The pandemic turns out to be a boon for IT freelancers

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Like a million others, Ridoy Saha was laid off weeks after Bangladesh introduced a nationwide lockdown in March last year to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

He returned to his village house because his employer, an advertising agency, was closed. But unlike many others, he quickly returned to work for a living as the tasks he specializes in have not lost their demand globally.

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He started working at Upwork, an American freelance platform. In addition, his monthly income increased more than four times the 30,000 Tk he used to take home when he worked for the ad agency.

“I do the same thing I did for the agency – graphic design and animation. The first few weeks of freelance work were tough. Then I had clients who liked my work and started giving me work regularly. “, Saha mentioned.

Saha is not the only freelance writer who was able to continue working during the pandemic. Globally, Covid-19 has encouraged freelancers as the crisis has highlighted the comfort of working remotely. More and more companies around the world are hiring them to reduce their salary costs.

This outsourcing trend has created a gold rush for many, especially young people and people who have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis induced by the pandemic.

Bangladesh has six thousand exporters or freelancers of IT services, and the number of independent team-based companies hovers around 1,600. Together, they bring in around $ 500 million a year, according to industry people. .

Nahid Hasan, a freelance writer, said the boom in e-commerce and demand for online tools has created more business opportunities for freelancers. In addition, global companies were trying to minimize costs.

He started his journey as a freelance in 2010. Within a week, he hired one and created Bizcope.

In 2012, Hasan established his first physical office and moved to a larger one four years later. Its team now consists of a staff of 27 people.

Bizcope provides services such as search engine optimization, digital marketing, website design and development, content writing, and digital content production.

“We serve both global and local markets,” he said.

Suman Saha, who lives in Dhaka, started freelance work with Upwork while working in a private company in 2012.

At that time he was doing website development and design and making $ 5 an hour. Soon he turned to projects that develop mobile and software quality assurance.

Now his hourly income has increased to $ 25. Its income increased by 25 to 30% during the pandemic.

“If I’m inundated with extra work, I transfer some of it to juniors who work with me on a virtual team.”

Freelancers who have not redesigned their services based on demand have suffered during the pandemic. For example, IT service providers related to travel and tourism have been significantly affected due to the industry crisis, according to industry officials.

Individual self-employed people, however, continue to have difficulty collecting payments made by their international employers.

Prior to 2012, outsourcing revenue was mostly transferred through illegal channels. Even though some of the money came from bank-to-bank wire transfers, it was expensive.

That year, the Bangladesh Bank issued a notice, allowing freelancers to receive payments into their bank accounts through online payment gateway service providers (OPGSPs).

A few months later, Bank Asia became the first lender in Bangladesh to take initiatives to channel freelance income in partnership with Paiza Pay, an OPGSP.

Since Paiza hasn’t established a good relationship with freelance platforms, there isn’t much that freelance online workers have been able to repatriate.

Later, the bank partnered with Payoneer, the world’s second-largest OPGSP, and launched its service in March 2015.

Bank Asia channels half of the funds that come from formal channels, according to freelancers and a BB executive.

Freelancers have collected $ 519 million through Bank Asia since 2014, according to Md Zia Arfin, head of the bank’s international division.

The influx of payments through private commercial bank increased by more than 40% year-on-year to reach $ 140 million in 2020.

In 2018, in partnership with the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) and Mastercard, Bank Asia announced the launch of the “Shadhin” card, the very first self-employed card in Bangladesh.

The card allows freelancers to receive payments directly from international employers.

Brac Bank, Dutch-Bangla Bank Ltd and Sonali Bank also channel payments for the self-employed.

The BB published a notice in February, allowing freelance IT professionals to bring home low-value income through mobile financial services.

“While there have been many options for bringing in cash, the absence of the largest OPGSP, PayPal, has been a setback for independents as many customers prefer the platform,” said Mahfuzur Rahman , Secretary General of the Bangladesh Freelancers Development Society (BFDS).

INCENTIVE QUESTION

The government has provided 10 percent cash assistance against the export of ICT products or services since 2018. However, only institutional IT and independent companies that are members of BASIS are eligible.

In order to extend the system to individual self-employed workers, a meeting was held in February with the participation of BASIS, BFDS, Bank Asia, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of ICT.

However, no concrete action has been taken so far.

“Annual remittances from freelancers are now over $ 500 million, and they will soon surpass the $ 1 billion mark. Our foreign exchange earnings will increase if the incentive is given, ”said Minister of State for ICT, Zunaid Ahmed Palak.

In June, he wrote a letter to Minister of Commerce Tipu Munshi, asking him to consider the inducement for independents.

“The incentive will also boost employment for young people,” Palak added.

Last year, he urged the central bank to extend the incentive to individual independents.


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