Saturday, July 11, 2015

Service quality in Singapore - ranking?

Which organization has the best website in Singapore? The best call center? The best branch service? Head office service? Outdoor service, e.g. agents?
How do the banks, insurance companies, airlines, telephone operators, transport operators and government agencies rank in their overall service and for each touch point?

You can find out from this website,

And here is the good news. You can win a prize - the hard copy book on "Financial Planning - A Practical Guide written by Tan Kin Lian).  Details can be found in the "Terms & Conditions". This is available only for the first 100 users. So hurry!

Lawyer willing to handle a case on a contingency fee

Dear Mr. Tan,

I shall be very happy if you can kindly help me the following.

Names of ' No win no fees " lawyers in Singapore. This is extremely important to me. I need them very BADLY.I have no money to hire lawyers, but in case I have to hire lawyers, Kindly tell me how to avoid getting high cost of lawyer's fees.

I have deposits in a bank in Singapore. Not long ago I need money, so I wrote to the bank saying that I wish to withdraw my deposits soon. The bank said that I had withdrawn the money. It is 15 years now therefore, they have destroyed all the paper works. However, my passport can proved that I was not in Singapore on the date the money was withdrawn. In the light of this, I need a good lawyer (no win no fees) to fight for me in order to get the money back soonest possible.--- May I know if the lawyer win the case, normally how do they charge me.

I am not able to find such a lawyer for you. I don't think they will want to spend time without being paid their hourly rate.

Friday, July 10, 2015

An alternative approach for SMRT to deal with train breakdowns

Hi Mr. Tan
What would you do if you were the CEO of SMRT? You seem to have a lot of ideas. Let's hear them.

First, I have to recognize what can and cannot be done.

The SMRT system is old and has been poorly maintained for several years. There is a serious shortage of experienced engineers who are familiar with the system. The demand for train service is excessive due to the large increase in population. Many people rely on the trains for their primary mode of transport.

There is nothing much that can be done on these fronts. I believe that the current management is doing their best according to their available resources.

My strategy is to manage the expectations of the general public, in particular, the passengers who are affected by the breakdown.

1) First, I will cap my salary at $500,000. This salary is adequate, even for a CEO with huge responsibilities. You must remember that SMRT is almost a monopoly and is not subject to the kind of market competition faced by most international and large domestic businesses.

2) If the CEO's salary is not humongous, the commuters will be more forgiving if the system breaks down once in a while. They know that it is an old system that is under heavy strain.

3) I would also take the train to work at least a few times each week. The commuters will find it nice to see the CEO and the top managers taking the train and experiencing what they have to go through daily. They will not be so demanding when things go wrong - as it must from time to time.

4) If there is a train breakdown, I would give a refund of $5 to each passenger credited back into their fare card. This should be 3 times of their normal fare. It is not enough to compensate them for the inconvenience, but it would be a good gesture. They can use the refund to take alternative transport, e.g. bus or taxi.

5) When there is a breakdown, I would alert the private bus operators and taxi drivers to be available at the stations to meet the heavy demand. The passengers can pay their own fares for the alternative transport. I would still arrange for buses to provide the alternative support. However, if the buses are not available, the passengers can still find their alternative transport.

6) I would engage engineers on a 3 year contract at a 150% to 200% of the normal salary. I will take this time to train young engineers to gain the experience in the maintenance of the train system. This will solve the temporary shortage of engineers.

If there is a major breakdown affecting 250,000 passengers, the cost to SMRT for the refund would be $1.25 million, plus the cost of arranging alternative transport. This does not happen every day. Hopefully, it will happen only once in a few years. It is not a large sum.

Ridiculous process adopted by DBS Bank

Each time I make an Internet payment using DBS Ideal 3 for corporate banking, I am reminded about the ridiculous process and wasteful practices adopted by many organizations in Singapore.

I have to go through many steps to login into my bank account - company code, user code, user PIN, security token password, code '1" and security token key.

When I make a payment, I have to approve it. The bank sends a "challenge" by SMS to my mobile phone. I have to convert the challenge to another number using their security token - enter the security password, code '3', enter the challenge and retrieve the converted number to enter into the DBS website.

If they allow me to enter the "challenge" directly without converting it into another number, I don't mind. But they insist on imposing the maximum hassle for their customers - for the dubious purpose of "enhanced security".

It is fashionable for Singaporeans to get for maximum security and zero defect without regard to cost and inconvenience. They are proud of this mindset. But, tell you what. The head of DBS information strategy is not from Singapore. He came from India. This type of "foreign talent" fits well in the Singapore environment.

I have to go through this ridiculous process for all payments, regardless of amount. This is time wasteful and totally unnecessary.

I have raised this ridiculous process with DBS several times over the past years. They don't care. They stop acknowledging my feedback. I am sure that DBS is extremely proud of their ridiculous token. It is shown here.

Claim for loss of use of a car

Dear Mr. Tan
My car was hit by a Malaysian bus months ago.My workshop made a direct claim on my behalf. The lawyer just called to say the Malaysian insurer wants a copy of my insurance policy. Have they a right? My point is I did not insure for loss of use but I am claiming from them.

It is all right to send them a copy of your insurance policy. You can claim for loss of use of your car as you are making a third party claim against the Malaysian bus. You are not claiming for this item under your own policy.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Government will spend $1.1 billion on buses over 10 years

Is it a good idea for the government to spend $1.1 billion over 10 years to provide financial support and new buses to the bus operators?

Some members of the public felt that this is using tax payers' monies to fund profit driver bus operators. But the government said that these transport operators are losing money on the bus operations, but they make profit on their train operations and other sources.

This is one more messy issue that confronts the government and the people at large.  Who is right?

I like to answer this question by looking at the root of the problems. It is a bad idea for the transport operations to be run by commercial companies. There is a serious conflict of interest, such as shown above.

While the transport operators may claim that their bus operations are not profitable, it could be due to their accounting policies. Are they charging the operating costs fairly across all of their operations?

The other serious issue is the humongous salaries that are earned by their chief executives. Are the tax payer's monies being used to fund these salaries?

All these difficult questions come out of the operating model adopted by the Singapore government. It is a bad model. It is not transparent and not accountable. These serious issues are not properly discussed or agreed on. They are swept under the carpet.

A finance minister who is described as "Marxist"

The previous Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, was described by the western media as "a Marxist".  He strongly supported the "no" result in the recent Greek referendum, which means that the people rejected the austerity measures imposed by the creditors of Greece.

Although the referendum came out in support of his position, he resigned immediately after the referendum, to make it easier for prime minister Tsipras to negotiate a deal with the creditors. Varoufakis had taken a tough stand in the previous negotiations and was strongly disliked by the creditors.

The creditors were mainly the governments and the banks in Europe. They had extended loans to Greece, presumably at high interest rates, and expected to be repaid in full. Greece wanted the creditors to offer a discounts on these loans. 

I wish now to refer to the description of Varoufakis as a Marxist. This was intended to put him in a bad light.

What is a Marxist? He is not a terrorist nor someone who advocated violence. He is someone who believed in greater equality among the people, and in asking the creditors to take a discount on the loans that they had given to Greece. The repayment of the loans in full would impose a heavy burden on the ordinary people of Greece.

Is it bad to have a Marxist as finance minister?

Shenzhen is now the fifth biggest city in the world

Some people may still think that Shenzhen is a small town in China next to Hong Kong.
Here is a surprise!
The population of Shenzhen is 15 million people! It has more people than Hong Kong (7.1 million) or Singapore (5.4 million - counting foreigners as well).

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Drop in standards for Singapore Airlines

I spoke to a stewardess who has worked in Singapore Airlines for nearly 40 years and is due for retirement. She flew for many years to wear a purple uniform and was grounded to take up a lounge position during the later years.

Me: Has a quality of service of Singapore Airlines dropped over the years?
She: Definitely.
Me; What is the reason?
She: The younger cabin crew has a short term goal, to fly for a few years, visit places around the world, and then move to another career. They do not see a long term career in the airline.
Me: Is this phenomena affecting all airlines, or does Singapore Airlines fare worse than other airlines?
She: I think it affects Singapore Airlines more.
Me: Has the attitude of the workers changed over the years, compared to the old days?
She: Yes, younger workers are less committed.
Me: Could it be due to the change in the company policy also? In the old days, the company invest in the workers and give them prospect for a long term career. Today, the company is more short term minded. This attitude must affect the workers who also respond in a similar fashion.
She (after reflecting for a while): I think you are right. I did not think about it from this angle before.

Earthquake insurance

The New Zealand Government is reviewing its earthquake insurance scheme. It is using the actual experience of a recent earthquake in Canterbury to identify the actual problems that have been encountered and have identify practical solutions to these problems.  They have also submitted their proposals for views from the insurance industry and the public.

I like this approach. It is so refreshing and is quite different from the way that decisions are taken in Singapore. While we also seek public consultation in Singapore, I get the sense that we are not identify the actual problems. Often we are dealing with theoretical problems and finding theoretical answers.


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

How to increase the birth rate in Singapore

The government has been trying to solve the problem of the low birth rate for three decades. They introduce one Baby package after another, but they all failed.

To solve this problem, we need a new mindset and a new approach. We have to recognize that the cost of raising children should be borne by the state, and not by the parents. The state has the money (at least in Singapore) but the parents are generally struggling financially.

What can be done? How can the state bear the cost of raising children? The answer is given in this paper.

I want to emphasize that the state will be paying for raising up to two, or maybe three children, in the family. If the family wants to have more children, the parents have to bear the additional cost.

Increase in price for HDB flats is a bad idea

This is good news for early buyers but bad news for the current buyers. The doubling of price of new flats is not good for the country. It actually shows the incompetence of the government in managing the economy.
This report may gives the wrong impression that HDB flats are good investments at today's prices, and that the prices can continue to increase. This is heading for disaster.

Baby Bonus package has failed again

The government has been trying to improve the birth rate in Singapore for the past 30 years (since 1985). They introduced one Baby Bonus package after another. These packages have failed miserably and did not produce the intended result.

Instead of taking a new approach, they continue to repeat the same strategy. The famous scientist once define insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Our government leaders are insane, and should be sent to the Institute of Mental Health (instead of sending Amos Yee there).

Here is the news report about the latest failure

Poor service from ACRA

I submitted my company's return to ACRA more than one week ago. I received this message from ACRA today.

ACRA had been inconsiderate in the following aspects:
1. They provide a long email containing information that may or may not be relevant to me.
2. They could have checked the computer records to ensure that I have filed it, instead of giving the statement in para 6. Is the system of ACRA so outdated that they have to generate their letter so many days in advance?
3. They sent the reminder at the last minute, instead of sending it in advance.

Dear Sir/Madam

Company Registration No. : 200700231C

1.    Our records show that the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of your company will be due on 16/08/2015.

2.    Under section 175 of the Companies Act, every company has to hold its first AGM within 18 months of its
incorporation. Thereafter, the AGM must be held once in every calendar year and not more than 15 months after the holding of the last preceding AGM.

3.    A private company may, by resolution passed in accordance with section 175A(2) of the Act, dispense with the holding of the AGM. Such a company may do anything required at an AGM by passing resolutions by written means instead. Section 197(4) of the Act requires any company without an overseas branch register to lodge the  Annual Return with ACRA within 1 month after the AGM.

4.    Section 201 of the Act also requires the directors of the company to lay before the company at its AGM its (1)
profit and loss account*, (2) balance sheet, (3) director or (4) auditor's reports (if applicable). In addition, the
profit and loss account of an unlisted company must be made up to a date not more than 6 months before the date of the AGM.

5.    If your company is not able to comply with the above requirements, and require more time to
comply, your company should apply online via Bizfile at for an extension of time. The company can check the status of application online via Bizfile under the heading "Status Enquiry". Please comply with the Act to avoid paying fines and/or court prosecution. For your convenience, we have placed the application guidelines as well as penalty and other useful information on our homepage at for your easy reference.

6.    As this reminder letter was generated in advance before posting, your company  may  have  filed  the  Annual
Return by the time you receive this letter.  If  your company has filed the Annual Return, thank you for your efforts to ensure timely compliance.

* Following the revision of the Financial Reporting Standard (FRS) 1 Presentation of Financial Statements, for
financial periods beginning on or after 1 January 2009, the "profit and loss account" and "balance sheet" may also be known as "Statement of Comprehensive Income" (and where applicable, "Income Statement") and "Statement of Financial Position" respectively. Please refer to Practice Direction No. 4 of 2009 for more information.

Thank You

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)
10 Anson Road
#05-01/15 International Plaza
Singapore 079903

Similarity between the politics in Greece and in Singapoe

There is a parallel between the politics in Greece and Singapore. The Greek government and the people are struggling against the austerity program and the harsh conditions imposed by the creditors. These are the government and the financial institutions of the richer countries in Europe.

The Greek people finally voted in a new government that comprised of the leftist coalition, the Syriza. They wanted change and to get out of the old social and economic conditions that did not offer a solution to the problems faced by the people.

I see a parallel with the politics in Singapore. The people find life to be difficult, with a high cost of living, and also wanted a change to a new economic and social order. The ruling party controls the funds and power and has a strong vested interest to maintain the status quo. They are like the creditor nations of Europe. The new Greek government is like the alternative parties in Singapore that has to win over the support of the people.

Will the people in Singapore have the courage to vote for the alternative parties and to face the uncertainty ahead to get the change that they wanted and needed?

It is interesting to watch what happened to Greece during the next two weeks.

Will Greece exit the Euro?

It has been very tough for Greece to find a solution to its economic and debt problems. The bailout programs offered by the richer countries of Europe had not worked over the past years. The economic conditions had gone worse.

The Greeks voted a new government, comprising of the left wing Syriza coalition. The new government was against the austerity program imposed by other European leaders. They just called a referendum and go the support of the people in voting against the austerity program imposed by the lenders. The voting in the referendum was a surprise 61% vote in support of the government's stand.

The Greek government wanted the lenders to take a discount on the past loans that they had lent to Greece. A possible outcome is that the strong support from the referendum will strengthen the hand of the Greek government in negotiating a substantial discount with the creditors.

The alternative option is for Greece to exit the Euro currency, a situation that Europe and Greece wanted to avoid. I expect that both sides will reach a compromise on the last minute to avoid this outcome, and that both sides will agree on that discount.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Wage growth will not be disastrous

The conventional wisdom is that wage growth without productivity gain will be bad for Singapore's competitiveness. See this report:

This is an illusion. It was spun by people with vested interest to suppress wages, starting from our government and echoed by business leaders.

The wage component of our total cost is probably quite low, compared to most other developed countries. We can afford a higher component in wage cost, without getting into trouble.

Three other components can be adjusted to allow for higher wages - rental of premises, top management salaries and shareholder profits. These components are probably much higher than other countries, and lead to an unbalanced and unsustainable structure in Singapore.

We have to accept the restructuring of our cost components. Do not be misled by people with vested interest in the status quo.

Click & Collect Service

It is a good idea for a supermarket or department store to provide a "click and collect" service. Customers can order online and collect their goods from a convenient location near their home. Delivery to their home may not work if there is nobody at home to receive the goods.

Marks & Spencer in the UK is introducing this service. Our local supermarkets can learn from their example.

Smart City - Japan shows the way

Singapore is building a smart nation concept. We need to learn from Japan. They adopt a more practical approach.

SingPass adopted a sensible approach towards enhanced security

SingPass has launched an enhanced security measure. It is explained as follows:

Users have to go to and log in first to verify their details and sign up for the new SingPass. Under this system, users will log in with their username and SingPass as per usual. When they perform sensitive transactions, they will also have to input a one-time password which will be sent to their mobile phones, or generated through a token.
I like this approach of identifying which are normal transactions, where enhanced security is not required, and sensitive transactions, where a one time password is sent to the mobile phone. I find the mobile phone to be more practical, unlike the use of a bulky token.

SingPass seemed to have got it right. Well done!

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Ten Most Peaceful Countries in the World

Add caption
The ten most peaceful countries in the world, starting from the top are:

1. Iceland
2. Denmark
3. Austria
4. New Zealand
5. Switzerland
6. Finland
7. Canada
8. Japan
9. Belgium
10. Norway

7 countries are in Europe, 1 in North America, 1 in Asia and 1 in Australasia.

Singapore did not make it within this list - most probably because of our high military expenditures.

Avoid useless regulations

The cost of complying with useless regulation is mind blogging. This writer identifies that the source of the regulation is America. But, in Singapore, we also have our own wasteful activities - doing paperwork that are useless and adding to the cost of doing business.

I wonder if our useless activities are also caused by the regulations that come from America. Quite likely, this is the case, but our regulators should have the guts and the independence to draw a line between what is necessary and what is not.

By enforcing a high level of compliance of useless regulations and paperwork, we are adding to the cost of doing business in Singapore.

Impact of Greece Default on Singapore's lending to IMF

Kenneth Jeyaretnam said that the Finance Minister had misled Parliament when he said that the loan to IMF does not carry any risk. If Greece defaults, the IMF will lose a lot of money and the lenders may have to take a loss.

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