Saturday, November 26, 2011

Loss of title deeds

Dear Mr. Tan,
I agree with you that advertising lost title deed is unnecessary and a waste of time and money, as I have a similiar experience sometime ago. After all how many people bother to read the classified advertisements in the papers.

The reply they have you in the Straits Times forum page today shows that this government is inflexible in their policy. The public needs someone like you to change their thinking.  Keep it up!
I have sent a follow up reply to the Straits Times and to the Land Office. Please write to the Straits Times and give your views as well.

Mobile app - to find your car

I have developed an app to help me locate my car. It is a simple app that allows me to take photo of the pillar to identify my car and also the lift lobby. I used it at Camden Medical Center. Although it has a small car park on 2 basement floors, it seemed unnecessary for me to use this app - but I tested it anyway.

After my dental appointment, I went to basement 1 to look for my car. Somehow, the car park looked different from what I expected. I could not locate the car after walking around the car park. I thought that I might have parked my car in B2.

I looked at the photos in my app. It confirmed that my car was on B1. I also saw the photo of a large sign where my car was parked (which I had forgotten). I found my car quite easily.

The app works like a photographic memory. I did not realize that it could be quite useful, even in a small car park. It is also easy to use.  It is also possible to use the camera app that comes with your mobile phone, but a special app to find the car is easier to use and more targeted. This app will be realized in Apple App Store in December.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Law of contract

Consumers may be subject to unfair contract terms. It is important to know consumer rights under the law of contract. An explanation can be found in FISCA website.

A good dentist

I have a tooth ache and saw a dentist at T32 clinic at Camden Medical Center. The dentist was diligent in identifying the source of the pain, with the aid of technology. He explained the problem and discussed two possible solutions. He recommended the lower cost approach to see if it works, before exploring a more serious treatment later. He spent time to educate the patient and also to find the best solution. I had expected to pay a high fee but was surprised that the actual fee was much lower. He is a good example of a professional who looks after the interest of the patient and charges fairly.

Damage caused by currency fluctuation

Here is a good example of the damage caused by currency fluctuation. It is difficult for a business to make long term plans that affect investments and employment of workers.

It takes a few years to plan and set up a factory and a longer period to recover the investments. The profitability of this business depends on predictability of the revenue and cost. If the cost can fluctuate wildly due to currency rates, it will be difficult for any business to invest.

It is a good idea to have floating exchange rates to reflect the economic fundamentals of a country. However, the wild swings, caused by large speculators such as hedge funds, are causing tremendous damages, beyond their useful purpose. There must be some way of preventing these big speculations. Perhaps, the proposal to impose a financial trading tax will be useful. Apart from preventing the wild speculation, it will also raise revenue for the government.

Risk of investing overseas

I read a newspaper article about a British mining company having a dispute with an Indonesian company on a joint venture after discovering coal in their land. This incident shows the risk of investing overseas, where the law may not be clear and the partner may not be reliable (and I am not referring to this specific incident).

The same risk applies to a small investor who wishes to buy shares and properties overseas. You may be subject to risks and other expenses that you are not aware of. It is better to invest in local shares (and let them take care of investing overseas). At least, you know what the law in your own country.

There is still the risk that the management of the company that you have invested in, may be venturing overseas and be subject to the same type of risks. At least, they are better equipped to handle these legal and other issues - compared to an individual. In the same vein, it is better to avoid companies that are venturing overseas, without the experience. I have read stories of big listed companies involved in million dollar disputes over contracts with foreign parties.

Labor unrest in China

Factories are cutting the overtime that workers depend on to supplement their modest base salaries, after a drop in overseas orders.
According to CLB, the average basic wage for electronic workers is about RMB1,500 ($236) a month, but rises to RMB2,500 with overtime. “Their basic wage is never enough on its own without overtime,” Mr Crothall said. 

My comment: The cost of living should be in line with wages. It is risky to ask a worker to depend on overtime work (which depends on global growth) to earn enough to pay the bills. If the cost of living is kept within control, this type of risky situation should not arise. The greed of the rich is pushing up the cost of living - and this is happening all over the world!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Difficult to operate a small business

Dear Mr Tan,
I am just starting a new business of importing some baby products. I have done some market research and was intending to send a proposal to NTUC Fairprice to consider. Can you advice - is this the right way to go about doing it?

I have also seen in some forums, it is not easy as a new comer who has no connection or do not know anyone inside beforehand. I really hope you could share with me how I should approach them? Or who should I contact?

Three years ago, I approached Fairprice to sell some of my products. They required me to pay a joining fee of $1,000 and to go through quite troublesome procedures. They also want to take a big cut from the sales amount and require me to handle the delivery to all their outlets and collect back the unsold stock. I abandoned the idea. (Note: connection does not count -as I knew the managers. Only money count!).

It is not easy to sell products to these big retailers. They want to charge you a lot of money before you make the first dollar. Their payment terms are also quite bad. (I had to wait one year before collecting payment for the sale of my books though a book distributor!).

If you wish to go into this business, make sure that it is a big business, otherwise, the costs will kill the business.

Currency speculation cause damage to the economy

This article explains the damage that currency speculation is causing to the economy of many countries. The speculation is being promoted by the financial sector, i.e. the hedge funds, banks and other financial institutions. It is time to find ways to stop the harmful speculation.

Population and public transport

Alex Au has written a good article. I like the point about feeder service taking 15 minutes to arrive. This is the weak point of our transport system. He also question about the need to increase our population to 6 million. I agree that we should not increase the population, as Singapore is already too crowded and the facilities are inadequate.

Visit to Sri Lanka

I have just returned from a 5 day trip to Sri Lanka. I went to Kegalle and Kandy and also took a tour of Colombo (apart from attending an insurance conference). It was a nice experience for me, to enjoy the warm hospitality and friendliness of the people of Sri Lanka.

My return flight on Sri Lankan Airlines was delayed by 10 hours. They put me up at a beach hotel quite close to the airport. Although it was inconvenient to be delayed so long, I had the chance to experience a short holiday at the beach, and to learn about the livelihood of the people in the village, which caters mainly to tourist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Should the Euro break up?

Several experts have said that the Euro has to be broken up and some countries, like Greece,should issue their own currency. How will this help to solve the debt crisis in Greece?

Greece now issue government bonds in Euro. Because of the risk of insolvency, the interest rate on these bonds have shot up. If Greece were to leave the Euro zone and issue their bonds in their own currency, i.e. the Drachma, the interest rate will be even higher as the investors have to face the risk of default and depreciation in the currency.

How will having their own currency help the Greek government? I have an interesting observation. The Greek government is not able to collect sufficient tax revenue to pay their expenses - e.g. due to tax evasion. They can continue to fund their deficit with debt in their currency. The interest rate will shoot up and the currency will depreciate over time. The depreciation in the currency is a way of lowering the standard of living for the people, who are living beyond their means. It is also an indirect way of taxation.

High inflation has its other negative impacts but this is a separate matter. It seems to be a good idea for each country to have its own currency, rather than to join a strong currency like the Euro.

There was a similar situation during the Asian Financial crisis. The currencies of several Asian countries were pegged to the US dollar. As this was unsustainable, the pegs were broken, leading to quite severe damage. After the currencies were unpegged, they were able to adjust to their right level and their economy regained their strength.

It looks like the Euro will have to break up.

Banks Accused of ‘Dishonesty’ on Reform

Bankers’ efforts to water down tougher new regulations by claiming they will harm economic growth are “intellectually dishonest and potentially damaging” and could inspire an even more robust crackdown, a leading UK regulator has warned.

“A profession which should stand for integrity and prudence now supports a lobbying strategy that exploits misunderstanding and fear,” said Robert Jenkins, who was named in July to the 11-member Financial Policy Committee, a new body charged with protecting financial stability.

“Banks can strengthen their balance sheets without harming the economy. They can do so by cutting bonuses, by curtailing intra-financial risk-taking and by raising term debt and equity,” he said.

My comments: These are strong words, but I agree with the views expressed by Robert Jenkins. Actually, I prefer that commercial banks should return to their core functions of payments and loans, and should not be speculating in the markets.

Governance without guilt

I saw the phrase "Governance without Guilt" used in the Colombo newspaper. It refers to the concept that governance (of the country and business corporation) should be done ethically, i.e. without guilt. I also saw the phrase used for the garment industry, i.e. "Garment without Guilt". This is the Sri Lanka response to the greed and corruption that is now quite prevalent in the business and government sectors.

Unhappy with Singaporean Airlines

I met a Singaporean at the lounge in the hotel in Colombo. He had been travelling first and business class on Singapore Airlines for 20 years. Recently, he gave up on Singapore Airlines and now travelled on Asiana Airlines (from Korea). He was disappointed with using the new SIA website. He also found the counter service (often manned by foreigners) to be unsatisfactory. He now lived in Hong Kong as a permanent resident and travel around Asia for his business. 

Bank charges and anti-trust law

The attempt by some banks to impose debit card charges might violate the anti-trust law, as the banks and the associations might be acting in collusion.

In Singapore, we have the Competition Law, which has similar functions to the anti-trust law in America. I hope that our regulators will also look at the practices of banks, telcos and airlines in Singapore - as they are likely to follow the practices in America.
I prefer an environment where a business charge a package fee for its service and avoid making additional charges for additional items that should be part of the package. By imposing extra charges, the business is making life more complicated for its customers and also adding to the administrative costs. Often, the customers are not aware of the additional fees and are held under ransom - when they need the additional services.

The practice of charging additional fees has promoted a law-maker in the USA to introduce legislation to prevent some of the bad practices. While this legislation is not likely to be supported, due to the strong industry lobby, it goes to show the bad business practices.

Investing in the stock market

Retail investors have been avoiding the stock market due to uncertainty, but corporations are buying back their own shares, as they represent good value.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Be educated on financial matters

I received a few requests from consumers asking for my views about specific insurance policies that they are considering. I asked them to attend the financial planning workshop to be held on Saturday 26 November. Details can be found here:

I also asked them to read this document:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Living with your parents after college

Hi Tan,
We posted an article that we thought you and your readers might be interested in having a look at, “10 Financial Benefits of Living With Your Parents After College” ( Just thought I'd let you know that you would be interested in featuring or mentioning it in your blog.

Tips on Financial Risk Management

Read these tips to get an idea about the important risks that you have to take care of, and how to make the right decisions.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Medical records on Picasa

I found a good way to store my medical records that may need to be retrieved in the future. I took photos and uploaded them into Picasa. Here is an example of my spectacle prescription that is stored in this manner:

I want to encourage people to keep their medical record on Picasa by taking and uploading the photos. This may come in handy, when they need to refer to another doctor needs to see their old medical records.

Google Maps and iPad

On arrival at Colombo Airport, I bought a pre-paid data card for my iPad. It was a great decision. I was able to use Google Maps during my visit to Kandy and also around Colombo. Google Map tells me where I am at any time (using GPS) and allows me to look at the buildings and roads nearby. I was also able to use Internet connection at any place. Steve Jobs had done a great service to mankind in developing the iPhone and iPad and the Maps from Google are also great!

Selling agents

Contributed by Anthony Hobrow

I had an unsolicited telephone call on my mobile from an Indian outfit purporting to represent HSBC, offering me a loan and/or overdraft facility on great terms. Terms that got instantly much better when I said ”no”! I refused to give my details until I had checked these people out with the bank itself. So I emailed my bank and asked if they were genuine agents; I did this in my interests and in the interests of the bank.

The emailed response I got, 3 days later, was “All banks in general engaged 3rd parties to cross sell their credit products. HSBC does so as well. However I am not sure if Efusion Solutions is one of them, as these are arrangement set up by other departments. “

A wholly disgraceful response. (Nb It subsequently turns out that Efusion is a genuine agent).
Always check out unsolicited calls before revealing any personal details.

Anthony Hobrow
Direct Asia

Logic Challenge

How good is your logic? Try these puzzles:
More of these puzzles can be found here:
You can buy the book at

Manage your personal risks

Dear Mr.Tan,
I would like to seek your professional advice on getting the coverage. What happen is because my company's insurance has a maximum claim of only $3000.
As this is too little coverage, I thought of getting additional coverage myself.  Please advise what is adequate and which is the cheapest plan.

How old are you?
How much are you earning now?
Are you in good health?
You should attend this workshop and learn how to manage your personal risk
Medical insurance is just one of the risk. There are more important risk for you to take care of.

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