Notwithstanding criticism from various quarters over outsourcing to India, major British banks and insurance companies are planning to shift up to 200,000 administrative, processing and clerical jobs to India, a leading recruitment agency said.
Recruitment firm Adecco has predicted the transfer of 100,000 jobs in call centres alone from Britain to India by 2008, but many union officials believe the final figure could be twice as big.
Barclays, Lloyds TSB and Prudential are all experimenting with overseas operations and have plans to move more staff abroad.
By the end of this year, HSBC will have moved a further 3,600 jobs - in addition to the 5,400 it has already exported - to offices in China, India and Malaysia.
"Figures like a couple of hundred thousand have been floated. That may be excessive, but we're talking tens of thousands potentially being exported. People are looking seriously at clerical to back-office transaction processing, as well as value-added jobs, and saying where else can we do them more cheaply." Phil Middleton, head of retail banking at Ernst and Young said.
But the move has alarmed workers' unions, which are now demanding urgent meetings with government to stop the exodus.
"There needs to be a wider debate facilitated by the government on this before the outflow of jobs becomes a flood," The Sunday Times quoted Ed Sweeney, general secretary of the bank union UNIFI as saying.
One bank chief said he had met at least five of his peers in rival financial-services groups last week and all wanted to outsource jobs to cheaper locations.
"We will not stand idly and watch firms such as BT play fast and loose with the long-term job security of our members. The government needs to wake up to the political and electoral consequences," Jeannie Drake, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union said.
The list of companies on a passage to India reads like a Who's Who of British business.
Asda, Aviva, BT, Channel 4, Thomas Cook, besides Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and Prudential, have all hived off a significant part of their back office functions to Indian companies or to their own subsidiaries on the subcontinent.
The cost in terms of jobs is enormous. Deloitte Research, part of Deloitte Consulting, believes that in the next five years, two million jobs in western financial institutions will be moved overseas.
Given that Britain accounts for 10 per cent of all outsourcing to Asian economies, this translates to 200,000 British jobs heading east.
While Britain is shipping thousands of jobs to India, it is far from the biggest exporter of service-industry employment.
According to Nasscom, the Indian trade body representing software and service companies, America accounts for 75 per cent of IT and call-centre outsourcing.
The Deloitte report urges financial institutions to quickly get abreast of the move off-shore. It cites the example of Citigroup, whose rise to become the world's most profitable company has coincided with its move to 'offshore processing hubs'.
"The absence of such a strategy could send a financial institution's share price spinning, as financial markets perceive that such organisations will be at a considerable disadvantage."