and we were able to recruit what they needed in less than three weeks, if I’m not mistaken.
Derek: All right.
Raffy: That both companies actually served their purpose. So, our recruitment outsourcing and our BPO operations provided that service to this company. So that’s one. And then there are like a few…back office work, but we also do what requires analytical skills, like screening of CVs for specific positions from an international recruitment company. They needed help also in terms of like how will they go through all the resumes and all the CVs that are present in their mailbox in order for them to just limit the ones qualified for the particular position. So, we also do that kind of back-office and professional work for them.
Raffy: We do also accounting for some small enterprises across the globe, even in the Philippines. So, accounting and bookkeeping, we do that remotely. So those are just some that I think has proven to be something that our initial clients didn’t think is possible.
Derek: Yeah. And that’s one of the key advantages of outsourcing, isn’t it? In that you can be up and running in one day or one week, because all of the structure already exists, or all of the employment structure already exists. So, it really is as turnkey as you could possibly get, considering that it’s also human resources.
Raffy: The only risk, I guess Derek, is knowing the kind of experience we have, we share, and we develop a lot of advanced practices and ways, processes, quality measures, forms that are technically supposed to be exclusive for our company and we share them to our clients, even though this is very small operations. The danger there is like these proprietary tools or processes can be used by these clients later on without having to actually compensate for all the things or for us developing that. And that’s a big risk that we’re taking on our side, because initially we wanted it like, “Okay, we will deploy some of our technology or some of our probably processes that have been proven to be successful provided that it should be by “X” contract, five years, at least five years or at least like an FTE.”
Derek: All right, all right.
Raffy: That is the thing that we still will need to reduce from a risk standpoint, because if there is like two or three FTEs only, we wanted to help them. But the best practice is if in case, I mean it’s too risky for us to bring on the best of our trade secrets on the table if it’s not going to be that long and it’s not…
Derek: I mean, people don’t really want to be tied down so much now, do they? And also, it’s difficult when you’re dealing in with information technologies.
Raffy: Right, exactly.
Derek: It’s very difficult to keep those in formation in containment, absolutely. And so, can you give insight into your pricing structures? For people that aren’t really that familiar with outsourcing, do you offer a sort of all-in-one price package, or is it on a deliverable basis, or is it into a kind of seat lease and salary on top? How do you work out different payment structures?
Raffy: We are very flexible. We’ve seen in our experience that we didn’t want to actually assume that what worked in the past with the big companies or with the big clients, will work with SMEs. So, we are in our years of like in the last four years that we were dealing with small-medium enterprises, we have given them options like cost plus model. Like you pay all the cost and they give us a certain percentage of the total cost as a management fee or as a partnership fee. That is one model that I think works for a lot of these SMEs. But we also do all-in-one package like we give them an hourly rate that includes everything from the office site, telephony, and technology, and recruitment, the training, all of those end-to-end until they get production. So, we have that as well and that is where our pricing team actually led by Miguel, my partner, this is also a team that came from TeleTech. So, he was also, Miguel my partner here, he was the finance person in the Philippines and the head of our pricing during that time. So, he also worked, we worked hand-in-hand before in pricing our clients when we were still in the big company. So, we are very much aligned in terms of what we believed should be priced to SMEs.
Raffy: Is it something that’s going to be affordable? Is it beneficial for them? It’s always a win-win situation when we price. We wanted them to have cost-savings, but at the same time we want our company to also have profit. And we cannot push that one[?]. We don’t want to increase our profit at the expense of our clients. So we wanted them to get, so what they will get from us is a big company experience and track record in a small company rate. That is the distinct advantage of coming to us and outsourcing your work to a small company, Filipino-owned, essentially has proven track record to become really one of the best in the industry for the last decade or so.
Derek: Fantastic. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much Raffy, it gives incredible insight.
Raffy: Thank you.
Derek: And if people want to reach out to you or learn more about Ascent, how can they do that?
Raffy: Yes. They can always visit our website, ascent.net.ph. There they can navigate through, they can send us emails, inquiries. They can also know more about us. They can also send us directly an email if there is something that they wanted us to look at or if they wanted to have a discovery meeting or if they are interested in one of our services, [email protected].
Raffy: So hopefully we’ve shared some insights Derek to you, and hopefully I have introduced my team and my company well, on what we can do and what we can offer. And we appreciate your time, and you inviting us over. Thank you very much.
Derek: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Raffy. You’re welcome!
Raffy: Thanks, Derek.
Derek: Okay. That was Raffy Macapagal of Ascent BPO. If you want to get in touch with Raffy and know any more about Ascent, and anything else that we discussed in this podcast, then just go to the show notes, which is at outsourceaccelerator.com/199. And as always if you want to ask us anything then please do. Just drop us an email to [email protected]. See you next time!