Friday, January 20, 2012

Law to combat online piracy

There are two proposals to pass a law against online piracy in the USA. They are known by the acronym SOPA and PIPA. Someone asked me for my views on these proposed legislation - especially if a similar legislation is being considered in Singapore.

I prefer to let this matter be handled by the experts. I understand that Google has taken a stand against certain key provision of the proposed law, such as blocking certain websites. So, I have no comments.

If anyone wish to express a view about this legislation, and if it is good or bad for consumers in Singapore, they can post their comments here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cost of mobile data

I bought a prepaid data card in Jakarta for $15. It allowed me to download 1G of data over 30 days. As I stay for 3 days, my cost is $5 a day. On my return to Jakarta 40 days later, I found that the data card could still be used, i.e. the 30 day limit did not apply. So, the data card of $15 could be used for 6 days or $2.50 a day.

The mobile operators in Singapore charge $14 or $20 for each day of "roaming" data access in Jakarta. Their charges are too high.

I have found that it is much cheaper to buy a prepaid data plan at the destination, rather than use the roaming service. I hope that the mobile operators review their charges to be competitive. 

ST Forum - Develop a complementary system

An edited version of this letter was published in Straits Times on 19 January 2012

The two train breakdowns in December was a surprise to Singaporeans, because 
they were totally unexpected, not only to commuters but to the train operator.

My friend had just experienced a train delay of one hour during his holiday in the UK. He said that train breakdowns and delays in the advanced countries are quite common and are taken in their stride.

While we can do our best in carrying out proper maintenance of the train system, 
we have to accept the fact that there will be more frequent disruption in services in the future due to the a
ge of the system and to the over-load on the train system.

I urge the Land Transport Authority to take urgent steps to develop a 
complementary service to reduce the over-reliance on the current train service. A possible approach is: 
  • Allow express bus services to be operated between the bus interchanges which are already located next to the train stations
  • These express services bring passengers between the bus interchanges and do not pick up passengers along the route
  • They will increase the capacity during the peak hours and reduce the over-crowding on the trains
  • It will be easy to add more buses quickly in the event of a train breakdown
  • It allows commuters to become familiar with an alternative service
  • The express bus services can be operated by the train operators or by private bus companies.
Tan Kin Lian

ST Online Forum - Encourage car pooling and taxi sharing

Published in ST Online Forum on 18 January 2012

To tackle the congestion on our roads, the Ministry of Transport is developing a new expressway and adding more lanes, flyovers and underpasses to existing roads. 

Infrastructure development takes years to be completed and, in the meantime, 
the construction work aggravates the current situation.

There is another option to deal with this situation - encourage car pooling, car sharing 
and taxi sharing. If two people share a taxi or pool in a car, there will be less need for some many vehicles on our road.

When Mr. Mah Bow Tan was the minister in charge of transport, he actively promoted 
these concepts. At that time, the ministry clarified that car owners were allowed to collect a payment for car pooling as defrayal of expenses, and the insurance cover would not be compromised. His ministry also actively promoted taxi sharing. I am not sure if the current minister holds these views.

With the widespread use of smart phones with GPS location services, it is now 
possible to use technology to match people who are interested to share a taxi or to car pool. 

It will be useful for the minister to re-confirm his stand on these issues, so that car pooling 
and taxi sharing can be actively promoted as another option to solve our problem of traffic congestion.

Tan Kin Lian

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Electronic pickpocket

Are equity linked investments good for consumers?

Find out what are these investments, how they work and if they are good for consumers. This is available at the FISCA website,, and available only to members after they have logged in. Click here.

Salaries of Ministers

I read the news report about the basic salaries of the different levels of political office, from ministers to parliament secretaries. They are quite modest and acceptable to me, and perhaps to most Singaporeans.

It is the high rate of bonus that brings the salaries to a high level. This bonus is supposed to be "pay for performance". I do not like this concept. At a senior level, office holders (in the public or private sectors) should not be motivated by greed. They should do their best out of honour and the privilege to serve the people.

When this principle is realized, we will have a better society, which can give a better life for all. When political leaders are motivated by greed or personal wealth, we have a bad society. There is still time to change for the better. Remove the performance based bonus!

Encourage travelling by bus

I wish to develop a mobile app to encourage commuters to travel by bus. While there are many apps already available, I wish to develop a new app that is easier to use. I need the following data and will appreciate advice on how they can be retrieved for free or at a modest cost:

  • GPS location and number of all bus stops in Singapore
  • Numbers of the bus services stopping at each bus stop
  • Arrival time of the next bus for each service and bus stop (this need access to the servers of the bus operators)
If you have any information on the above, please write to Thank you.

A positive and negative approach

Whenever a suggestion is brought up to make a change, there is a tendency for people to point out what is wrong, and what they do not agree. In many cases, the negative views are not based on actual experience, but is on hypothetical reasoning. This is a negative mindset but is quite common in Singapore.

A positive mindset looks at what is right about the suggestion and a willingness to give it a try. If the actual experience shows some negative consequences, they can be fixed at that time. This is what makes for change and entrepreneurship.

For Singapore to be willing to change and to be entrepreneurial, we need a positive mindset. It is a big challenge to change from a negative mindset, which is ingrained in our culture and education system (remember the term "kiasu"?). But, the process of change starts with the realization of our present situation and a desire to work towards a better situation.

Share your views.

SGX and China Sky

SGX has withdrawn its legal suit against China Sky and is now negotiated a settlement out of court. See this report:
I hope that the terms of the settlement be publicized to be a reference for future cases of this type.

Many areas of the law in Singapore are not clear, due to a small number of cases that are tried in court. If more cases are tried and decided in court, the judge will be able to give a view on what is right, what is wrong, what is reasonable, what is unreasonable. This will help to strengthen the understanding of values in our society.

The lack of clarity instill fear in Singaporeans. Recently, I met a young man, who graduated from university, that was so fearful of using a  non-artistic image in the website for fear of infringing the copyright. It was a general image that could not be identified to an owner. He heard that someone had gone to jail for infringing the copyright, and he did not want to take this risk.

I find many Singaporeans to be too fearful and will not take any risk if there is some unclarity or uncertainty. This is why entrepreneurs are so rare in Singapore. And it can be traced to our climate of fear.


Promote car pooling and taxi sharing

One option to tackle the congestion on the road is to promote car pooling and taxi sharing. With smart phones and GPS location services, it is now possible to identify people who wish to car pool or share a taxi. For car pooling, the Government should clarify that the collection of a fee to defray the expenses is not considered as operating a taxi service. This will encourage more people to car pool. Do you agree?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Today Paper: The priorities for SMRT

Letter from Tan Kin Lian in Today Paper

In the search for its new chief executive, I urge SMRT Corporation's board of directors to find a person who understands and is able to realise these immediate and long-term goals:

- Ensure the smooth running of its current operations

- Use technology to improve communication with commuters in the stations and outside

- Improve the current system of receiving and resolving customer feedback and issues

- Achieve a balance between its commercial goals and providing a comfortable, affordable public transport service

- Develop a complementary system to its rail operations and reduce the impact caused by any unexpected failure

The first three priorities can be implemented immediately, while the last two may take longer, but their importance has to be recognised.

On the matter of a complementary system, SMRT should run express bus services between the bus interchanges next to its train stations. These buses should not pick up passengers enroute.

This could complement the trains, especially during peak hours, allowing commuters to be familiar with this service. More buses could be deployed during emergencies and train breakdowns.

I give my best wishes to the board and the new CEO in the challenging task of remoulding SMRT to reattain the service standards that Singaporeans had long been proud of until now.

Tan Kin Lian

Proposed security measure for ATM withdrawal

A few people have given their views about the potential drawbacks of this proposal.

I wish to ask for some views on the positive aspects of this proposal, compared to existing systems of authentication or non-authentication (apart from the 6 digit PIN).

In making an internet banking transfer or credit card payment, I receive a PIN through SMS and has to enter the PIN within a short time to authenticate the transaction. I find this method, which is commonly used, to be more troublesome. I would prefer to use my mobile phone to call a specific number to make the authentication, i.e. a pro-active authentication, rather than a reactive one.

What are your views?

Parking spaces, congestion and taxi service

Do we have too many or too few parking spaces in the CBD? There is disagreement on this issue. Read this article.

Two points are not in dispute:

  • Our roads are too crowded in the CBD
  • The taxi service is poor, i.e. costly, unavailable at busy times
These points are connected. If we have an efficient and affordable taxi service or some form of local transport, there is no need for so many people to drive into the CBD, and no need for more parking spaces.

What is a local transport service? It is my description of a service involving small buses and taxis that ply within a town or the CBD. As they do not travel outside of their zone of operation, the licensing requirement can be relaxed. They can pay a daily fee and be exempted from ERP and other charges. 

If we tackle the problem of local transport. we will have the framework to solve the larger issue of transport in Singapore. I hope that the Ministry of Transport will seriously consider this suggestion - to improve local transport.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A suggestion to enhance security for ATM withdrawal

DBS Bank experienced unauthorized withdrawal from their customer accounts through the ATM machines. They are now looking for a way to enhance the security measures.

I wish to suggest the following method, which does not involve any change to the current magnetic strip card. I suggest that the ATM machine should ask the customer to use his registered mobile phone to dial a certain number of the bank. The bank will retrieve the mobile number, using caller ID, to "activate" the withdrawal.

For the crook to take out money, the crook needs to have the mobile phone as well. This will be a hindrance to the crook.

Currently, DBS sends a SMS to the customer and ask the customer to enter a PIN from the SMS to confirm the account. My suggested method is more practical and less costly (i.e. does not use SMS) and can also be used for internet banking.

Do you agree with my approach? Can you see any flaws or weakness?

Security of ATM machines

DBS Bank suffered several unauthorized withdrawals from their customer accounts. They are now introducing additional measures to enhance security.

It is important to have adequate security, but we have to distinguish between good and bad security measures. A good security measure is effective and does not increase the cost significantly or make it inconvenient for customers. A bad measure does the opposite.

The culture in Singapore is "security at all cost" to plan for "the worst case scenario". It is the culture in Singapore to over-react and take excessive measures to "enhance security". This is called our "kiasu" and "kiasi" syndromes. I have seen many examples of bad measures that are costly, and ineffective.  The trouble is - all of these measures keep on adding up, and making life quite complicated and stressful.

If you were in charge of implementing the good measures to enhance the security of ATM machines in a bank, what would you do?

Investing in a franchise

Hi Mr Tan,
I was wondering if you have heard of the Snap-Print franchise. I am a greenhorn to the world of business and am considering to start my first investment with Snap-Print to learn the ropes of starting a business.

Snap-Print is a printing company that does prints on apparels, digital and offset and large format prints like banners, backdrops, etc. They are offering a franchise for small home business start ups. This is how the franchise works. I will register a company with ARCA. Next, I will source the deals on my own and quote my own price based on negotiations. Snap-Print will offer me a partner price for the printing. The amount I quote to the client minus the partner price given by Snap-Print would be my profit.

Snap-Print is offering the franchise for 9k. They are providing me some support like the relevant product training, sales and marketing techniques and printing business operations. Do you think this opportunity is good for someone like me who is new to business and want to start learning business by doing?

I do not know about the business model and the prospects for Snap-Print or the reliability of the franchiser.

I can only give a few words of general advice, before you spend $9,000 in paying the franchise fee.

1. Do not spend money on any business idea that is not clear to you.
2. Some people make money from the franchisee and give a business model that may not work (I am not referring to Snap-Print).
3. It is not easy to start a business - as you have to take care of many issues, such as marketing, finances, recruiting people, collecting debts. Be aware of all these challenges, before you plunge into a business.
4. It is best to help a friend to run an existing business, so that you are aware of the business issues, before you start a business on your own. It is better to be prepared.
5. I have seen many people lost a lot of money on franchises, not only the franchise fee but the follow-on investments. So, do your study carefully first.

How investors lost money on dual currency investments

Many risk averse investors were not aware that they were taking much higher risk in investing in dual currency investments - compared to shares and foreign currencies - and were not given the higher yield for the risk. Here are three real stories of how people fared in this type of investment.

This article is reserved for FISCA members only. You can view the article at the Information tab of the FISCA website. There are articles in the website that can be viewed by the public, i.e. non-members.

The FISCA website can be accessed directly at Click on the tabs to access the different functions in the website.

FISCA Website

The Financial Services Consumer Association (FISCA) has recruited a few additional volunteers. They will help to provide useful information on the FISCA website. I will also share regular stories about investment scams and bad products, and how people have lost money by investing in bad products on the wrong advice given by the intermediaries (who sold the product).

These stories will be restricted only to FISCA members. The public can see the title and a short explanation, but cannot view the entire article. I encourage FISCA members to visit the website regularly and view the articles. We will automate a weekly e-mail alert.

Voice mail is not useful

Hi Mr. Tan,
I wish to highlight the redundant Voicemail service in mobile phone service. More importantly, it is a waste of the caller's $$$.

Currently, when I call another person's mobile phone and if he does not pick up the call, I will be directed to the Voicemail service within 10s (approximately. Maybe less than that). When this happens, the call will start to 'eat' into my mobile phone service's talk time.

With SMS and whatsapp, this Voicemail service is redundant. I feel that it is put in to 'eat' into callers' talk time.

Subscribers can opt out of this service. However, many are unaware. Even if they are, many don't care because it 'eats' into the caller's talk time, not the subscribers'. If true, this is an unethical practice by mobile service providers to boost profits.

For your views and highlight in your blog.

Mr. Lee

I agree with you. I had the same experience. When I get into the caller voicemail, I stopped the call immediately.

As the receiver, I find the voicemail to be impractical to use. So, I opt out of the service.As there is caller ID, it is easy to return a call to those numbers that I recognize.

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