A high achiever in school, the best performer in 1980 in the Indian Chartered
Accountants Institute and the first to hoist the flag of accountancy outsourcing
to India, Sunil Goel, 49, has successfully combined his academic knowledge,
business skills and passion for information technology to reap the benefits of
globally expanding businesses.
Sole owner of Sand Martin Consultants, an outsourcing company catering to
medium and large British and US accounting firms, Goel is a soft-spoken and
straightforward individual who comfortably manages to marry his Hindu lifestyle
- a non-smoker, vegetarian and regular visitor to temples - with commercial
His success is clearly visible – a glittering diamond ring, a Mont Blanc
peeking out of the front pocket of his designer suit, a gold leaf painting on
the wall and the automatic Toyota in the driveway - are just a few examples.
Belonging to a caste known for its traditional association with accountancy in
India, Goel comes from a well-off business-orientated family that helped him
start his own
accountancy firm soon after he had added computer-programming skills to his
chartered accountancy degree.
‘The idea of starting an accounts outsourcing business in India came to me
back in 1984 when I bought Sand Martin from its original British owners.
However, due to the lack of internet connectivity, I had to wait for 14 years to
realise my dream,’ says Goel.
Sand Martin focused on the Indian accounting business until 1998, when it
acquired its first US contract. Its UK operations started in 1999, but British
businesses were initially a little slow in going down the outsourcing route.
Goel, however, is upbeat about the market’s growth in the UK: ‘In the past
couple of years, as the UK firms see their competitors benefiting immensely from
outsourcing, the situation has changed and I am sure that it will soon overtake
the US as our biggest market.’
Home from home
Unlike many of his customers, Goel does not spend hours commuting to work.
Instead, his main office is in the basement of his south Delhi home where his
neatly stacked accountancy books jostle for space alongside four clocks
indicating his foreign customers’ time zones and a statue of the Hindu god
Ganesh, usually associated with good luck.
He has an impressive security setup, with cameras panning over every staff
member to dissuade any theft of clients’ data. There are various secure ISDN,
DSL and radio frequency internet connections, designed to ensure that clients
incur no extra IT costs.
To cut more costs, an 0800 London number rings in Delhi and the faxes, which
are sent to another local London number and received on Goel’s laptop. Time
differences, mean he rarely needs an extra licence to run clients’ server-based
Goel signs non-competition agreements with his clients, which include firms
HW Fisher & Co and Carter and Backer & Winter. ‘We are not trying to
compete with UK-based accountants. We are just trying to supplement and
complement them by doing their work in a more systematic manner and at a cheaper
cost, so they can spend their time on business development and client
interaction,’ says Goel.
‘For many London-based firms, the accounting aspect of any assignment is not
cost effective, but they have to accept them to retain the lucrative business of
taxation and audit.’
Savings to UK firms through outsourcing are estimated to be at least 30% to
35%, but Goel is not forthcoming with the actual figures. ‘The cost difference
depends on the process undertaken and location of the clients catered, but
outsourcing is not just about a reduction in costs it helps in adding value to
the product by providing better quality work and quicker turnaround due to the
time difference with India,’ he says.
Besides improving upon the processes of his clients, Goel also helps them
during their busy season. ‘One customer in London had seven clients bringing
heaps of papers requesting to file their returns on the same day. Fortunately
for us, the year endings in the US, UK and India are different.’
The work he does for his British clients is quite comprehensive, including
drafting and closing accounts, payroll accounting, monthly management accounts,
filing quarterly VAT returns, tax returns, reconciliation, accounts
receivable/payables and other transaction processing work.
‘The firms just need to collect data from their clients’ base, scan it and
send it. The rest is our headache,’ says Goel.
As a word of warning for UK firms considering taking him on directly, he
says: ‘Unless the volumes are very big, there is no sense for a UK accountancy
firm to set up its own unit in India. We are, anyway, ready to either enter
ourselves as partners or facilitate a tie-up with somebody else.’
Rising Indian salaries and a high attrition rate have forced Goel to raise
salaries twice a year for his staff. ‘The youngsters today are very ambitious,’
he says. Nevertheless, the company has been growing at an average rate of 35%
annually for the last six years, taking the outsourcing turnover in the last
financial year to more than $1m (£0.53m).
In response to this impressive growth rate, current staff levels of 65
accountants and MBA management specialists will rise to 300, once a new 15,000
sq. ft. building is completed in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi.
Goel prefers to employ Indian people who have studied in America, or Britain,
and with one exception the whole of his staff is Indian. Employees are regularly
sent to clients’ offices to get used to foreign working environments. He
trumpets Indians’ ability to do mental arithmetic as a winning characteristic -
a dying skill in the western world. ‘It’s just a fact that most Indians can do
it without a calculator.’
Goel’s strategy is based on a three-to-four-year plan and his definition of
success is a dynamic one that keeps changing. He certainly isn’t worried about
competition, as according to him: ‘The cake is huge.’
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