Wednesday, December 19, 2007

When the Laws are the Laws of the Laws of the Laws of the Laws

I needed to get DBS to have a look at my debit card today. Seems the magnetic strip has been wearing a little thin and a few places have had problems reading the card. Not that it's the most important thing in life but its always good to get things sorted out properly. Anyway, what should happen to me at DBS but I was told that, "Sorry, your card is a POSB card, you got to see POSB." - Oh that's a load of - DBS took over POSB decades ago and since then, the two banks have been....well the same bank with two different names.

But then again, my issues with the bank were quite trivial compared to the old man in front of me. For some reason, the bank's ATMS seemed to be in utter revolt and the poor old codger’s card was rejected and subsequently swallowed up. When he went to the bank, I actually heard them tell him....."Replacement Card will cost - S$5 to replace." I actually piped in and asked the girl why the old man had to pay $5 and all she could say was - "It's Our Policy." - I didn't stay long enough to see the outcome of this incident. I guess, they figured it was easier to get me out of the way quickly and they were right. But this incident has got me thinking. - What the heck is wrong with the general population when ...well, we see nothing wrong with getting's existing policy.

Seriously, the bank screws-up and somehow, the consumer, through no fault of his own ends up paying for the bank to make right what was their mistake. Hey, that's not a bad way to go! Why is it that nobody seems to get upset about things like this? When the bank decided that it would fine people a mere $2 for having less than $500 in their bank accounts - well guess what?!?! A few people grumbled and then the bank proceeded to act as it had intended to and the consumer proceeds to get fined - all the bank could say was " Don't you know how much it cost us to maintain accounts bellow $500."

OK here you have it. You agree to lend the institution money for free (ok, better be careful, I could get sued...they do pay interest which something like 0.001% - which they lend out for at least 5%) and then they fine you for not lending them enough. Put it crudely, a roomful Nobel Prize winners could not have thought of a better way to rob people if you pumped them up with bran.

Here are only two examples of how DBS has found a way of royally screwing the consumer and to be fair, DBS is not the only Singaporean institution that engages in screwing the Singaporean consumer with a free license. But since it was DBS that I walked into, I took my points from them.

Generally speaking consumers in Singapore shrug at the way they’re getting screwed by Singapore’s big institutions. Ask a Singaporean why they put up with it and all they’ll tell you is, “What choice do we have?” This mindset is something like a cancer. Whenever the big and powerful do something, the poor just shrug and put up with. I’m sure that after writing what I have, I’m going to have more than enough people telling that I’ve acted unwisely by naming people on my blog. Why have I been unwise? Well, for one, any clown could be reading this. I could sued until what little I have in life is drained from me. And crippling me with a law suite is not the only tool in the arsenal of the powerful. My reputation could be junked quite easily and my misdeeds, those which I haven’t publicised myself, could become even more public.

But being sued and wacked out of shape won’t change the fact that the big boys are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I’m more at ease with the big boys trying to slam me. What I’m dreading is well wishers asking me why I’m trying to rock the boat. I’m even resigned to the fact that I’ll hear the usual story about how Singapore’s bigger institutions need an enclosed market to give them economies of scale and how they’ve benefited the Singapore economy.

Those arguments are – crap! Its usual crap from a bunch of cowards who are unable to face-up to reality of the way things are going. Competition is on the rise and – oooppss, sorry, Singapore companies need to be in a foreign market if they want to survive. Like it or not, the government (quite ironically) realises that introducing competition in the local market is a necessary price for getting our companies into other markets.

Consumers need to stop being afraid to take action and making their protest public. Sure, the dominant market players will complain and whinge about how they’re losing money whenever they do what other businesses do – namely face competition for the consumer’s attention. Big boys need to get used to the idea that they’re only big because, we the tinny consumer allows them to be big. It’s not our obligation to protect the bottom line of big companies. In stead, it is the duty of big companies to provide products and services that we want.

Consumers who get upset and tell bullies to fuck off are actually good for bullies. When a bully meets someone who fights back, they stop being bullies and they learn to act like normal and acceptable members of society. This is a particularly important lesson for businesses to remember.

Face it this way, when you, as business stop making money from screwing the consumer, you actually remember what you’re supposed to be doing. A bank (Speaking as a former Citibank intern) is in the business of borrowing money at low interest rates and lending it at higher interest rates. If you need to get more people to lend you more money, give them an incentive to do so. When you need more people to borrow money from you, then you give them the incentive. This is obvious to most cockroaches. If you can borrow money at 0.001% or whatever the current rates of savings accounts are and then lend it out for 5% and then claim its necessary to fine the people you are borrowing from because they’re not lending you enough, then it’s a sign that something is wrong with your basic business model. When you’re machines are faulty and have inconvenienced the customer, you don’t jolly well tell the customer its their obligation to pay for your mistake.

It is as if, normal rules of business get suspended every time it comes to big institutions in Singapore and it shouldn’t be the case. Consumers need to be bold and damn the consequences when it comes to telling the institutions that they won’t accept thug like behaviour. It’s good for the consumer. It’s for the business. Look at this way, the only Singaporean company that is held up as an icon for global excellence is SIA. Why? Because SIA happens to be in an industry where being a monopoly player in Singapore’s miniscule airspace is like being a pork chop in a mosque – utterly useless. As a result, SIA constantly strives to create customer experiences in its most basic business – bringing people from point A to point B. SIA would not dare to fine the consumer for not flying enough because every other airline would gladly take those consumers away from SIA. Instead, SIA pampers their customers – and people are willing to pay for it (look at this way – it cost me less to fly BA from London to Singapore – and yet I knew many students making it a point to fly SQ back home.) Whenever any business or institution whinges about the Singapore market being too small, the only appropriate reaction is to show them the middle finger and point to SQ and how it managed to make it with competition.

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