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Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTSH 0.38%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Oct 27, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Cognizant Technology Solutions third-quarter 2021 earnings conference call. [Operator instructions] Thank you. I would now like to turn this conference over to Mr. Tyler Scott, vice president, Investor Relations.

Please go ahead, sir. You may begin your presentation.

Tyler Scott -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, operator, and good afternoon, everyone. By now, you should have received a copy of the earnings release and the investor supplement for the company's third-quarter 2021 results. If you have not, copies are available on our website cognizant.com. The speakers we have on today's call are Brian Humphries, chief executive officer; and Jan Siegmund, chief financial officer.

Before we begin, I would like to remind you that some of the comments made on today's call and some of the responses to your questions may contain forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to the risks and uncertainties as described in the company's earnings release and other filings with the SEC. Additionally, during our call today, we will reference certain non-GAAP financial measures that we believe provide useful information to our investors. Reconciliations of non-GAAP financial measures, where appropriate, to the corresponding GAAP measures can be found in the company's earnings release and other filings with the SEC.

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With that, I'd like to turn the call over to Brian Humphries. Please go ahead, Brian.

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Tyler. Good afternoon, everyone. We executed well in the third quarter, delivering revenue of $4.7 billion, up 11.8 percent year over year or 11 percent in constant currency. Bookings growth, a key leading indicator, accelerated to 24 percent year-over-year growth in the third quarter.

Our book-to-bill ratio of 1.2 times revenue on a trailing 12-month basis underscores our commercial momentum. I'm grateful to our teams around the world for their resourcefulness in meeting our client commitments despite a challenging labor market. We delivered solid sequential adjusted operating margin expansion in the third quarter as we offset the cost of increased hiring with cost discipline elsewhere. I'm also pleased with our progress against our key strategic initiatives.

For example, third-quarter digital revenue grew 18 percent year over year. Digital represents 44 percent of our overall revenue mix. We expect this percentage to grow in future periods, positioning Cognizant for both top-line momentum and margin expansion. Moreover, the intimacy of our c suite engagement increases as we serve clients in their digital transformations.

Better than expected growth in our nondigital business impacted our digital mix progression but is, nonetheless, a welcome outcome. During the third quarter, we saw continued strong top-line momentum in our digital business operation's practice, reflecting our differentiated offerings for digital natives or BPaaS leadership position in healthcare and our strength in intelligence process automation solutions. We recently announced Cognizant Neuro, a simpler and more effective way for clients to achieve the full potential of intelligent process automation and speed time to results. Everest Group, a leading industry analyst firm, recently recognized Cognizant Neuro as an exciting development to enable automation at scale.

Moving to industry segments. Financial services' ongoing recovery were continued with a growth of 4.3 percent year over year in constant currency, in line with our expectations. We posted strong double-digit growth year over year in constant currency in products and resources and in communications, media, and technology. Within products and resources, we continued to deliver excellent growth in manufacturing, logistics, energy, and utilities, as well as across retail, consumer goods, and travel, and hospitality, which have recovered to pandemic levels.

In communications, media, and technology, we continue to lead with our digital engineering capability to win transformation deals while leveraging our alliances to be a premier cloud transformation partner. In healthcare, we had another solid quarter, achieving 9.8 percent constant currency growth. Momentum in life sciences continued. Demand across payers remained strong and we're beginning to see an uptick in demand across providers as they look to digital technologies to help reduce operating costs and strengthen new channels for delivering care.

Our products business saw continued double-digit growth in Q3. We're expanding our footprint in the healthcare market and adding new growth members on our platforms. We're also well underway with our digital transformation of our products, including the launch of our connected interoperability solutions to help clients provide secure, real-time data access, and meet compliance deadlines. We're proud of the work we're doing in partnership with clients like Parkland Community Health Plan.

Parkland was looking for better ways to meet the growing needs of its medically underserved populations in Texas and to better manage its health insurance claims, member transactions, and network of physicians and hospitals. Our TriZetto QNXT Core Administration platform, delivered in a BPaaS model is enabling delivery of care management, claims processing, member services, provider services, and quality on a single platform, thereby enhancing care coordination and member experiences. Our healthcare business is a hugely strategic asset. I'm pleased with the progress we've made accelerating growth in healthcare and I'm optimistic in our future prospects as healthcare companies modernize their business to address the need for enhanced client experiences, including virtual care solutions.

Let's turn now to strategy, including our digital ambitions. I remain bullish on both the macro demand environment and Cognizant's growing momentum in digital. Clients continue to accelerate their investment in digital operating models to improve their customer and employee experiences and modernize their operations through data automation and cloud. While most companies have launched digital initiatives, few have made the shift to a fully digital operating model.

Cognizant is now one of the few global firms that can serve clients across all stages of their digital transformation from modernizing their technology foundation to implementing agile workflows. This is in part a result of investing approximately $3 billion in mergers and acquisitions over the past few years to broaden our portfolio while strengthening our relationships with hyperscalers and key partners. A good client example is Cabot Corporation, a global leader in specialty chemicals and performance materials, who recently engaged us to help transform their digital operating model. We'll be providing application development and maintenance, as well as infrastructure and operations services, and enabling Cabot to create and enhance digital experience that drives value for its customers and employees.

Scaling our international operations is another strategic priority. And during the third quarter, we grew bookings and revenue solidly in both Europe and the Rest of World with a highlight being 19 percent constant currency revenue growth in the United Kingdom. We remain optimistic on our international market prospects and aim to accelerate growth as we invest in our talents, brand, partnerships, and operations. Global biopharma leader, Sanofi, has selected Cognizant as a strategic partner to deploy an omni-channel customer engagement model.

The solution will enable their customer-facing teams to engage with healthcare professionals via new digital channels to provide them with personalized content and also suggest next best actions. Cognizant deployed the cloud-based CRM, integrated marketing automation, and intelligence data platform to the first 18 markets in just eight months. And For Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the UK government's tax authority, we're providing broad technology expertise across its Pega technology stack and enabling Pega application development and operational support that will facilitate case management and customer service applications. Moving on now to the intensifying competition for talent across multiple industries.

The demand-supply imbalance in our industry remains particularly acute. Third-quarter voluntary attrition reached 33 percent on an annualized basis or 24 percent on a trailing 12-month basis. As a reminder, when we measure attrition, we count the entire company, including trainees and corporate across IT services and BPO. Despite elevated attrition, we increased our net headcount in Q3 by over 17,000 sequentially, which speaks to the tremendous work and effectiveness of our recruitment team.

Given our focus in recent years on accelerating fresher hiring in India, we've made meaningful progress in addressing our pyramid. In the fourth quarter, we expect to make offers to 45,000 new graduates in India for onboarding in 2022. Retention and recruitment have our leadership's full attention. We are continuing our comprehensive program to support our associates' career growth and engagement through a range of initiatives that include committed annual increases, an evolved approach to promotions, job boards so associates can easily explore open leadership roles companywide, abundant new training and development programs, sustained communication with our commitment to belonging and inclusion across our company and to society more broadly, and the continuing pursuit of an ESG agenda, which shows special meaning for our associates.

To this point, earlier this year, we published our first ESG report and set out on a path to reduce our emissions and increase our energy efficiency. Last week, we announced Cognizant's commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We plan to achieve this net-zero goal through ongoing investments in renewable energy, building on our initial success in India where a quarter of our energy has come from renewable sources since 2020. We will also be investing in new energy-efficient technologies across our offices and data centers globally.

In addition, we will extend our expertise in cloud IoT and AI to help clients meet their sustainability goals. In closing, while the industry faces an unprecedented competition for talent, during the third quarter, we attracted a record number of employees to Cognizant and stayed focused on delivering against our client commitments and our strategic repositioning. We are bullish on the industry and on our growing commercial momentum. Jan and I look forward to discussing Cognizant's future with you at our November 18th investor briefing.

With that, I'll turn the call over to Jan, who will cover the details of the quarter and our financial outlook before we take your questions. Jan, over to you.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Brian, and good afternoon, everyone. Our Q3 revenue was $4.7 billion, representing growth of approximately 12 percent or 11 percent at constant currency. Revenue growth was led by digital, which grew 18 percent and represented 44 percent of total revenue for the quarter. As Brian mentioned earlier, our digital business operations practice area is also growing strongly.

Year-over-year growth includes approximately 300 basis points of growth from our recent acquisitions. Moving on to segment results where all growth rates provided will be year over year and constant currency. Financial services revenue increased approximately four percent, in line with our expectations. We continue to make steady progress as we reposition this business and have seen recent improvements in bookings and pipeline.

We continue to expect modest growth for this segment for the full year. Health care revenue increased approximately 10 percent, again driven by strong performance in both our healthcare and life sciences businesses. Revenue growth within our healthcare business was primarily organic and demand for our integrated software solutions remains strong. We also remain very pleased with our life sciences business, which grew double digits organically year over year Products and resources revenue increased approximately 18 percent, driven by the six consecutive quarters of double-digit growth in manufacturing, logistics, energy, and utilities.

Retail and consumer goods and travel and hospitality also grew double digits year over year with both sectors experiencing healthy demand for digital services as they recover from the impact of the pandemic in 2020. Segment growth also included approximately 600 basis points from inorganic revenue. Communications, media, and technology revenue grew 19 percent, of which approximately 500 basis points of growth was attributable to recent acquisitions. Organic growth was led by our technology business, where our work with digital native clients has continued to drive growth in our core portfolio.

From a geographic perspective, North America grew approximately 10 percent year over year, driven by demand from healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing, logistics, energy, and utilities, and technology. Growth in North America also included the benefit of recently completed acquisitions across segments. Revenue outside of North America grew approximately 16 percent year over year in constant currency, led by growth in the UK. We're also experiencing strong growth in Germany and Australia, driven in part by our recently completed acquisitions of ESG Mobility and Servian, respectively.

Now, moving on to margins. In Q3, our GAAP operating margin was 15.4 percent, and adjusted operating margin was 15.8 percent. Adjusted operating margin excludes the impact from the legal settlement, which if approved by the court, will resolve the previously disclosed 2016 securities class action lawsuit. On a year-over-year basis, adjusted operating margin declined approximately 10 basis points.

Continued elevated attrition resulted in higher subcontractor, recruiting, and other delivery costs. Additionally, our recently completed acquisitions negatively impacted our margin and we continue to invest in SG and A to drive and support organic revenue growth and modernize our core IT and security infrastructure. These headwinds were partially offset by savings from our cost initiatives in 2020 and 2021. Our GAAP tax rate in the quarter was 25.6 percent and our adjusted tax rate was 26 percent toward the high end of our full-year guidance.

Diluted GAAP EPS was $1.03 and adjusted diluted EPS was $1.06. Now, turning to the balance sheet. We ended the quarter with cash and short-term investments of $2.4 billion or net cash of $1.7 billion. Free cash flow of -- in Q3 was $897 million, representing approximately 165 percent of net income and in line with our expectations.

Year to date, free cash flow of $1.5 billion represents over 90 percent of net income. DSO of 72 days increased by one day sequentially and is flat with the prior-year period. Management remains keenly focused on this metric and it is a key lever for free cash flow conversion in the future. During the quarter, we repurchased 1.3 million shares for $100 million under our share repurchase program and returned $127 million to shareholders through our regular dividend.

Year to date, we have returned over $1 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends, in line with our previously disclosed capital allocation framework. During the quarter, we also spent cash of $57 million on acquisitions, bringing the year-to-date spend on acquisitions to over $700 million. Turning to guidance. For Q4, we expect revenue in the range of $4.75 billion to $4.79 billion, representing year-over-year growth of 13.5 percent to 14.5 percent, or 13.3 percent to 14.3 percent in constant currency.

Our guidance assumes currency will have a favorable 20-basis-points impact and inorganic contribution of approximately 310 basis points. As a reminder, Q4 2020 revenue was negatively impacted by the $107 million charge related to our proposed financial services contract exit, which is expected to benefit Q4 2021 year-over-year growth compared by approximately 250 basis points. At the midpoint of our Q4 revenue outlook, we expect full-year revenue of $18.5 billion, representing 11.1 percent growth or 9.8 percent growth in constant currency. With that, we are guiding toward the high end of our prior full-year guidance.

Our outlook assumes currency will have a favorable 130-basis-points impact and includes 330-basis-points contribution from inorganic revenue. Our guidance also assumes continued momentum across healthcare, CMT, and products and resources, and a modest growth in financial services for the full year. Moving on to margins. Our full-year adjusted operating margin outlook is unchanged at approximately 15.4 percent.

As I mentioned earlier, elevated attrition is leading to increased costs in certain areas, including recruiting and subcontractor costs in addition to higher wages for lateral hires. We also continue to invest significantly in our people through increased compensation, rolling quarterly promotions for billable associates, and training. As a reminder, our annual merit increase for the majority of our associates is effective October 1. This will impact our Q4 margin and imply the sequential decline in adjusted operating margin from Q3.

To partially offset these headwinds, we continue to moderate the pace of our nonstrategic SG and A spend. This leads to our full-year adjusted EPS guidance, which is $4.02 to $4.06, compared to the $4 to $4.06 previously. Our full-year outlook assumes interest income of approximately $30 million, compared to $25 million to $30 million previously. Outlook assumes average shares outstanding of approximately $528 million and a tax rate of 25 percent to 26 percent.

Both share count and tax rate are unchanged from our prior outlook. Finally, we continue to expect free cash flow will represent approximately 100 percent of net income for the full year. With that, we will open the call for your questions.

Questions & Answers:


Thank you. [Operator instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Tien-Tsin Huang with J.P. Morgan. You may proceed with your question.

Tien-Tsin Huang -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Thank you so much. I want to ask on the attrition and the gross margin lines and what to think about here going into the fourth quarter. Gross margin this quarter was actually pretty healthy despite this step up in attrition that you had signaled to us. So, looking ahead, what should we think about there with attrition and gross margins, specifically? And are you able to pass along price increases? Have you seen any delivery execution issues, that kind of thing? Thank you.

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Tien-Tsin. It's Brian and I'll pass it to Jan maybe directly after this. So, look, first of all, attrition is elevated. We knew going into the quarter it would remain elevated.

We expect, going into the fourth quarter, it will also remain elevated. However, we do expect some modest declines in attrition rate, and that is healthy. We look naturally at resignations on a daily basis. We think, as we've hopefully shown in the course of the year, we understand what's going or what to expect from an attrition point of view.

Clearly, while the headline number is high, when you apply the rate of attrition to more industry-standard definitions such as a trailing 12-month basis, we think we're more in line with the industry in the low-20s. Yeah, as I think about this, we spent a tremendous amount of effort to try to address that, both hearts and minds, as well as compensation hearts and minds has less of an impact on margin compensation does. So, just, you know, when we think about hearts and minds, we're thinking about, you know, a sense of belonging, celebrating success, career path discussions, training and development, and making sure that we have processes in place where people can actually get promoted more readily internally. And so, we've made a series of adjustments to internal processes to facilitate that.

We've also really embraced the bottom of the pyramid after a few slower years between 2017 and '19. Our what we call Gen Z or fresher intake has increased meaningfully and that is also helping our pyramid and our ability to have upward promotion capabilities this year. As we've said in our prepared remarks, we'll add 45,000 offers. So, I feel pretty good about what we're doing from an attrition point of view.

The reality is, however, we're in an industry that is facing unprecedented competition for talent and we continue to see attrition in the same areas as we've talked about previously, namely hot skills, as well as the bottom of the pyramid. On pricing and on margin implications, I'll pass you to Jan.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Tien-Tsin. Maybe I'll start with the gross margin in the third quarter, which was relatively consistent to the prior year and there are obviously a lot of ins and outs. And clearly, we observed the impact of increased compensation on to the thing, but we had also positive effects like, for example, a modest shift in our digital revenues is helping us. Overall, the acceleration of revenue growth has been a factor of helping our gross margin.

And a lot of ins and outs and compare year over year because of the COVID situation. So, you should expect in the fourth quarter pressure on our gross margins. In fact, we're implementing our compensation increase for the vast majority of our associates of having implemented October 1st. So, you do see some pressure on the gross margin in the fourth quarter.

And clearly, we're kind of working on all elements of curtailing that but I think you will see net pressure pricing. I want to do two comments before I pass it back to Brian. You know, of course, that the pricing takes some time to implement since clients have longer-term contracts. But when we -- when I observe, in particular, our digital business, I think I can say that our clients start to really see the value that Cognizant is delivering and understand the value that we can bring too.

So, we're pleasantly satisfied, we're really happy with the situation that our core thesis about our strategy to shift to digital, driving higher gross margin is holding and helping us over the medium term on the gross margin side. Back to you, Brian.

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Actually, you've largely touched upon what I was going to say. I think the implications of digital is, of course, important from our pricing point of view. And also, the competitors against, which we're going up, enables us to be a very strong challenger brand.

And so, we have pricing, I would say, accretion as opposed to dilution. And then just one other important point. Over the last few years, many people have asked me how I think about structured deals or captive pay cuts. We've naturally heavily embraced digital and our growth rate in digital has been twice that of the industry over the last two years.

One of the benefits of digital is, of course, this smaller contract duration you get, given the nature of the work you're performing which ensures we haven't actually been locked into multi-year pricing dimensions as part of a five- or an eight-year contract. So, that's actually, in a strange way, for that to be quite favorable for us going forward. But all of this is, you know, heavy lifting we have to get right in the quarters ahead. But we feel as though we're on the right track.

Tien-Tsin Huang -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Great. Thank you for the complete answers, guys. Thank you.


Our next question comes from the line of Keith Bachman with Bank of Montreal. You may proceed with your question.

Keith Bachman -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hi. Thank you very much. Good evening. I wanted to ask a similar question, Brian.

But I'm going to go at a different direction. You used the word unprecedented and I agree it does seem to be unprecedented attrition. But I'm wondering what slows it. You've talked about specific steps that Cognizant is taking but it's clearly an industry problem.

And, you know, the other side is -- does it require a slowdown in revenues across Cognizant, its competitors in order for attrition to come down? But -- I'm just wondering, you know, what are some of the industry forces that might help alleviate some of this pressure? And then, Brian, I'll just go ahead and ask my second question since they're related. As you're facing such unprecedented attrition, how do you think about the trade-offs that you need to make related to growth versus margins as you look out over the next couple of quarters or even next year?

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Hey, Keith. So, let me start with the second question given it's fresh in mind. Look, we've already started making some of those trade-offs on growth versus margins. I think the reality is I'm delighted with our team and our recruitment engine was really executing extremely well in the last few quarters and we'll continue to execute well going forward.

And hence, we've had a net headcount increase sequentially of 17,000, by the way, which excludes subcontractors which also grew. But the reality is we don't have enough headcount to fulfill our potential. And therefore, we've been faced with choice points. Which clients to serve? Which deals to chase? Where we walk away? Where we're willing to make pricing stances that may put a deal at risk? But it's the appropriate thing to do given the demand-supply imbalance.

So, that is already underway, Keith. I will say in the same vein, we're really delighted with the commercial momentum we have. Bookings growth out of 24 percent in the quarter, which brings year to date up to mid-teens on the on the back of mid-teens bookings growth last year tells me that we have actually really turned a corner in terms of commercial momentum. So, those trade-offs are underway.

I'd like nothing more to accelerate hiring from current levels so that we can really fulfill against our true potential. But at this moment in time, despite all the net adds and they were record levels in the quarter, we have enough attrition as does the rest of the industry to mitigate that. With regards to the first question around the industry forces that will alleviate attrition, look, it's a very difficult question to answer. The reality is I don't see the immediate line of sight to this.

I foresee elevated attrition in the industry in the coming quarters. I think the only winner in times like this is the actual individual employee. Because companies like us don't win from this, clients don't win from this. And as such, you know, hopefully, this will right itself over time.

And hence, our focus, both, not just on compensation, were extreme. We set up a war room from a retention point of view about nine months ago at this stage and we spent an extraordinary amount of time on the hearts-and-minds angle. And I personally now spend an hour per day with five -- groups of five or six employees that are deep into the organization to make sure we're hearing them out, understanding what's in their mind, validating that they understand what we're up to. I will say I liked the fact that we're back to double-digit growth more sustainably because that helps us get a little bit more swagger back in Cognizant.

And obviously, it demonstrates an ability for us to stand in front of our clients as much as our clients are employees and talk about the fact that they will have career advancement opportunities and we will have gross margin opportunities to invest in their careers and training and development, etc. So, you know, time will tell what's going to happen over time but we've really -- we're doing what we can do and core to that is also the, let's say, the reinvigoration of our fresher program which had stalled. But I think at this stage, we're starting to get our pyramid back into the right shape after a few years of being off-kilter.

Tien-Tsin Huang -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

OK. Thanks, Brian.


Our next question comes from the line of Rod Bourgeois with DeepDive Equity Research. You may proceed with your question.

Rod Bourgeois -- DeepDive Equity Research, LLC -- Analyst

OK. Great. Thank you. Hey, Brian.

When you started your turnaround effort, you made international revenues a big priority, which had been actually something Cognizant had somewhat struggled with over the years. Your international growth is outperforming in these latest results. So, I wanted to see if you could speak to the levers that you're pulling to help with the international revenue progress. And I'd love to get your sense of whether you're sort of sustainably on a path to increase the international revenue mix at this point going forward.

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. It's a great question, Rob, because, you know, we very often spend a lot of time on one of our other strategic postures, which is around accelerating our digital footprint which is -- and relevant just on total corporation level but also internationally. So, it's getting our international capabilities is something I'm 100 percent focused on. Today it's just 26 percent of our revenue.

And so, if you think about our footprint internationally, our brand internationally, and our operations, they are in need of scaling. And it's not just revenue scaling but it's also our delivery capabilities overseas, both in terms of nearshore and onshore that will enable our shift to digital. But also, I would say, it's very core to our desire to build a global delivery network where we can provide greater business continuity capabilities for our clients as well. We're executing well against those initiatives.

We've hired and largely refreshed a lot of the international leadership team. Very senior hires in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, the Nordics. The people we've targeted are well-connected into the local industry, they understand the local market. And I would say the impact of that is now becoming more and more evident, not just in strong revenue growth in the third quarter but also in year to date this year across Australia, UK, Germany, in particular.

But also, as I think about the bookings momentum we have internationally, the year to date in Q3 bookings in our international businesses is well above the company average. Now, those people are bringing followership, both from a client point of view as well as from a employee point of view. Our ability to attract talent is relevant there but they also give me confidence that I'm investing M and A dollars behind senior leaders who will take post-merger integration activities seriously. And as you've seen in the last -- earlier part of this year, we acquired Servian in Australia and New Zealand and ESG Mobility in Germany.

And so, you know, it goes back to having confidence in the team and having a team who take their responsibilities seriously and a team that's fundamentally connected into partnership ecosystem, as well as the client network. Where we are different internationally, but Rod, I expect we will continue to double down in that arena too is the notion of industry alignment. We're very strong from an industry perspective in North America. Health care is obviously a great example of that in the care provider space.

But as we scale into Europe and Asia, our largest country is the UK where we are aligned by industry. But actually, some of the country leaders that we've hired now are embracing more of an industry alignment in those countries as well. Perhaps not across all industries in every country but there are major industries that we are aligning behind. And I think that is the way to go to get after these market opportunities internationally.

So, not just am I expecting, Rod, to maintain this level of growth. My hope is to accelerate our growth internationally in the years ahead and we'll certainly talk more about that on November 18th at the Investor Summit.

Rod Bourgeois -- DeepDive Equity Research, LLC -- Analyst

Very helpful. Hey, I want to ask across the pipeline, particularly about large deals. And I guess I'm wondering are you significantly pursuing extra-large deals in your sales pipeline? Or are you focusing more on mid-sized and smaller deals? And I'm really asking to see if you are somewhat biased away from the mega deals, given sometimes the risks that they entail and given that there's a lot of other deals out there right now, given that the breadth of demand that exists.

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Look, I've made no qualms about the fact that my priority was to expose Cognizant to higher-growth categories, notably digital and international markets. So, if I focus on digital, the nature of the work we do ends up positioning us against smaller contract durations. And from my perspective, I agree with the inference in your question. This is a resource-constrained environment and putting valuable resources against digital is much more interesting for me than putting them against captive or structured deals where you may have an apples-to-oranges compare for one year or two.

But thereafter, you're in a book of business that you have to work very hard to grow. I will say, you know, when I think about our bookings, our win rates, and our pipeline, I have nothing but good thoughts. Bookings were balanced by industry, by geography. If I think about even within the digital work we are doing, we have actually seen a little more momentum in the 50-million-plus category on a year-over-year basis and I expect that to continue in the fourth quarter as well.

And that's different from $500 million or $1 billion deals but these are very healthy digital-type deals for us. And all of this has led us to be in a position now with bookings trend of 24 percent year over year in Q3 to have a book-to-bill ratio that is now solidly in the 1.2 range. So, I feel good about that. I will say as the CEO, the enemy is when you have clients that are indecisive.

That is not the case at this moment in time. Pipeline velocity is strong, it's fast, so I feel very good about our position. I think the strategic choices we made a number of years ago were the right choices. We're executing against that.

I think we'll bear the fruit of that labor in the coming years.


Our next question comes from the line of Lisa Ellis with MoffettNathanson. You may proceed with your question.

Lisa Ellis -- MoffettNathanson -- Analyst

Oh, terrific. Thanks a lot, guys. Lots of good stuff here. Brian, I'll give you a break from talking and ask Jan a one-year-in kind of question.

You've been in your seat as CFO now at Cognizant for a little over a year. Can you just give a quick look back from a CFO seat what you feel like has been going well in the last year and then what your personal priorities are for the CFO organization going forward? Thanks.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. That's an unexpected question actually, Lisa. The -- obviously -- 

Lisa Ellis -- MoffettNathanson -- Analyst

Well, I can back to asking about attrition if you'd like.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

No. No. I -- actually I appreciate it and I do appreciate the question. The translation of our four strategic priorities into operational measures and controlled processes is obviously a big endeavor for a multinational organization like Cognizant.

And the finance organization was really laser-focused in supporting those four strategic priorities that Brian has been talking about. I'll give you examples. When you scale and expand your sales force and distribution capabilities, more effective measures on the effectiveness and results of that sales force are required. And I think you have seen this with improving disclosure and our bookings goals.

So, you just see the surface of the effort that -- behind that to drive improved transparency, not only for us but also for the street. Similar initiatives have been underway for supporting our pricing and analytics capability relative to driving relevance to clients and ensuring that we deliver value to all clients. And so, throughout the four, I don't want to decline through all -- explain through all four initiatives of what we're doing, but that has been really the primary focus of the work. And I have to say I'm pleased because in the outcome, you have kind of experienced Cognizant as a organization that has made good in the last couple of quarters on our promises.

And that's how I measure ourselves really in the end. Can we fulfill the financial commitments that we make to our shareholders in terms of fulfilling our expectation? That has worked out with a lot of work pretty well, I think, particularly in the last half year here where we have faced really the changed industry with a high attrition rate. So, I remain personally excited about that opportunity as the company that is changing, that is winning in the marketplace, and you can feel that the energy is visibly accelerating over time. And that's part to be part -- it's fun to be part of that team.

Lisa Ellis -- MoffettNathanson -- Analyst

OK. Good. And then my follow-up is on the technology partnership side. I think, Brian, you've mentioned the hyperscalers as a priority a number of times.

Can you just give a sense for some of the other priority areas that you guys are focused on in terms of building technology partnerships?

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Lisa. Look, some of -- the hyperscalers are obviously omnipresent, extremely powerful, and that platform scales into various different technologies. Cloud migration immediately gets you into data modernization in AI, machine learning, IoT, etc. But then beyond that, we have some of the traditional partners we've had for years, some of which were stronger than others, the Oracle, the SAP, ISVs of the world.

But we certainly put a huge focus as well on what I would call next-generation leaders, companies like ServiceNow, companies like Salesforce, Workday. As a reminder, in the last year and a half, we acquired collaborative solutions to scale our Workday practice. We've also done three acquisitions in Salesforce and we have meaningfully changed our position with Salesforce. I was in a recent cube here with the Salesforce leadership team and they were singing our praises in terms of how our position in Salesforce has exponentially grown.

And then, you know, we'll continue to do acquisitions in those areas as well that are aligned to our higher-growth categories. We've also set up three business groups behind the hyperscalers. So, it's not lip service, it is true organizations. We take it very seriously.

I actually see the hyperscalers now focusing more and more toward industry alignment and Cognizant since it's our strength, particularly in healthcare and financial services, is naturally of interest to those. Now, there are individual cases where you have industry-specific plays, it could be Pega, Guidewire, Temenos, Duck Creek, etc. Naturally, they are relevant to individual industries within Cognizant. But on a more horizontal nature, it is the companies I've referenced.

And then, of course, in our operations business which I'm very proud of, which done a fantastic job over the last two years as we've exited content moderation and frankly got the business back to mid-to-high-teens growth. And they have very strong partnerships across some of the IPA players, in particular, Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Blue Prism, etc.


Our next question comes from the line of Bryan Bergin with Cowen. You may proceed with your question.

Bryan Bergin -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Hey, good afternoon. Thank you. On margin, can you give us a sense of the magnitude associated with some of the larger strategic investments that you've had to step up in 2021? And specific, I'm referring to things like the incremental recruiting of the structure, increased S and M campaigns, the M and A dilution pressure. Because I'm trying to frame the level of catch-up investment in the business this year that may not require such an uptick as we think forward.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

I want to be careful in giving you too much detail that is going to be hard to interpret over time. But off the margin pressure that we have seen through the growth in the SG and A, approximately 50 percent or so is due to M and A activity. This could be upfront deal costs, this could be deal-related expenses, and higher SG and A, lower that some of the M and A transactions carry with them. So, that has been a meaningful pressure for us, let's say, maybe in the range of 100 -- around 100 basis points or so.

And then the rest of the pressure that we have seen is kind of split evenly between three major areas, I would say. Area No. 1 is our IT modernization that's clearly starting to stabilize and that has put pressure on it. We had investments into our HR and recruiting organization in order to scale our hiring activity.

And thirdly, our investments into our sales force and marketing capabilities. Those would be kind of roughly in even buckets, I think. It's a fair amount to say and some of those are now starting to anniversary that's kind of what we are starting to anticipate and plateau. We do not want to reduce those expenses, obviously, because they are important to us.

But we have found, I think, levels that are allowing us to have a more moderated SG and A development going forward. You will see more detail around that, obviously, in our November meeting. But the third quarter is a little bit of an indication of what's happening here, basically, because we had still growth in these strategic investment areas but we have started to curtail growth in more traditionalist SG and A areas to offset that. And you can see that the curve has started to bend a little bit.

More work to be done but it really developed as I would have expected in the third quarter.

Bryan Bergin -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

OK. Thank you for that. That's good detail. And then just to follow up on the better nondigital business performance.

Can you just dig in on what you're seeing, you know, the reason for that? And is it sustainable?

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

So, Brian, there are multiple elements to play there. One of the bigger ones from a weighted impact is actually our business operation -- digital business operations business, which has been growing in the strong teens. Within that, we have elements that are -- we classify as digital and are in our digital mix. And there are elements that we don't classify as digital.

We have tended to be quite disciplined. We changed the definition of digital over two years ago at this stage and we've maintained that ever since. But there are other areas, including a nondigital element of our AI and analytics portfolio. Again, we're being disciplined.

There are elements that we view as digital, an element that we view as more traditional, business intelligence, etc. And then on top of that, we have elements within some of our enterprise applications business and CIS business that have grown as well. Our goal, to be very honest, in a multi-year basis, is to mitigate the risk of declines in the nondigital business and then, hopefully, maintain some growth in the nondigital business. If we manage to do that, which requires us to be very disciplined from a pricing -- from a renewal point of view, that will frankly complement what we expect to be very strong growth in digital.

And therefore, it's goodness for the entire corporation. But at this moment in time, that is something that I think you've seen in competitive earnings as well. If you extrapolate the digital growth they have versus the total company growth, particularly for those who suggest have a very large portion of their revenue that is digital, you will be able to truly extrapolate that they are seeing declines in their legacy businesses.

Bryan Bergin -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

OK. Thank you.


Our next question comes from the line of James Fawcett with Morgan Stanley. You may proceed with your question.

James Fawcett -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

That's great, and thanks for all the detail today. And, you know, certainly, I'm pleased to see the control on margins, etc., in spite of a very odd environment, right? So, I'm wondering about the control around SG and A. And I know you've kind of addressed this, but I'm wondering is there a point at which, you know, in trying to control for those margins, etc., starts to cut into the proverbial muscle? And, you know, I think, Jan, you mentioned a few areas where you've shown improvement. But are you all the way where you want to be in areas like recruiting, etc., so that you really can continue to march forward even if you're controlling a little bit more judiciously expenses?

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

No. Look, I think Brian explained it earlier in the call and reiterated. We're keenly focused on accelerating our growth rate, you know? So, we see momentum organically and we see -- we want to continue with our capital allocation program as we have announced it. So, the acceleration of revenue growth is front and center in our view.

We have ample of opportunity. And as such, we have made decisions to, of course, support the opportunities that we promised to our clients with staffing. So HR will be funded as needed and we're actually very proud about the amount of scaling that we achieved and the amount of change in policy of accelerating the hiring of freshers, optimizing our pyramid, scaling training programs at our sites. It's a really important and complicated effort that the team executed well.

And I will, of course, or the company will provide the funding for that. That is part of our growth engine. But there are other elements that need, themselves, more natural to scale in a certain IT component, certain marketing components, certain finance, and classic support functions in the SG and A to rate themselves for scaling. And we're going to continue to fund, obviously, our sales force.

In the distribution area, I'm actually pretty pleased. We have a good combination of growth and resources, but also of improvement and productivity in those sales forces. And we have been a bit busy at work to optimize our go-to-market strategies and I think we have more opportunities in that space. But also, we will be funding our organic growth appropriately to capture those opportunities.

So, I am not too religious here relative to what the exact percentage growth of SG and A is but you get the philosophy, kind of, in my answer.

James Fawcett -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Yeah, I know for sure. And then, you know, as we're trying to model things out, and I realized like it's a super dynamic world. But, you know, how are you planning for things like timing and impact of return of T and E? What that will look like? I'm just trying to make sure that at least we understand kind of what your planning assumptions may be like going into the next couple of quarters.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So, I'd be excited about talking about the next year in the next quarter and -- but -- and I'm not expecting any meaningful increase in my travel expense for this quarter. But to be a little bit more forthcoming, obviously, the decisions of the return to work are going to be affected by really a myriad of factors: our client needs, our associates' preferences, the health situation by country. It is really dynamic.

So, we are evaluating this basically on a monthly basis. And at the current point, we are still, as our competitors are, largely in a virtual environment which has worked actually pretty well for us. So, we are planning to think about this as a strategic opportunity that meets the needs of all those stakeholders going forward. And I have to say that it's a work in progress that we're really evaluating and there will be a gradual decision to the new business model and will be different than the historic business model.

James Fawcett -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks for all those comments, Jan.


Our next question comes from the line of Moshe Katri with Wedbush Securities. You may proceed with your question.

Moshe Katri -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Hey. Thanks for asking -- for letting me ask a question here. And congrats on a very strong game of numbers. Two questions.

One, digital was up 18 percent, I think you said. It's still kind of trailing some of the pure-play digital names. Brian, what do you need to do to get to those growth levels to -- of some of your peers? And then on the attrition side, are we at a point where we're feeling comfortable that, you know, the employees that we're losing are not at the senior level? Because we just had some, you know, in the past, as you know, you've had some high-caliber kind of departures from the company. Thanks a lot.

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Listen, I think we got a great senior leadership team these days. Most of the senior changes are fine as I would view as to be very much in business as usual these days. Retirements, internal promotions, some performance orientation, but this is kind of classic Fortune 200 company land at this stage.

And I've got to say I'm delighted with the leadership team we have around us these days. We've -- we're getting back into a growth trajectory after a few years where our backlog and our pipeline hasn't been -- on bookings hasn't been as strong as they needed to be. And I think you see a united leadership team here orienting the company toward a evolved business model, both geographically, as well as the offerings that we ultimately solution and deliver. So, that's not a concern of mine anymore.

And, of course, there will always be press articles about individuals with a company with 320,000 employees. Please don't get distracted by that. I'm not. With regard to digital, you know, of course, it all depends on the portion of the portfolio you look at.

Our digital growth is 18 percent within our portfolio. If I look at our digital engineering business, our growth rate is equivalent to the pure plays that are announcing their results. If I look at our IoT business, the digital growth is as fast as a pure play that they're seeing for our cloud business or digital experience business. So, as I said, we've tried to be extremely disciplined in the definition of digital.

And in many ways, we've penalized ourselves. But as a broader company within the categories we look at and I'll talk a little bit to this in the November 18th Investor Summit, we have some gems in our portfolio that are growing at significant rates. And ultimately, that will continue to drive the growth rate of the company forward a little bit. The mix shift this last few quarters that have been hanging around in the mid-40s is somewhat reflective of numerator-denominator, where the nondigital business has actually had some better growth than anticipated.

Moshe Katri -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Thanks. Good job.


Our last question comes from the line of Ashwin Shirvaikar with Citi. You may proceed with your question.

Ashwin Shirvaikar -- Citi -- Analyst

Hi, Brian. Hi, Jan. I just wanted to get a little bit deeper into sort of the digital business. You mentioned, you know, for example, that you're doing very well with digital engineering, the digital experience.

Speaking with some of your competitors, they often bring up more so application modernization as an area. So, from your perspective in the areas that you are not quite growing as fast in the digital, you know, is that choice or is that, I mean, is, you know, the modernization deals is just necessary? You have to go after, you know, large carve-out type stuff and that's not what you want. I mean, could you talk a little bit about sort of the strategy versus availability of talent versus where you are?

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, I just think, again, it goes back to the definition that companies have for digital. We've been quite intentional with being restrictive in what is digital, including in our digital businesses, our TriZetto platform business, which, you know, is growing at a very healthy double-digit pace these days, significantly up from prior years. But it's not growing at the rate of maybe a digital engineering company pure play because it's not at all the same business or business model. So, it's important to recognize that everybody's definition of digital and what is within that differs.

I would say I'm very pleased with our momentum in digital. We can always do better. We strive to do better, but our exposure to digital exposes us to a higher-growth categories as a corporation. Ultimately, higher-margin categories as a corporation.

It puts us up against a different set of competitors where we have pricing dynamics that will be favorable for Cognizant's pricing. And ultimately, most importantly for me, it makes us much more relevant to clients because we are becoming a much more intimate with them as we become part of their transformation journey. And as I go around and speak to clients around the world, when we articulate our strategy and what we're doing and start sharing some of the references we have, invariably, clients are very open to proceeding with the next meeting to better understand what we have so they have optionality versus some of the incumbents. So, I feel, ultimately, that we're in the right spaces.

We will continue to double down. Of course, there are certain industries where digital is a higher portion of our mix than others and there are certain geographies where I want to accelerate our digital capabilities, not just back to Rod's question earlier, the international markets where our digital mix is lower than it needs to be because, historically, we spent a lot more of our focus on structured deals in those geographies. But also, the delivery capabilities, both nearshore and onshore to fulfill any demand that we create in our commercial teams internationally. We need to further extend our capabilities there and we're working on a number of things that, hopefully, we can announce in the foreseeable future that will, hopefully, give you confidence that we're doing the right thing in that regard as well.

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

Maybe I add numbers illustration that could be helpful. As you know, of course, our digital revenue is exceeding our overall company growth and we're gaining share in digital revenues. But for me, a good example of the value of strategic focus is also our focus on the four digital battlegrounds that we have really identified. And those are the data monetization, the cloud business, our IoT, and digital engineering businesses.

In those priorities -- prioritized areas within digital, actually, also meaningful outgrowing -- meaningfully outgrowing our overall digital revenue growth. So, I think for a company to establish that focus and then executing in those focus areas in a thoughtful way is a good sign. And there's ample opportunities to expand those things for the long run. But at least, we're seeing, in our numbers, really the results of exactly what we wanted that strategy to be.

Ashwin Shirvaikar -- Citi -- Analyst

Very good to know. Maybe, you know, a little bit of a symmetrical end to the call. Attrition question. Any details you could provide? I think in the past, you have indicated, for example, that geographically, it was hard in India, Eastern Europe is fine.

Any details by either level or vertical or geography that you could provide to kind of help understand attrition better? 

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Look, it's -- I would say, you know, if I think about where it is, voluntary attrition is highest at the mid to junior levels of the pyramid, primarily in India. It's not just in one location in India, it's broad-based. But also, again, certain skills, whether it's cloud.

Here, we're talking hyperscalers or leading SAS players like Salesforce, Digital Engineering, Fultech Engineers, Java, .NET, Angular, or just across data, AI, and ML technologies. I mean, we're seeing significant attrition in those areas. It's just a hot labor market. It is, you know, extremely consistent, I think, in a country you've seen from our peers in the industry.

And as I said earlier, we're working very hard to mitigate that. We do expect attrition to fall sequentially on a year-over-year basis from where it is in Q3 at least in the net resignations we've seen. And based on what we're seeing following the efforts we've had around hearts and minds and compensation. But at this moment in time, we're still anticipating elevated attrition in the coming years.

And to the question that we received earlier, we're funding in our P and L what it takes to mitigate that. Those compensation measures, as well as our recruitment team, has been, you know, doing an incredible job for us. And frankly, we expect to meaningfully scale our headcount in the coming year.

Tyler Scott -- Vice President, Investor Relations

OK. Thank you very much. Thanks, Ashwin. Look forward to connecting with everyone on November 18.


[Operator signoff]

Duration: 62 minutes

Call participants:

Tyler Scott -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Brian Humphries -- Chief Executive Officer

Jan Siegmund -- Chief Financial Officer

Tien-Tsin Huang -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Keith Bachman -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Rod Bourgeois -- DeepDive Equity Research, LLC -- Analyst

Lisa Ellis -- MoffettNathanson -- Analyst

Bryan Bergin -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

James Fawcett -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Moshe Katri -- Wedbush Securities -- Analyst

Ashwin Shirvaikar -- Citi -- Analyst

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