Friday, April 20, 2012

Negative mindset

A writer asked me for information to write an article on the Financial Advisory Industry Review (FAIR) led by MAS. I provided the information. They asked me for the mailing address to send a complimentary copy of the magazine containing my article. I asked for a soft copy but they replied that the cannot send me a soft copy because it is their "company policy".

I do not accept this type of "company policy" and replied that if they insist on this policy, they will not get any further help from me. They then explain that they cannot send the soft copy to me because of "copyright issue". I asked what was the copyright issue for an article that was written by me?

I suspect that the "copyright issue" was for the whole magazine, which I was not interested anyway. I only wanted a soft copy of my article.

I want to share this story, because it is quite common, and in the culture of Singaporeans, to be negative and to find ways why something cannot be done. They should and can think out of the box and look for ways that it can be done, and get a different outcome. In this instance, they can send me a soft copy of my article, and not the whole magazine!

The paranoid fear, the excessive cautiousness - that is the stamp of our culture. It is a trait that should be removed and replaced by a positive outlook.

How to be positive

If there are two points of views being promoted by X and Y, and I agree with Y, I will state why I agree with Y. I will not state why I disagree with X.

Most Singaporeans, due to our culture. will find it natural to give reasons to disagree with X and even to pass judgement on X or his views. This is why most Singaporeans are negative by nature. They do not realize that they are not qualified to judge other people.

I want to point out this difference, and encourage Singaporeans to be positive in our outlook.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Message from an accused person

Dear Mr. Tan,
I am writing to you to request your kind assistance to talk to our Prime Minister Lee in looking into recent commercial sex with minor. I am one of the person was charged and feel very depressed and stressed. Do you think we deserve to be shamed over in internet and newspaper. Our career and life has been ruined and we are not giving any second chance. 

I really hope you can urge our government to look into our law - is it fair to the man? The prostitute lie and her identity still get protected. All of us are been cheated by the pimp and prostitute. We did not purposely go for under-age girl. I really hope you could stand up and speak for us. 

We, as the accused, are not in position to speak for ourself and how we are going to survive in Singapore after all this shame?  
Frankly speaking, I already planned to leave Singapore after this issue is settled. We are not given a second chance and condemned once we are charged.

I have already posted this article in my blog.

I have also sent it to Today paper. I hope that they will publish it. I have also asked Temasek Review Emeritus, a social blog, to publish this article. 

I am sure that someone will bring this to the attention of the Prime Minister, as I know that someone is monitoring my blog. So, you can be sure that the message has gone up to him.

I wish you all the best, and hope that this issue will be forgotten without too much harm to the people who were charged.

Tan Kin Lian

Call center customer service at Amex

A bad product to skim off the high net worth person

A person in the last 20s, who is in the high net worth category, was offered a single premium life insurance policy. He has to invest $250,000 in the policy to cover $1,500,000. At the end of 30 years, the cash value of the policy would have been $500,000 (and it was not guaranteed). He asked my view about this policy. Here is my reply.

If you invest the same $250,000 in the Straits Times Index ETF and it earns an average yield of 5%, your investment would grow to $1 million at the end of 30 years. The chance of premature death during this period is 5%. The chance of surviving 30 years is 95%.

It does not make sense to give away half a million dollars in this single premium policy when the chance of a higher payout is only 5%. It is better to invest the money in the ETF. If you really need insurance, you can buy term insurance for $1,500,000 by paying an annual premium of $1,800. Over 30 years, your total cost would have been $54,000. Why give away $500,000?

The insurance agent was able to hoodwink the consumer by telling him that this investment product is specially designed for high net worth people, like him. It does not matter whether you are high net worth or not. Just look at the yield on the investment and compare it with what you can earn by investing in the ETF. The result is probably the same - the insurance policy will take away 40% (or more) of what should be yours.

The distribution cost for the policy was $36,000. This is the amount that the insurance agent and his agency manager would have earned by selling a bad product to you. And it comes from you, upfront. You are paying more 15% of your savings upfront for this bad product. Why should you give so much to an agent who sells a bad product to you?

I strongly encourage consumers to attend the educational talks organised by FISCA. If you do not spend the time, you are likely to lose a lot of money by investing in the bad products. And you deserve to be ripped off!

Spend time to safeguard your own financial future

I passed this message to my children, who are too busy working, and cannot find the time time to attend an investment talk directed at consumers. It may also apply to you.

I am giving a talk on investments on Sat 28 July 2 to 5 pm at SMU. You can get more details and register here

I advice you to attend this talk. It is important for your financial future that you understand how to invest in the correct products.

If you do not attend, you are likely to lose a lot of money by investing in the bad products. There are many bad products being sold by banks and insurance company. They make a lot of commission for the sales person and for the bank and insurance company , and will make you poor.

A typical product should earn (say) $500,000 for the investor (who invest in ETF) but when the same money is put into any other product, they will get only $300,000. So, $200,000 is a lot of money to lose - and tens of thousands of people are buying the bad product that take way 40% of what should be theirs.

Tan Kin Lian

Educational talks organised by FISCA

Here are the educational talks organised by FISCA for the next few months. They cover financial planning, investment, insurance and property. I advice consumers to attend these talks and avoid making bad investments.

Act responsibly in looking after the public interest

I agree with the concern expressed by Raymond Lee on the conduct of the Committee of Inquiry on the breakdown of the MRT trains.

The COI is supposed to be a fact finding exercise, but has turned out to be a "finger-pointing" exercise. It reflects the bad culture in Singapore that we should be ashamed of - pointing fingers, unwilling to take responsibility. Our leaders should avoid setting a bad example.

I am also concerned about the use of expensive lawyers, which will ultimately be paid out by the taxpayers and the commuters.

I ask our government leaders to act more responsibility in discharging their duties, in spending public funds and take care of the public interest.

Trademark suit by Subway

I welcome the decision by the court to reject the trademark suit launched by Subway against a small entrepreneur. See

I am glad that the judge found that the plaintiff did not suffer any commercial loss due to the use of the word "Subway" as the new of another outlet.

In the past, there has been too many cases of legal suits for infringement of trademarks, copyright and patent. It is refreshing to know that the unjustified cases cannot succeed in court.

Charged for an offence that they were probably not aware of

I am concerned about the decision taken by the public prosecutor to charge the 44 men for having commercial sex with the the under-aged girl.

I am not defending the actions of these men. Rather, I am questioning the decision to charge them, based on the evidence that was available. According to what I read in the papers, these men were enticed by an online website that showed the girl to be 18 years old. If she was below 18 years, she must have deliberately lied about her age. Surely, she is the bigger culprit?

Let me give you this analogy. I bought a piece of cake and gave it to my friend. My friend died from food poisoning after eating the cake. I was not aware about the ingredients in the cake. Should I be charged for homicide, being the person who delivered the cake? Was I responsible to check that the cake was fit for consumption, when I had no reason to suspect otherwise?

For a person to be charged for a crime, there must be evidence that he knew of the crime or had to duty to find out. Did the police had grounds to know that the 44 men knew that the prostitute was below the legal age? If they had the duty to find out, how could it be done? Quite likely, the prostitute would not want to show her real name by producing the identity card.

Did the police ask each of the 44 men for their side of the story? Was there any reason to reject their excuse that they did not know her real age? Should these people be let off with a warning? Could they pay a penalty without being charged in court and without admission of guilt?

In Singapore, a person is condemned by public opinion when they are charged in court, regardless of whether they are eventually convicted. We are destroying the reputation and careers of 44 people by taking this drastic action. Is this the type of outcome that is desirable for the future of Singapore?

I wish to repeat that I am not condoning the action of these 44 men and that action should be taken to protect our under-aged girls. But this is probably a bad case to act on. And it may be unjust to the people who are involved.

I hope that the police and public prosecutor will review this matter and find a better solution - before more people and their families are harmed unnecessarily and excessively.

Tan Kin Lian

Develop an express bus service

The public transport system is getting to be very bad, with frequent train breakdown. COE prices are soaring. The roads are congested.

I have suggested for the past four years that the Land Transport Authority should introduce express bus services to connect the different towns. This can complement the train services. This network will be supported by local feeder services, operated by small buses, to take passengers from their homes to the bus interchanges (and train stations) and back home.

It is time for the Land Transport Authority to implement this alternative solution. It can be ready quite quickly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Commercial sex with under-aged persons

The new headlines recently are about 44 men who were charged with commercial sex with a minor. See

I found this definition in Wikipedia.

Commercial sex with under-aged persons

Any person who obtains for consideration the sexual services of a person under 18 years of age (in other words, has commercial sex with such a person) commits an offence and may be punished with imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine or both. The term sexual services is defined to mean sexual services involving sexual penetration of the vagina or anus of a person by a part of another person's body other than the penis or by anything else, or penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of a person by a man's penis. It is also an offence for a person to communicate with another person for the purpose of having commercial sex with a person under 18. These offences apply to acts that take place in as well as outside Singapore.
It is a crime for a person to:
  • make or organize any travel arrangements for or on behalf of any other person with the intention of facilitating the commission by that other person of an offence under section 376C (that is, offences relating to commercial sex with a minor under 18 outside Singapore), whether or not such an offence is actually committed by that other person;
  • transport any other person to a place outside Singapore with the intention of facilitating the commission by that other person of an offence under section 376C, whether or not such an offence is actually committed by that other person;or
  • print, publish or distribute any information that is intended to promote conduct that would constitute an offence under section 376C, or to assist any other person to engage in such conduct.
A person who is guilty of the offence may be punished with imprisonment of up to ten years, or a fine, or both.[

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Financial Advisory Industry Review (FAIR)

Dear consumers,
 if you want your views to be considered please go to the to offer your feedback. If you don't want to be conned by insurance agents anymore this is an opportunity to tell the panel what you like to see for the future industry. It is easy to give your views. Just answer according to the questions asked. 
There are 5 areas to be changed. 
  • Ban commission and move to fee based. 
  • Remember fee based is NOT on top of the commission embedded in the product. 
  • If it is fee based the products will have no commission and you pay fee only if you agree. 
  • It is transparent. 
  • It is told to you UPFRONT plus the advice you will receIve.
  • You can reject if you feel the fee is too high.
Compared to commission driven model fee based puts your interest first and most of the times it is cheaper than the commission. 
You get value for money. If you worry about having to pay all the fee upfront you can arrange to pay by installments as if you are paying the regular premium. 

Rich and powerless

Dear Mr. Tan

I was pleased to read your article on Singapore's "Culture to Avoid Responsibility". I believe you may be interested in an entertaining article which expands very well on this famous notion.

The rich and powerless of Sentosa Cove

Monday, April 16, 2012

Submission to the FAIR review panel

I sent this submission to the review panel set up by MAS on the "Financial Advisory Industry Review (FAIR). See

DBS Bank makes life difficult for its customers

DBS Bank really makes life difficult for its customers. I have to make a payment through internet banking to a friend. He gave me his DBS bank account.

I login to DBS  i-banking and have to create a payee. I went to look for my mobile phone, which is usually not kept with my desktop PC. This is one unnecessary hassle - on top of entering a user name, PIN and a 2FA token number.

I tried to register the payee. DBS bank asked me for the type of account and gave them 3 choices - Autosave, Current, Savings Plus. I don't know why DBS Bank has to ask me this information, as my friend did not tell me what type of account.

I entered 4 fields of information and tried "Autosave". It was rejected. I had to re-enter the 4 fields of information and tried "Current". It was rejected. I re-entered the 4 fields of information and tried "Savings Plus". It was rejected again.

I had to e-mail to my friend to ask "what type of account is it"?  MAS makes it difficult for a customer to change a bank account. If it was not so troublesome, I would have switched away from DBS Bank already.

This is life in Singapore - so troublesome, so costly, so inefficient.

Tiger Airway Customer Support Portal

A passenger wanted to give a feedback to Tiger Airways. He had difficulty in giving the feedback and did not receive any response.

I went to the Tiger Airways website to look for an e-mail address to send the feedback. There is no such address. There are only telephone numbers to call.

After searching through the webpage, I managed to find a link to a customer support portal.

I clicked on this portal and had a difficulty time. The customer has to answer about 20 irrelevant questions before he (or she) could give the feedback. The space for the feedback is insufficient.

If you like to know what I mean, you can click on this link and find out for yourself:

The customer said that Tiger Airways staff did not bother to check the portal and give a reply. He did not receive any auto-reply or any actual reply. The feedback got lost.

Tiger Airways is not the only organisation that make it difficult for their customers to give feedback. It is typical of many organisations in Singapore. They seem to follow a pattern of making life difficult for their customers.

If you want to know an easier way to give your feedback, try this portal developed by TKL Associates: Try it and let me know if you find this new method to be better. I hope to interest corporate organisations to use this portal.

No response to customer feedback

Dear Mr Tan,
There is something that I would like to share with you and your readers which is regarding my experience flying on Tiger Airways. What I want to share with your readers is that I was surprised that a multimillion dollar revenue company like Tiger Airways does not seem to provide any real recourse for passengers even though on the surface they have a web portal for passenger feedback. I still remember it was in the news when passengers complained and that was when Tiger announced that they intend to beef up their customer service and installed a web portal for passengers.
It unfortunately became my turn to send my feedback through their web portal recently and simultaneously wrote in a letter of complaint to them. It was disappointing when I called them up to check on my feedback after 10 days of silence, the reply was that they have no record of it on their portal (The web portal does not send an auto-reply on receipt of feedback) nor received my letter.
I called their customer service officer and after much persuasion, directed me to an email address (I'm not sure if its even functional as even that did not manage to get through, from what she said) and said there is no other ways for my letter to reach them. I just want to make people aware that even if feedback channels exists, but it may non -functional as from what I experienced. A quick check on the internet shows that other passengers also have the same problem of getting no response from feedback and that is quite disappointing. I'm amazed that a company of that status and revenue, we can still expect such functional lapse.

Courage to state the truth

Hi Mr Tan

I refer to your blog post “Higher wages will not lead to loss of jobs”. I am pretty sure many economists would agree that we need a radical “shock” solution to narrow the big income gap here (our Gini coefficient is the highest amongst developed countries). 

However, it takes the stature of Prof Lim (he is a relative of LKY) to boldly speak the truth, whilst all the economists in our local universities cower in fear of the establishment. As I see it, Prof Lim has given a robust rebuttal of the criticisms levelled by our ministers.

I suspect a few ministers actually think Prof Lim’s suggestion may in fact work, but, sadly, the “loss of face” factor is hindering acceptance of the proposal. It would have been better (and refreshingly frank) for the ruling party to have openly said:

“Yes, the indiscriminate massive immigration and ultra-liberal work visa policy in place for the past several years is wrong. It has led local companies to be hooked on the heroin of almost unlimited cheap foreign labour. It has resulted in businesses that shouldn’t be here in the first place (because they rely on cheap labour) to be on artificial life support. We know we were wrong and we endeavour to right this wrong.”

Difficulty in using DBS Ideal

I wish to share this letter, which I wrote to DBS, about the difficulty in using their DBS Ideal for business customers. All I wanted was to use the internet banking payment to reduce the need to send out checks. The trouble that I went through was unimaginable. The customer relationship manager is very helpful in solving my problem, but the underlying pain was in the process - which must have affected countless customers. I write to create awareness of this kind of problem which is creating a lot of unnecessary work and hassled, wasting a lot of expensive time.

Culture to avoid responsibility

A Malaysian lady, who migrated to UK, told me. Her son worked in Singapore for one year after graduation. He told her that his colleagues in Singapore do not want to take responsibility, and prefer to find ways to let somebody else deal with the problem. He asked, "why do Singaporeans behave like that?".

I said that this is due to our environment and culture. Even our ministers behave in this manner. They like to define what is their responsibility and what is not. It seemed that for many grey areas, or what is defined as "falling through the cracks", many people want to avoid the responsibility - if they can get away with it.

I have observed this behaviour for some time. It seemed that an outsider could also see it, if they are perceptive. Many Singaporeans would take this behaviour as natural.

If we want to make progress, we have to start taking responsibility. If there are grey areas, we have to take responsibility collectively. This may not fit into our key performance indicator measurements, but what is more important, is to get the right things done!

Use discretion at immigration checks

I met a Malaysian lady who had migrated and lived in UK for several years. She related her experience going through security check at Singapore airport. She had a lipstick which was detected at the screening gate. She had to go through a lot of hassle over this matter.

She said, "I left Heathrow Airport with this lipstick and they did not give me any trouble over it. Heathrow has many times the passengers compared to Singapore and had to deal with bigger security threats. The security officers were able to identify what was important, and what was not. Why did Singapore give so much trouble over a lipstick, which clearly was quite innocent. Couldn't the officer exercise some discretion?"

I agreed with her. There is a tendency in Singapore to follow the books blindly, without exercising any discretion or common sense. This is a part of our culture that needs to be corrected. Someone called it the "kiasu attitude". It is quite a serious weakness.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sky Habitat in Bishan

CapitaLand has launched a new condo, called Sky Habitat in Bishan. Details of this project can be found in

The project has 509 units. During the first launch, a total of 180 units were offered and 70% were taken up, i.e. 120 units. This represents about 25% of the total units in the project.  See this report,

The average price of a 3 bedroom unit is $2 million. I have advised consumers to use a buy a property up to 60 months of salary. To be able to afford this investment, you have to earn a salary of $33,000 a month. This should be based on one person's salary. If the combined salary is used, there is a risk that one person may lose the job and caused financial difficulty in making the monthly payment.

Some rich families are able to pay a large part of the cost of the property for their children. In this case, the formula has to be modified. If the parent pays 50% of the property and reduces the net cost to $1 million, the monthly salary should be $16,700.

I hope that the rule of thumb of 60 months salary will help buyers to make a prudent decision.

We need to raise wages and reduce the income gap

Lucky Tan made a strong argument in support of Professor Lim Chong Yah

Set a long term target

It is a good idea to set a long term target, such as the target to achieve an inclusive society in 10 years time, as suggested by DPM Tharman,

The advantages of a long term target are:

  • The person who sets the target may not be around to account for any failure to achieve the target
  • It is possible to give the reason that the situation has changed since the target was set
  • The target could be re-defined along the way, so that it is not the same as the original target.
We had an example earlier of the target to achieve the Swiss standard of living within 15 years. We did manage to achieve the high cost of living in Switzerland and nowhere near the standard in quality of life.

I find the target to achieve "an inclusive society" to be in contradiction to the current practice of "differentiating" access to primary schools and public health care. I do not understand how a society can be inclusive and differentiated at the same time. I am not convinced that it is possible to be inclusive among the citizens, while differentiating the non-citizens living in our community. As far as possible, we should treat people equally in their daily lives - if we really aim to build an inclusive society.

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