Thursday, November 19, 2015

More companies report losses than profits

For every 1 company that makes a profit in Singapore, there are 2 companies reporting losses. Something is wrong with our economic system in Singapore. This proportion does not seem right.

It shows that the cost of doing business is too high,and the difficulty of earning revenue in a highly competitive environment.

Some companies have to resort to questionable methods to earn revenue to report a profit.

Where do I get the figures? From our IRAS.

Express bus service

Should we have express bus service in Singapore?
cast your vote in this website:

Reduction in travel time on bus

I have calculated the reduction in travelling time by adopting the system of feeder and express bus, instead of the current system.
The average reduction is 20%. I think that this is under-estimated and the actual reduction could be higher at 30%.

What's Wrong #14 - Long travelling time for a bus

Passengers find that a journey by bus takes a long time. It discourages them from taking the bus.

What's wrong?

Our bus has to stop at each bus stop every 400 meters.  A journey of 20 km will require the bus to stop at 50 bus stops. (I checked with service 163). Each stop will take an additional 1 minute for the bus to slow down, to wait for passengers to board and alight and to take off.

If the bus has to make many stops, it causes the journey to be jerky. It does not make good use of the dedicated bus lanes.

How to put it right
We can convert many of the bus services to be an express service that serves a limited number of major stops, e.g. every 2 km and to have feeder buses to serve the intermediate stops. A passenger can take a feeder bus to the next major stop and board an express service.

As the boarding and alighting is at the same stop, it should be quite convenient for the passenger to make this transfer. It is easier to transfer from a feeder bus to an express bus, compared to transfer to a MRT train.

Although the passenger has to wait for the feeder bus and the express bus and perhaps another feeder bus, the total travelling time should be reduced significantly using the new system.

As an experiment, we can transfer from of the buses that run a particular service to be an express service. For example, half of the buses that run service 163 (say) can be converted to 163E that will make a limited number of stops. 

Passengers can wait for the normal service 163 or take a feeder bus to the next major stop to take the express service 163E. We can gauge the preference of the public for this service.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What's Wrong #13 - Display in the bus to show the next bus stop

Our buses do not have a display to show the name of the next bus stop. 

The passengers may not be familiar with the bus stops. They do not know where to get off the bus. They can ask other passengers, but some of them don't know either. Some prefer not to be disturbed.

The bus driver may be unable to help the passenger, due to language barrier or if the bus driver is a foreigner who has only recently arrived into Singapore. In a crowded bus, the passenger cannot move to the front to talk to the bus driver.

Even if the passenger is familiar with the bus stops, they may still miss their bus stop when it is dark at night or it is raining heavily or when the bus is packed.

What's wrong?
This will discourage passengers from taking the bus, as they do not know where to get off to change to another bus or when reaching the destination. They will take the MRT trains even when it is not the best mode of transport. It also lead to over crowding of the train.

How to put it right
Have a display in the bus to show the name of the next bus stop and the KM reading of that bus stop.

This information is already available in the fare meter at the exit of the bus. It is relatively inexpensive to have a large display to show the information that is already available in the fare meters.

It is important to show the KM of the bus stop, together with the name of the bus stop. The passenger can take note of the KM of the desired bus stop. By watching the KM of the next bus stop, the passenger knows the remaining distance to the desired stop and also know if he or she had missed the bus stop.

How to calculate the yield for a limited payment policy

Hi Mr. Tan
I know how to use the "Rate" function in Excel to calculate the yield for an insurance policy where the premium is payable throughout the term.
A popular policy that is sold today have premium payable for 5 years, but the maturity benefit is payable after 10 or 15 years.
How can the yield be calculated for this type of policy?

You have to use the IRR function in Excel. It allows you to indicate the cash flow for each year over a certain period. In the above example, you are paying a premium for 5 years, so this has to be entered in 5 rows. There is a gap of 10 years for which there is no premium payment, so you enter 0 for the next 10 rows. After 15 years (i.e the beginning of year 16), you have a cash payment back to you.

See this article for an explanation and example of how to use the IRR function.

What's Wrong #12 - Badly designed business processes

Many companies and government agencies have business processes that are badly designed. They put all their forms and instructions in a poorly designed website that is difficult for their customers to navigate. It is also painful for customers to submit online forms. They need help and have to call the helpdesk anyway.

What's wrong?
The organizations try to save a few minutes of their staff's time. In the process, they require the customer to spend one hour or more to submit an online request. 

Often the customers need help, and have to contact the help desk. The organization have to provide staff to man the helpdesks. The total saving in staff time to the organization is negligible. They could be spending more staff's time in answering enquiries from their customers.

How to put it right
Have help desk staff that can help the customers to do the following:

a) Submit an online form. The staff is familiar with the requirements, as they handle the forms daily. The customer is not clear about the requirements and usually need someone to explain what needs to be done.

b) Help customers to locate an instruction PDF or an online form. Send a link by email to the customer. This is easier than helping the customer to navigate through a complicated website going through many webpages and links.

c) Where the front line staff is unable to handle a difficult enquiry, they can refer the case to an expert or specialist to call back the customer.

d) Provide a personal email or mobile phone number for an expert or specialist to provide support to the customer. The direct contact will be more efficient. 

What's Wrong #11 - Too much trouble to reach a person

I called Singapore Power Services to get help due to a bug in their website that disallowed me to submit an online application to open an account.

I have to go through a tiresome process to pass through six barriers in their interactive voice response (IVR) system.

List to 1 minute announcement on something that does not concern me.
Press 1 to select English language.
Press 2 to open or close a new account 
Press 1 to open or close a new residential account
Press 1 to open a new residential account 
Press 2 to open an account now.

As I had to contact SP Services a few times due to several problems with the process, I had to suffer the tiresome process each time.

What's wrong?
There is no need to require the caller to listen to  IVR  messages and press some many buttons. 

SP Services should simplify the process and avoid wasting so much time of the customer. They should be considerate in the design of their IVR system.

How to put it right
If there is really a need to segregate the handling of residential and commercial accounts, the customer should only be required to select the language and the type of account, i.e. 2 button presses instead of 6 presses.

It should be quite easy for the same team of staff to handle the opening, closing and general enquiry on an account. There is no need to segregate the work down to such a detailed level.

What's Wrong #10 - Too much trouble to open a utilities account

SP Services requires the owner or tenant to open an utilities account on each occasion where there is a change of tenancy. They have a complicated process to open an account. It includes providing documents to verify identity of the person who is paying the bills. The online website has bugs, even today. They also have a troublesome process to read the meters.

What's wrong?
The process is troublesome for the person for the owner and tenant. It took me more than one hour to handle the simple formality of opening the account and providing the information. This is more troublesome for the owner who has to make a special visit to complete the paperwork and to arrange the meter reading.

How to put it right
Just allow a change of name and billing address of the person who is paying the bills. This can be done by a simple online request or by a request sent by fax. 

If there is any issue about the ability to pay the bills, ask the payer to send a deposit. They are already required to pay the deposit anyway.

There is no risk that an unauthorized person who apply for utilities to the premise. Who wants to do such a thing? There is no need to check that it is the owner or the tenant who is applying for the supply. If this check is removed, the process can be simplified.

It is easy for the existing or new account owner to take a photograph of the meter reading and send to SP Services. There is no need to make a visit. Both the old and new account payers will probably not mind any small difference in the bill.

It is possible for SP Services to simplify this process for a transfer of name. There is no need to open or close an account, and to do it in a very troublesome way.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Singapore Power's IVR system beat them all!

Singapore Power's interactive voice response system beats all other companies for being tiresome.

After calling 1800 2222333, I get the following:

1 minute announcement on something that does not concern me.

For English press 1, for Chinese 2, etc
For billing enquiry press 1 for opening a new account press 2
For opening a new residential account, press 1 for opening a new commercial account, press 2
Open residential account press 1, close residential account press 2
To listen to procedure, press 1 to open an account now, press 2

Congrats to Singapore Power. They managed to ask the caller to go through 5 options just to talk to somebody.

1 - 2 - 1 - 1 2

As I have to call them 5 times today, due to problems with their website and other issue, it can be very frustrating to waste so much time.

When will Singapore Power think about the convenience of their customers?

How to make things difficult for the consumer

It is very common for simple matters to take a lot of time. I have another terrible experience, this time with Singapore Power. My tenant is moving out of my house. I have to submit an application to transfer the account to my name.

After a lot of trouble calling their call center, I was told that the easiest way was to fill up an online application form. They have to direct me to find that form, because it was hidden in their website "maze".

In filing up the form, I have to provide them with the date of issue of my NRIC (luckily I carried it with me) and also with the postal code of my tenanted home (which I had to take a lot of trouble to find this 6 digit code).

On submitting my application, I got this strange message, which must be a bug.

Inline image 1

I could not submit the application. I had to waste one hour today calling your hotline
(which is another terrible experience). 

Finally, I have to fill up a paper form and send over to Singapore Power. It was difficult because they print the application form on two pages, and I have to find a fax machine that can handle two pages. 

Why does Singapore Power make it so difficult for the consumer?

Suggestion: It would be wonderful if I could call a hotline staff who can help me to complete this application. It will probably take the staff 5 minutes and save me one hour of my time.

Managing the property market

This article asks the question, "Will the average Signaporean get burnt if the ABSD is removed"?

He explained that the ABSD (Additional Buyer Stamp Duty) and the restriction on loans were introduced to reduce speculation in the property market. If the ABSD is reduced or removed, the impact on the property market is uncertain and different people would be affected differently..

His argument shows the difficulty of managing a complex market with buyers, sellers and speculators.

In the past, there was a solution to prevent this kind of erratic market. The government acted as a buffer. If there was an over supply, the government absorbed it and waited a few years for the market to reach its new equilibrium. If there was an increase in demand, the government increased the supply (and do not worry about facing a glut later on.

When a government takes on the task of managing the market cycle, it helped to create stability in the market. It worked in the best interest of all parties.

During the past three decades, the government reduced its role in the market. They decided that it is best for the market to take care of supply and demand. In some cases, the government acted as a participant in the market with the same mentality as the speculator!

It is time for the government to get back to play its fundamental role. It should act as a buffer to match changes in supply and demand.

Dispute on paying a third party claim

Mr Tan,
I read the letter in the Straits Times about the motor insurance claim handled by NTUC Income, the company that you were CEO previously.

Do you agree with the manner in which the claim manager handled the claim? He paid the claim (which the policyholder claimed to be fraudulent, based on the photos taken at the time of the accident).. He told the policyholder to dispute the case on his own in court, if he insist on fighting the claim.


It is possible that NTUC had some reason to believe that the photos provided by the policyholder were not sufficient to dispute the claim.

But, if this was not the case, it would have been better for NTUC to pay the claim (if they decide that it was the best way commercially), and still allow the policyholder to keep his No Claim Discount and renew the policy without any loading.

The insurance agent sells a policy that is not affordable

Dear Mr. Tan
I need your advice.

I bought PruFlexiCash policy. The premium that I bought was extremely high for an average salaried worker. 

I thought I was misled into thinking that I can reduce my premium after 2 yrs and the premium difference will still be in my account. But this was not the case even after having repeatedly asked the agent about this issue. 

When I asked at the point of sale, she replied that I could reduce any time I want after 2 yrs. I had also asked about the penalty or implications for doing it, she answered no issues on the reductions.

I have filed a complaint with FIDREC but I sense that I will not succeed in the complaint. Can you advice me on what to do?

You can resubmit your complaint to FIDREC. You can show evidence that the monthly premium is unaffordable based on your monthly income less the regular expenses. The agent has failed in her  duty to ensure that the policy was suitable to you, based on your net monthly income. 

This would support your point that you had the impression that you would not suffer a penalty by paying a higher premium during the initial years, out of your past savings. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

IRR function in Excel

This article shows you how to use the IRR function in Excel to calculate the yield on a life insurance policy that has premiums payable for a limited number of years.

This Prusave policy should not be approved for sale to customers

This Prusave limited payment policy is being actively sold to many bank customers.

The writer of this article asked, "Is it suitable to any customer at all?
My answer is "no". Why should a customer buy this policy which gives such a poor deal? It virtually provides no protection and takes away a large part of the investment return.

My fear is that most customers do not understand the policy and might have bought it due to some mis-representation by the sales person.

But, I agree with the writer that such a "sub-par" policy should never have been approved for sale in the first place. This is a duty that falls on the Monetary Authority of Singapore, which they should not neglect.

Simple tips for Starhub to improve its service

A senior person in Starhub referred me to the person in charge of the Enterprise service. I sent this email to hi.

The problems that I faced (and it has been going on for a few years) are:

1. When I call 1631, the hotline staff does not know about the Argonar service.
2. When an expert calls me back, he does not give me a personal number that I can call him back (if there continues to be trouble).

1. Give a separate number that your customer can call on Argonar. Do not ask your customer to call a general number - 1631.
2. Give a personal number to your experts that have to troubleshoot the issue with the customer.Do not waste the time of your customer in trying to call back an expert. You are a telephone company. Allow your customer to contact your expert directly. Millions of people have personal numbers for their friends to contact. Can Starhub also provide this essential service?

A simple case of mis-selling.

Ugly truth behind investment linked policies.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Starhub expert does not have a mobile number

Many customers have said that the service provided by Starhub and SingTel are terrible. M1 is supposed to be better, but some customers have also complained about M1.

It is so sad. These companies have the capability of provided better service. But they are obstructed by their SOP that are written by people who lack common sense. The staff follow the SOP blindly, when a more common sense approach would be excellent.

Here is an example. I had some problem with the Starhub cloud service. I called 1631 but most of their hotline staff don't know about this service.

Finally, someone called me back. I asked for his name and mobile number. But he could not give me his mobile number. I asked - "Are you a telephone company?" Millions of people, including a foreign worker has a personal number. You don't have one?

He gave me some suggestion to log into their website to reboot my server. it did not work. I could not contact him back. I spent 1 hour trying to reach him. His colleagues could not locate him also.

So, it is so simple for Starhub to provide a personal number for their expert to help customer solve a complicated problem. They make matters so difficult by not offering this form of communication. And they are a telephone company!

Bad service provided by Starhub

Starhub has a bad way to service their customer.

I had a problem with their cloud service. Their expert do not have any personal telephone number that I can call them. I have to call their general number and go from one person to another to reach the person that I talked to me earlier.

Their expert finally call me and told me to use Internet Explorer, instead of Chrome, to access their cloud service website.

I did. I got another problem and had to return the call. My mobile phone contained his number, 68097000.

When I called, I got an automated message, "Dear Customer. Our attempt to contact you was unsuccessful. We will call you again".

My mobile phone is now black listed. There is no way that I can call them.

Do the people in Starhub use any common sense? Why provide these kind of automation to cut off communication with their customer. My Cloud service is still down.

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