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India's big four services giants bemoan rising labor costs

Business is good at TCS, Wipro, Infosys and HCL – but margin pressure and staff attrition are big problems

India's big four outsourcers are worried about rising labor costs and their impact on profits, according to their most recent quarterly financial statements.

TCS, Wipro, Infosys and HCL have all filed quarterly results in recent days, and all reported healthy finances – but they've also warned of future challenges.

Infosys chief financial officer Nilanjan Roy offered a typical analysis of the situation by stating: "We are fueling the strong growth momentum with strategic investments in talent through hiring and competitive compensation revisions."

"While this will impact margins in the immediate term, it is expected to reduce attrition levels and position us well for future growth. We continue to optimize various cost levers to drive efficiency in operations."

Infosys reported the highest attrition rate of the four: 28.4 percent over the last twelve months. That figure is yet to trend downward since workers felt it safe to seek new gigs as COVID-19 restrictions eased.

Wipro's operating margins were lower than anticipated, at 15 percent. CEO Thierry Delaport said he believes [PDF] margins have "bottomed out."

Chief financial officer Jatin Dala said the most important component for improving the company's margin is the "pyramid and fresher improvement."

"We have hired in FY'22 more than double of freshers that we hired in FY'21 and in FY'23, we will hire another more than double, which means that our ability to correct the pyramid through consistent improvement of the base and moving people up through the pyramid would be a big structural lever,” he said. "In fact, that is the only lever which can reduce the cost pressure that we have seen in last 18 months."

CEO Thiery Delaporte said talent investments were paying off, but cautioned the company will delay quarterly promotion cycles and salary increases. He added that staff attrition rates continue to fall, and are currently at 23 percent over the last twelve months.

HCL's attrition rate was just 23.8 percent. CEO C Vijakumar said the company did not moderate any hiring based on demand. "Over the last few quarters, we've been hiring both lateral talent and fresh talent and we think we have some additional capacity and that was the reason net hiring was lower than what we had in the past," according to [PDF] Vijakumar.

The company kept its margin guidance at 18–20 percent, but warned that investors should expect the lower end of the guidance to materialize. "Margins in services was under pressure mainly due to increase in talent cost and transition cost," said chief financial officer Prateek Aggarwal.

Meanwhile, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) chief financial officer Samir Seksaria argued "It has been a challenging quarter from a cost management perspective. Our Q1 operating margin of 23.1 percent reflects the impact of our annual salary increase, the elevated cost of managing the talent churn and gradually normalizing travel expenses. However, our longer-term cost structures and relative competitiveness remain unchanged, and position us well to continue on our profitable growth trajectory."

Infosys had $4.4 billion in revenue – a 17.5 percent reported year-on-year growth. Wipro reported gross revenue at $2.7 billion, up 17.9 percent year-on-year. HCL noted $3 billion in revenue, up 11.2 percent year-on-year. And TCS reported overall revenues at $6.78 billion dollars, representing year-on-year growth of 10.2 percent. ®

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