It’s not the first time I complain about HSBC now. For personal banking, the interest they give to your current account is dismal, 0.1% APR or something ridiculous. I tried to check on their website just now and I think they are trying to make it difficult for people to see their rates. You have to download PDF files before you can see the rates, and they make everything look so complicated. Used their credit card service before and to be honest with you, they are small in the credit card market. The bank is probably very lean and efficient. But as a customer if you have something you want to complain, they often come back to you with some incompetent “specialists” that are just poor. Take for example their credit card service. W had s transaction she wanted to refute but they came back with some mickey mouse “specialists” that have not even heard of chargeback. And you know what we have to explain to them instead what chargeback is. They then brought in in-house legal assistants and started denying our rights as consumers and very conveniently stayed away from the hassle, to save themselves work.As for business banking, they have a bunch amateurs working at the branch. I have deadline, given by the CAA, to secure a bond guarantee for my travel business within two months. Their so called commercial manager, a young chap, at the Reading branch is very well aware of that. They need cash deposit, fair enough, I provided them. I was reassured time and again that I will be able to get the bond certificate in about 2 days time once I have the money deposited in the account and have the application form sorted. However, I was called 2 days ago, after almost a month and a half of communication with that young chap, that I was denied by their “system”. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what exactly has gone wrong, when the full amount of cash is already in their account! How annoying is that?! It’s not as if I’m borrowing money from them, not a penny! You know what, he told me that he can’t do anything right now, as he can’t override the “system”. He could try again in three months time, but of course he’s aware that that’s not a solution, and it certainly doesn’t sound like he can get it right the next time either! How inflexible is the “system”, when even his senior manager can’t do anything about it. Unbelievable, like the decision from Rob Style to award a penalty to Chelsea today that never was, and which nobody can do anything about! Well done, that leaves me two weeks to sort out the bond.The “business specialists” may sound like they are always there to help you with your business when you set up the account with them. But no no, they are just good in setting up the account. When you contact them, almost 99% of the time you can only reach their voice mail. You’ll be lucky if they return your call the same day, if at all sometimes! Unbelievable. Often, they are only interested in trying to hook you into more of their service, like their payment processor. Contacting them via email is even worse! Don’t bother. It doesn’t seem like they check their email everyday. Asked the “specialist” who deals with setting up my account to get me some documents, like the mandate and signature specimen, when I set up the account, she didn’t know that she can just print them off their database. She gave me reasons that she had to go through their filing system in the basement, which is time consuming, and she couldn’t find the documents I wanted. The reason I knew she’s bollocks because after weeks of inaction from her, I decided to turn up at the branch when she was on holiday to try someone else. And his colleague did just that. Frustrating isn’t it. I hope that woman knows how ridiculous she is!I hope other banks are not as poor…
Annual return actually needs to be filed no later than 28 days from date of incorporation, rather than 28 days from a company’s financial end which we thought it would be. In fact to be precise, according to the Companies House website, annual return needs to be “delivered to Companies House within 28 days after the anniversary of incorporation or the anniversary of the made-up date of the last annual return”, where the made-up date is:”the date at which all the information in an annual return must be correct. The made-up date is usually the anniversary of:* the incorporation of the company; or* the made-up date of the previous annual return registered at Companies House.”To be honest, it’s not obvious when the previous annual return is registered at the Companies House. It’s probably best to just stick to the anniversary date of incorporation to avoid confusion. Anyway we probably shouldn’t be too worried as Companies House do send an annual return reminder every year. But of course that’s provided that the letter didn’t somehow get lost. Hmmm….back to remembering the data of incorporation.
Had a meeting with the CAA yesterday to discuss my application for the small business ATOL travel license. Everything seems fine, in my opinion. Think what they want is really to make sure that I’m not going to trade more than I’m authorised to, without giving them notice or providing them extra bond guarantee. This is fine for me for the time being as I’m likely not going to be swamped with business initially 🙂 In fact this small business ATOL works out to be very favourable for new startups, as it allows them to compete with the big players on a more level playing field in the travel industry. And most of all the customers are protected in case the company disappears or goes busted. Finger crossed, I should be receiving an offer letter within the next week or so, telling me requirements I need to fulfill before they will grant me the license, e.g. the amount of bond I need to provide, information about methods of payment and so on.
It is quite an experience setting up a business in the UK. Registering a company is no problem. The government has made this process very simple, which is an important step to encouraging people taking up business. But as with most fields of business in the UK, there are authorities that regulate them, and there are trade associations that give businesses “more” credibility. Fair enough, the former is necessary to protect the consumers’ interest, and to ensure that bogus businesses have no place in the market. But the presence of trade associations often pose significant hurdle to new start-ups in the business. Because, these trade associations will only admit companies that have traded a number of years and are willing to pay to become a member. Naturally, new start-ups have no track record in the business and so can not become members of the trade association. This becomes a significant disadvantage to the new company, as customers will likely not want to buy services or products from this company that does not display a logo showing that it is a member of the trade association. This is regardless of whether or not the customers know what these trade organisations actually do.Some good companies with years of track record do not join trade organisations of their field. Why? It is not mandatory. It costs money. These companies have good code of conduct anyway. So these trade organisations are not really adding that much value to what have already been imposed by their respective authority. On the contrary, they give incumbent and big companies edge in the business, as they give customers the impression that these companies are better, which may not always be the case. And quite often, it comes at a price to the consumers as well. Can you imagine these companies not charging you more to cover their membership cost and for their status as one of the members?What needs to be regulated should have been regulated by the authorities, for example CAA which protects customers from losing their money or being stranded abroad. It does this by carrying out checks on the travel organisers it licenses, called Air Travel Organiser’s License (ATOL), and requiring a financial guarantee called a bond, which is lodged with the CAA. If a travel organiser goes out of business, the CAA will make a refund to the customers, or if the customers are abroad, they will arrange for the customers to finish their holiday and fly home. Hence, don’t be fooled into thinking that trade organisations always have an important role to play in the market, as we can see in this case.
Ordered a rug 2 days ago at Next, a high street fashion clothing chain that recently also starts selling home furnishings. Paid �3.75 for delivery charge, because we don’t really want to be carrying that heavy thing home. Anyway, they don’t have stocks in their shop. The home furnishings stuff are there only for display. Their stocks are kept in the warehouse, which makes good sense, as these stuff take too much real estate to be stored in the shop.The concept is good. Next are leveraging their shops in the prime location of the high street, to augment their online retailing arm. This gives online shoppers a chance to touch and feel the products should they have doubts after browsing through their online catalogue. And by shopping with them, online, you know that you have the option of returning unsatisfactory goods by visiting their high street shop, rather than having to go through the tedious process of sending the items back by post, as offered by most online retailers.After having a look at their website, actually they are offering a lot more products than I initially thought! So it is very likely that they want to become a major online shopping portal too, taking on the likes of Argos, Tesco and Amazon (UK). Interesting. But Next is definitely behind the game when it comes to goods tracking and delivery. I was told by the sales girl that day at Next that the rug will be delivered to me in a week’s time (mind you that she was unable to tell me the exact date and time of delivery). But the rug was already on my doorstep when I got home today. I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, to have received today. But I wasn’t happy the fact that they just dump my package outside my house. Argos had never done this to me before. They allow me to specify the date of delivery (am/pm), and I make sure I’m at home. When things didn’t work out, due to my fault, there’s a system for me to rearrange the delivery relatively easily.Anyway, it’s still early stage for Next. We’ll see if they can really be a worthy player in this competitve market.
As a search engine, there’s no denying that Google is the king of the moment, accounting for more than half of Internet searches. The reasons for Google’s popularity can be down to its no nonsense, clean and tidy approach to the search interface and search results, giving us “good” starting points to what we want to look for in the current sea of information (or mess really). Some people even jokingly refer Google to as God, as it just seems to the most likely entity people will turn to when they have a question.As in most cases, I don’t believe that it’s healthy to have an overly dominant player in any field. We only have to look at why regulators always try to encourage competitions in a business environment. Credits to Google for getting into this position ahead of previously more household name like Yahoo, Lycos. And not to mention their role in taking advertising on Internet to another level. In doing so Google becomes one of the biggest companies in the world, with market capitalisation of more than $100 billion!A capitalist world has a funny way of rewarding individuals. Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google, is now the 26th richest person on the planet, with a net worth of $12.9 billion. In a world where there are around one billion people (one-sixth of world’s population) still suffering from hunger and malnutrition, it really does strike me if there’s a need for anyone to be this rich (and in such short period of time!). Afterall, what can you buy with $2 billion that you can’t buy with $1 billion?To be honest with you, I don’t know Sergei Brin all that much. So it’s probably unfair to pick on him as an example. But Google’s recent acquisition of a 2-year-old video sharing website, youtube.com, for $1.6 billion is yet another madness in this capitalist world don’t you think? No disrespect to youtube’s community generated video content, but they are at best amateur. Compared to content generated by say BBC, the stuff on youtube are really of low educational value, by and large, and of really poor quality. Some are quite entertaining, but mostly are rubbish. And tell you what, there will be even more rubbish, as will be triggered in much the same way as by Google on most rubbish that we all see on the Internet today, thanks largely to Google Adsense, that allows webmasters to easily display pay-per-click advertisements on their websites.The business logic of buying youtube is mainly its ability to command eyeballs, with 20 million visitors every month and growing, and hence potentially more advertising revenue. But it is ashamed that such a big sum of money (not a big sum for Google of course as they have so much crazy money in the form of inflated shares) is paid to such a low value entertainment portal that doesn’t do all that much.Anyway, let’s hope that these not-so-coventional rich men can also follow the example of Warren Buffet in contributing their self made fortune back to the society, rather than blowing them off too easily…
To survive in the current business environment, efficiency is no doubt absolutely vital. But for supermarket chain like Tesco to record �1.15bn profits (for the first half of the year), we are talking about more than just surviving! Money has to come from somewhere, to make up the figure. So naturally, consumers are the one who pay, as they purchase products from the supermarket. However, the consumers are not losing out here, as a trolley of 100 common items bought at Tesco would cost only 74p (according to The Grocer) less at Asda, which claim themselves to be the cheapest supermarket chain in the UK. The clear losers are the producers and farmers. According to the Welsh dairy farmers �supermarkets are charging up to 57.5p per litre for milk with farmers receiving around 17p. Ten years ago supermarkets were charging 44p and farmers received over 24p�.I understand that public listed companies are designed to deliver performance to the shareholders. But for these supermarkets to (partly) booze their profits by squeezing money out from the farmers make Microsoft looks like a saint. At least Microsoft’s biggest shareholder, Bill Gates, is making good use of his wealth and set up one of the largest charitable foundation in Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
Today I paid a rare visit to the corner shop just down the road from where I live. As one could easily have guessed, I went there for the milk. Although the corner shop was not a place I particularly enjoyed buying my stuff from, it was convenient for me. I bought a 2-pint bottle of milk, and it costed me the same as buying it from Sainsbury in town. I was surprised, as I thought corner shops should price slightly higher to survive these days.It’s a pity that more and more corner shops are being squeezed out by big supermarket chain, not just in the UK. I remember back in Malaysia, when I was a kid, the owner of a sundry shop used to deliver groceries to my house on a motorbike. All the goods that were delivered were recorded in a little “555” booklet, and we only needed to settle the payment once a month. In the french movie “Amelie”, the groceries delivery boy even possessed keys into apartments so that groceries can be delivered “safely” into the apartments. That was the kind of trust and relationship people had with the local sundry shop back then, which I think was lovely.Come to think about it now, after 20 years, this kind of home delivery service is now back on the menu as one of the list of services big supermarket can offer to the consumers, at a cost and without the personal touch from someone you are familiar with. For groceries shopping, it’s hard to see how this service model can gain more market share or be profitable for the supermarket, and be valued by the customers. Nevertheless for the corner shops left in the UK, which do not do local delivery, and make little effort to personalise their service, I’m afraid that their days are numbered.