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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BRAC Bank goes virtual, virtual job loss or creation?

Sajjadur Rahman writes in Daily Star.
It may sound quite alien to many in the country that a bank branch can be operated without any staff. But it's going to be true today. BRAC Bank, a growing private commercial bank, will open a branch without staff. The bank calls it a virtual bank, offering normal financial services as provided by a regular bank branch.“Virtual banking will deliver faster and real-time services to the customers and will reduce operational costs,” said Abedur Rahman Sikder, head of marketing and corporate affairs of BRAC Bank.Virtual banking provides convenient and secured banking services 24 hours a day. Initially, the bank's virtual services will include deposit and cash withdrawal, inquiries about balance, transfer of funds from one account to another, statement of account, and provision of new checkbooks. Telephone and online banking will also be available at that branch.The virtual banking will offer videoconferences within a couple of months so that clients can talk to bank officials in the event of any necessity, Sikder said.There will be four ATMs, three cash deposit machines, and three telephone lines at the virtual branch on 98 Gulshan Avenue. Many banks have gone for virtual banking with the growing commercialisation of the internet since 1990s. The system has replaced the traditional time-consuming banking in many countries in the last two decades.The world's first fully functional virtual bank was the Security First Network Bank (SFNB), which began operations on October 18, 1995 at Atlanta, Georgia in US.Some banks in India have already started virtual banking.“We are the first to start on virtual banking by opening a branch,” Sikder said. “Our objective is to push the customers to go for the new system, which is cost-effective,” he said. “We will be able to provide convenient banking for our clients,” said Sikder. (END)
Well so much so for BRAC Bank, their constant innovation seems to be paying them off pretty well. However just a paradox that pops up sometimes in my head is, how much automation is actually relevant in Bangladesh's context? I mean any sort of automation certainly implies some lay offs, some jobs dissolved...or does it not? I wonder if Bangladesh is the only country where ATMs are guarded by human agents, I don't know much about ATMs in other countries whether they have enough manpower to guard every single ATM to prevent security threats. ATMs of Bangladeshi banks have certainly created some employment opportunities for those who help us with the door while entering and coming out of an ATM booth. Now if banks start opening virtual banks such as this, does it also imply that we let go the opportunity to create a few jobs for some human beings in the process who could have otherwise been on the other side of the counters? Does automation come with a cost? Are we ready and willing to compromise it to provide superior quality to customers? May be BRAC Bank thinks 'yes'. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not so warm welcome

No matter how hard GP tries to uphold its company culture and values to internal and external audience by means of colorful posters, stickers and festoons in its office premises, all the efforts risk going in vain because of the personnel who are supposed to greet you with a smile at the reception. Outsourcing the security and external visitor registration to third party providers have become the norm for the MNCs these days. Grameen Phone seem to be no exception. However even my today’s encounter at the GP premises was no exception when I was ‘greeted’ by gloomy faced, uniform-clad, weary security personnel. Forget smile, they didn’t even bother to establish eye contact. Very reluctantly they forwarded me the registration sheet in which even more reluctantly I penned down half-correct information and proceeded inside the elevator with the swipe card.

The same day I had to make a visit to a leading multinational bank called StanChart, where I found that the doors and desks are manned by one of the leading security services agencies of the country. They were seen completely confused, stressed and irritated trying to answer queries of the queued visitors. I went to meet my friend Mr. Banker and informed the men in uniform the person I was looking for. They had a tough time scanning through the staff sheet at hand, and finally told me to go to level-6. Upon reaching the suggested level, I was ‘greeted’ with yet another layer of security (or door manning?). I told them that I came to meet Mr. Banker. They again went through their version of staff sheet and told me that Mr. Tanker is not available now. I was at a loss, as I had a prior tele-conversation with the person in question. I realized that the semi-educated security personnel couldn’t even hear a name right, couldn’t even spell out a name right. I also realized that after all they don’t belong to the company per se, they infact belong to the third party service provider in this case, G4S. But I wonder if companies like GP and StanChart don’t give any proper orientation or not to these personnel who man their receptions. Are they ever briefed from time to time about the host company’s culture, values and norms? Do they ever cross-check if the personnel at the first interface at the doorstep actually uphold the values to external guests? I wonder.
So even companies like G4S have tasks at hand. Mere giving basic martial arts training and basic etiquettes is perhaps not enough any more. A thorough understanding and knowledge about the host company’s values and norms is a must before they grab the business of placing their (wo)men in recipient companies. Otherwise, people like me will continue getting annoyed at the doorsteps of different companies, taking service for granted and accepting the fact that service with a smile is a myth in Bangladeshi corporates.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Unilevr's Khalu

Cloze Up 1: Tomakei Khujche Bangladesh (TKB) is perhaps the most successful event that has promoted Unilevr and its brand Cloze Up. For over three years Unilevr has been admired as one of the first multinational giants which has put much of its interest in bringing out the hibernated talents of Bangladesh. I, too, think highly of Unilevr for putting their valuable wealth in search for the ultimate music talents of Bangladesh. Certainly it’s worth praising. It doesn’t matter whether the idea has been copied or the set ups has been modified to suit the culture of the country; what matters most is the purpose of the job, and in this very case it can be stated without any doubt that the purpose was good enough.

Undoubtedly, Unilevr has a strong market research team, along with the very best business executives who work hard to keep the Unispirit up. Unilevr has shown strong business skills in their day to day operation, their managerial skills, and the dexterity in getting things done pursuing people with power. Like in the case of Cloze Up 1:TKB, the most awestricken reality show ever aired in Bangladesh. I look for answers to a couple of questions that I’d not have shown interest in if I were not engaged in writing business articles concerning Bangladesh in most of the times. The questions are:- 1) Despite having so many TV channels why did Unilevr choose NTV as their host? 2) Would Unilevr consider joining up with NTV if Mr. Khalu had not been associated with the company?

As accountants, often our purpose lies in finding out fields where we are putting our money in, and making no profit out of it. For management, we sort out it non-value added items, and try to find why these are happening. This process is called Activity Analysis in our terms. The process consists of two things, i.e. 1) Finding out root causes for an activity and 2) Sorting out activity triggers that are setting off the activities. Root causes are often difficult to identify, and require group discussions while sorting them out. For example, if you are producing cigarettes, you need to buy tobacco as your raw material. So when you procure tobacco, your root cause is to collect the main resource for the soundness of the production, and so on.

So, I went searching for the root causes that could answer my questions. I found the root cause to be very simple and straightforward. As I move on, please note that, all these thoughts of mine are based on assumptions. So, do not rely on this information. This article may change some of your view points in finding out the reasons behind Unilevr’s choosing of NTV as their host for the event of Cloze up1: TKB.

At the time Unilevr thought to stage the so called drama, the team of Mr. Khalu was in power. And it is widely known that Mr. Khalu had some unusual relationship with the Prime in a number of ways. If you are to get the blessings from the boss, you must satisfy his/her PA. Here, in this event, Unilevr may have persuaded Mr. Khalu to get oiled by the smooth hands of the Prime. One other thing, I have labelled Cloze Up 1: TKB as ‘Drama’ for, because I found it nothing but a drama! It’s a way to get rich by the contribution of public wealth. The mobile companies, along with Unilevr and NTV did a monstrous business through public sms; the revenue from each of the sms that I, he and you have sent has been evenly distributed among the three companies.

Did you know? The non resident Bangladeshis were given a chance to vote for the contestants through online voting. And no one was allowed to vote a candidate more than 5 times. And, most importantly no people living in the boundaries of Bangladesh were permitted to take part in the online voting as it would turn their sms business down! Huh! I smelled the rat, and voted Rumi more than 20 times a day changing my IP (Internet Protocol) address from my home at Dhanmondi. Guess, how fragile their voting system was for such a big event? Do you think they put much of their interest in planning for the program? No, they just thought of making business blackmailing public emotionally.
Moreover, the (three) judges were not satisfied with event management team, and at one stage they refused to run the judgement panel. Some newspapers covered news about these. However, I suppose NTV managed the whole matter with the power they have in them, obviously from the part of Mr. Khalu.

I don’t think Unilevr would have tied up with NTV if Mr. Khalu had not own this media. They may have gone either to Channel I or ATN. Everything would be same then, the channel would make money from advertising in between the gaps while the program ran, Unilevr would make profit from the sms, and getting promoted to more and more public. But . . . but Unilevr would never get a chance to handle political influences if they worked with Channel I and ATN.

Now for the third time Unilevr is going to arrange the event again. But the company’s Khalu is not in power anymore, and not even in the vicinity of their premises! But Unilevr certainly is long sighted, and they have not yet breached the unwritten contract between it and NTV.
Mr. Khalu will surely benefit this multinational giant sometime in future.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

On whom the axe falls

Hi. We are back again. I was away due to some personal reasons. Infact I got married. I am learning new things about life, as I am learning new things about corporate blogging and corporate buzzwords. The latest one which I heard is ‘hiring freezing’.

One of the leading telecom operators of the country has supposedly gone in the ‘hiring freezing’ mode in a bid to right-size its employee strength to meet the current market competition. Survival of the fittest it is going to be from now on. The 2000 something contractual employees who managed to get under the nice little blue propeller are passing days in uncertainty and confusion. No one is spared from the scrutinizing lenses of the big bosses up above. Time to say au revoir to the happy mama-chacha references and the happy days at the work desks. Roaring tigers and ‘not-so-worried’ other telecom operators are making sure that the blue propeller does not blow wind too strongly under their nose.

I still wonder in this freezing cold in the Bangladeshi job market, where else will the unlucky ones seek, search and settle their bread and butter? Which industry will accommodate the left-overs of the telecom industry? No idea yet. TBS. To be seen.