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Thursday, October 30, 2008

When Things Couldn't Get Any Worse

Couple months back, I wrote an article regarding Grameenphone's proposed $300 million IPO. I had concluded that instead of investments in Bangladesh, this money would leave first-class to Norway. GP and others have covered every nook of Bangladesh and they aren't interested in upgrading to 3G anytime soon when barely no one uses the internet, or talks with a smart phone or really knows how to operate a smart phone. (This is meant in a broader sense so don't be insulted if you fall in this category -which you probably do)

I shouldn't gloat. But just recently Telenor bought 60% of Unicom Wireless for a staggering $1.07 billion. This is more astonishing considering Unicom only paid $337 million for the India-wide mobile license earlier this year. Initial estimates are that they have to spend an additional $3 billion in the next three years to compete in a market that already has Virgin, Vodafone, Reliance, Tata and Airtel. Telenor investors didn't really digest this news really well, and the stock tanked 26%.

So Telenor needs $1.07 billion fast. I wrote couple months back that $300 million of the Bangladeshi IPO would be used for not-in-Bangladesh ventures. Since that was delayed to March 2009, a new Bangladeshi bond project worth $60 million in in the works. Newspapers did not connect the dots, but its safe to assume that the $60 million will be used to finance the Indian venture and not any Bangladeshi projects. Furthermore this $60 million bond is to be offered to private institutional investors. The same investors that Grameenphone decided to eliminate and provoke with GP's weird mobile-phone banking proposal. But then again Bangladeshis are highly skeptical of anything that involves India. Now its a double whammy -India and Grameenphone.

But $60 million from Bangladesh isn't going to cut it even if it is successful. Telenor is planning yet another IPO (or share sale to be specific) only this time in Norway. And only this time they 'plan' to raise $1.78 billion from the Norwegian market in the midst of their stock taking a dive and the entire world also taking a dive. It wouldn't surprise me if Telenor decided to hold multiple IPOs worldwide and slash the targets as time passes.

And this is the worst it could get right? Wrong.

Just recently, Russia decided to freeze (not literally as Telenor first assumed) all of Telenor's shares in Vimpelcom (the second largest mobile phone company there). Why? Because only this time instead of Yunus, Telenor has Mikhail Fridman as a partner. To make matters difficult Fridman is not aware what a Nobel Prize is or that he has been nominated for one multiple times. This is one Russian gangster who is too rich to pay off and doesn't make empty threats on Norwegian TV. Instead he works his magic and the next day Telenor has its shares frozen. And this is only his first baby step.

And this time, it is Telenor whining and making empty threats to Fridman.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Creative advertising in full swing

Undoubtedly the advertising industry in the country is booming, with so many classic advertisements and promos through various media. As always, however, we focus always on the rich and wealthy companies and tend to overlook the lower end of the spectrum. This part of the business value chain, with their mostly inherited sense of doing business, are doing their best to spread the word around about their businesses, themselves, their services and other rules and regulations concerning their activities. As the images indicate, perhaps there is much room for some improvement and hand-holding for these small businesses who are trying hard to market themselves.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

There is a Problem When the DSE Looks Like This:

Notice something awkward? That is list of the largest companies listed on the DSE. However banks now dominate 11 of the top 20 spots. This is more alarming than reassuring.

The good news first. Banks are a low risk and secure investments in most countries. This is characterized by their low beta factors. The beta factor, which usually ranges from 0.5 to 3, for a stock measures its volatility to the entire market conditions. New and fast growing industries, such as software, have a beta factor of around 2, meaning if the market goes up the stock shoots up 2 times. If the market does poorly, the stock does tend to do two times worse. Old and stable industries, such as banks, have a beta factor of around 1. This makes banks worldwide one of the safest investments.

The DSE fared better in the worldwide recession because all banks had localized investments. The DSE itself is still dominated by these banks. There was no reason to panic other than to a yearning to pose like a now-trendy distressed investor. Granted these effects will likely hit the garments in six months time, but regardless of this the DSE banks won't lose 80% of their market value. That's simply because they haven't invested 80% of their money in the wrong industries. So with more reassurance and relief, people are still shielded.

Lack of Inventories
Now that most investors believe in banks is a good sign of stability and investment security. Banks dominating the stock exchanges also has to do with the nature of their business. For starters there is very little scope for accounting wizardry. Accounting wizardry's main playing field is usually in inventories. The closest thing that banks have to an inventory is 'cash'. And as you know cash is extremely easy to valuate. To realize the full potential of accounting wizardry we have to look into the diamond industry. Diamond is not a commodity and its price depends on very particular characteristics which include the shine, cut and purity. The diamond company can overstate assets and inventories as they please. And most industries extend this shining example in every way possible. But because banks lack this cloudy assets, it is nearly impossible for this magic to take place.

The second reassurance is that most banks have not reevaluated their assets. This means that the land that they paid Tk 10 lakh for in 1988, is still considered to be worth the same to the bank despite the astronomical increase in land prices. This may give an undervalued and inaccurate picture but it is better than the alternative. When a company tries to reevaluate its assets, it is considered highly controversial. Since no one has a certain valuation, the company in most cases overstate their assets justifying things like competitive-edge and potential for future earnings. This in turn ends up being more harmful and inaccurate rather than undervalued assets. But thankfully (not yet) banks haven't taken this step.

Anybody but Alamgir
The third reason that banks are dominating the DSE is that they use big-box accounting houses for their auditing instead of hiring Alamgir across the road. This is more reassuring because even though Alamgir will find it hard to apply his magic, big accounting firms will clearly look for any possible danger signals. This goes to show that despite the short term idiotic moves here and there by DSE investors, in reality they have a brain. One that works in the long term but clearly it doesn't function on many day to day issues.

The Alarm
But the domination of banks goes to show that the SEC has failed miserably. The telecoms haven't listed yet. Banglalink is not willing to list. AKtel keeps setting a year end date. And GP might list with a $1 at the rate they are slashing their IPO. This in the middle of when the entire industry now has less phone lines than earlier (how is that even possible?). While the telecom industry remains stodgy in their dry spell, the SEC continues to pursue other future Z category stocks instead of other multi-nationals like Unilever.

It was mentioned in one blog that GQ Ball Pen earned all their money in the first 6 months and had losses for the last 6, leaving very little as stock dividends. Yet the SEC continues to pursue future Z category stocks of this caliber and force them to list. The problem is not for them to list, but the fact that these list of Z-ers ask Alamgir to do their accounting holding a fat wad of cash if the magic is applied correctly. The SEC, from day 1, should simply have a list of acceptable accountants that the listed companies must use. If the accounting firm's company does poorly despite auditing then the firm should be removed from the list. What is the point of forcing to list these companies if they won't register a trade in the next century?

Recently in support of future Z-ers, BGMEA during another round table meeting asked entrepreneurs (Zers) to pursue the capital market as a source of funds. This was in reaction to banks already tightening up their belts. But the cost of asking the market to fund your company will appeal to many for the wrong reasons. Like many who have performed this extravaganza in the past, the money disappears right then. DSE still lingers of the stench caused by this bait in its nascent years.

And no one, for the right reasons, will not take funding from the market because as everyone knows, the cost of this money is extremely high when compared to a bank loan. Even in the rare case if an established entrepreneur does raise money through the capital markets he/she is more inclined to pay back the bank and himself first before paying a dividend. The entrepreneur will not care about dividends because he has got himself covered with a fat salary. So as both a top level manager and a shareholder of the company he has no intention to control the salaries paid out. To see why this is very crucial, in banks management and shareholders are in two groups. By keeping an eye on management salaries the shareholders are increasing their dividends. There is no conflict of interest for the shareholder representatives.

What we don't need is SEC to pursue a bigger version of this same capital market lie. Thankfully, as of now, this lie isn't working as evident how banks dominate the top positions. But creating a balanced market place is also necessary and crucial for the future of DSE. The SEC needs to clean up DSE's Z as well as set up accounting standards that prevent the Zs. But as usual, nothing has happened yet.

Friday, October 24, 2008

NewsCred offering credible news to the world

Do you belong to one of those people who jumped in joy hearing the news that Sushmita Sen was crowned the Miss Universe award in 1994? Do you remember the time when our newspapers were flooded with her images and our sentiments of Bengali heritage and the pride... that after all...Sushmita is a Bengali (even before she is an Indian...however a topic open to debate...and not in this blog). Similarly when Amartya Sen won the Nobel, we were also elated thinking that finally a Bengali has done it again...after ofcourse King Tagore. You know what, the starting question of this post actually applies to me, I was a school-goer when Sushmita reached the pinnacle of success and I spent days of awe and pride assuming that what an unbelievable combination a Bengali girl can have...brain, body, personality, appearance..all in one package...and she is after all...a So I personally always looked for occasions in the global platform where I could be a part of the merry-making and shine of glory of fellow Bengalis and Bangladeshis or both. Even though Sushmita is first of all an Indian and then a Bengali, I tried to utilize that faint link of 'our being Bengali' and be happy.

Similar joy and pride hit me when the news about NewsCred reached my ears. A Bangladeshi newspaper claimed that its one of the happening and popular internet-startup set up by...guess...? two Bangladeshis! I was elated and and felt proud that Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have started emerging as the new 'Larry' and 'Eric' and 'Mark Zuck' in today's business world. I was not late in checking out their website here to find out how our Desi Bhais have done something so extraordinary and how we can learn from it. Well, I will certainly shy away from giving a review on their business and website, you can do it yourself if you Google them up. What I understand is that, they are doing well and they have a good business model. What I didn't however find in their 'Our Story' section, was the name 'Bangladesh'. And that is what made me wonder why I jumped in joy hearing Sushmita's winning the Miss Universe Crown...what was in it for me? Did that help me uplift my brand image as a Bengali? Did that help me avoid being singled out in global platform as being a Bangladeshi? May be...may be not. Similary, NewsCred founders say that one of them is from Sweden and the other one studied in the US. Wonder why they stopped short of saying that they are Bangladeshis and/or from Bangladesh. However, all this hoopla might go down the drain if the young entrepreneurs are NOT actually Bangladeshis. They might be born and brought up in the countries which are thousand miles away from Bangladesh any ways. Also, I am not sure if carrying a Bangladeshi brand behind your back will decrease your chances of getting a deep-pocket venture capitalist or not. Brand Bangladesh for business is yet to perhaps take up a soild shape.

Nevertheless, I would always be proud if NewsCred would like to share some of their glory with the name 'Bangladesh', that is if they at all are from Bangladesh in the first place, otherwise, sorry for this nagging to get a share of the success you and we and I...all share the same country label....which needs a well-deserved rebranding in all means...and global business is the best way to do that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beyond Melamine...the Milky Chaos

Mr. Mofijuddin Milky, 36, private service holder, father of two sees more to this recent chaos regarding powder milk, which is one of the major items as baby food. The elated yet confused Mr. Milky wishes to thank the following with regard to this developing story.

He would like to thank God almighty first of all for bringing down this divine punishment to the sector which produces and markets powder milk in Bangladesh. He thanks Him for punishing these over greedy profit-mongers who happen to adjust (read increase mindlessly) prices for their powder milk almost every month. He thinks 'what goes round comes round', since those companies have taken the general consumers hostage for a long time, now its God's will that they get a taste of their own medicine.

Mr. Milky would also like to thank the media for singing in unison against the companies and
their brand who are 'caring enough' to feed melamine...perhaps as a replacement to calcium,
iron etc. to our babies. Media plays a big role in making or breaking or shaping up an industry. Journalists have babies too...they had been held hostage to this price crime by powder milk producing companies...and Mr. Milky thinks that its good that the journalists have joined this Jihad against this indiscriminant price tyrants. So this is not the time to pick and choose, its time to brush fire and the whole industry needs to bear the backlash fuelled by leading media in the country.

Mr. Milky also hails the media as those suspected companies are using that very media platform to publish their announcements of innocence and claiming that their product is free from melamine. So media is surely in the dominant role in these trying times. However he suspects that some of those rogue companies might be trying their best to convince some media and their mouthpieces to stop bullshitting and save their falling brand images and the consequential loss of consumer faith.

Mr. Milky thanks the lab of the Chemistry Department at Dhaka University, the Plasma lab,
the BSTI and all others for making the water muddier. He underscores that all kind of
revolution and protest against the odds and evils have always generated from the Dhaka University and this time as well, is no exception. So he thinks that this movement will be a success.

Mr. Milky would like to have a good laugh at the Government for making yet another committee and trying to find out what to do and what to advise to general citizens. He whips that starting from Tata's investment proposal to moon sighting during Eid, what they always do best is forming committees and then getting confused and remain without a decision until the general mass and media lose all interest to follow the topic any further and the issue goes into oblivion.

However, Mr. Milky is still worried about what to feed his children, one 2 years and one 5 year old. He has decided to cut down on his occasional habit of eating himself the infant food and he would advise his wife to do the same, given the scarcity of baby food. He is hopeful that this crisis would bring down the price of a vital product such as baby food down to tolerable limits and within the buying limit of the middle class. He would still keep on thinking about food items for his children...he plans to contact Pizza Hut and World Food Programme (WFP) if children in Bangladesh can be fed delicious pizzas from their very early years to alleviate hunger once and for all from the face of Bangladesh.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grameenphone vs 40 Banks: India Weighs In

The Background
I will start out with some background info. Late last year Grameenphone proposed its own biased version of a 'mobile banking' guideline. This shocked all the local banks as it did the international ones making them group together in opposition because mobile banking has nothing in similar to what Grameenphone had proposed.

Furthermore Grameenphone had 'accommodated' consultants to fly around the world, and to report back how mobile banking is a good idea (it is). But they also indicate indirectly that Grameenphone's version is the one used worldwide (far from it) because GP is the payee for accommodation and airfare.

This had led to a spark in newspapers who were divided whether to publish the truth or get to get a year's worth of GP advertisements which even Standard Chartered, HSBC and Citibank cannot match. Prothom Alo published an astounding editorial by the former deputy-governor of Bangladesh Bank lambasting Grameenphone's scheme for confusing people about the nature of mobile banking. This was the best Bangla composition I had read in a long time. The Financial Express published another article despite censoring Grameenphone's name. The Daily Star started out as pro-Grameenphone but soon turned the other way realizing that this news was too far of a stretch.

What differences are there? Even though there are numerous fallacies in GP's proposal, it boils down to GP attempting to hijack 40 backs by preventing to access the mobile infrastructure and in place allow GP to benefit from this vacuum. Although this may seem minor this has very large consequences as no where in the world does such an idea exist.

India weights in
Bangladesh has a history in following the Indian regulatory bodies. WiMax gets issued in India, then its time for Bangladesh to issue WiMax. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the regulatory banking body, exactly what Bangladesh Bank is to all the local banks. Much to the delight of Grameenphone, RBI halted all mobile banking transactions throughout India to create a framework.

GP had assumed that since mobile banking in India was conducted by banks, the temporary halt would mean more liberties to the telecom sector in line with GP's version of mobile banking. Many others had assumed similar fate as India's mobile phone companies are owned by powerful and vested quarters capable of flying and accommodating more consultants, place more TV and newspaper ads than GP.

The RBI, just last month, concluded on the guidelines. They are:

  • Mobile banking only between one bank account to another (GP only wanted mobile number to mobile number, wanted to prevent bank account to bank account and even bank account to mobile number)
  • A limit of Rs 2500 (Tk 3,523.46) and in exceptional cases and under strict supervision Rs 5000 (Tk 7,046.25) for these bank account transactions. (GP proposed a base limit of Rs 21,287 (Tk 30,000) which is 8x larger than Indian limits)
  • As with mobile banking in the rest of the world, phone companies are not a stakeholder in this issue. (GP wanted to be the in the center of the issue by making the laws and preventing banks from mobile banking)
  • Only banks can authorize transactions (GP wanted GP to authorize transactions)
  • Only banks can accept money (GP wanted to open up a network of GP bank branches to accept money)

Many consultants and people have pointed out that mobile banking will take banking facilities to everyone as more people have phones than bank accounts. I strongly agree, but this vision is not applicable to Grameenpone's butchered version of mobile banking. India not only has a larger population but one that is more rural and spread out further than Bangladesh. Yet out of all the benefits they went for mobile banking, but not GP's version of mobile banking.

Similarly in Vietnam, less than 10% of the population have bank accounts but clearly more phone customers. But according to the consultants visiting Vietnam on GP's money, Vietnam should let GP solve this by bringing GP's version of mobile banking. What did Vietnam do instead? They got rid of more regulations that lets banks off the leash to serve the 'unbanked' and more freedom to expand further. Phone companies are strictly a medium, they were never equated to banking or mobile banking.

Much like GP's IPO valuation, its version of mobile banking follows the same logic as a supermodel's cure for world hunger and poverty. It is funny when they propose it, self-delusional and some misinformed people may be touched but yet we all move on in the end.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On Mobile Banking

This write-up is inspired by Mr. Ahmed Ali's post "Grameenphone Attempted to Rob 40 Banks", it caught my eye and made me think...

Well mobile banking is an emerging concept, its a great concept, no doubt about it. There are several aspects of mobile banking in terms of implementation. Now I do not have any inside data on which model Grameenphone has proposed to operate, for the simplicity let's assume, by mobile banking, a Grameen subscriber will be able to deposit his money to his cellphone account, will be able to transfer it to another account and also will be able to withdraw money from his account.

There has been three models to do this mobile banking. I will discuss two here, one is that the mobile operator will itself become a financial institution which will be able to take deposits. This model is particularly suitable countries where most of the people do not have bank accounts or cannot afford to have one. Another model is based on bank accounts where mobile phone only acts as a medium.

As you may have already guessed, the second model is not suitable for our country since there are lot more mobile subscribers than bank account holders. In my case, I had my mobile phone before I had a bank account. And you can understand how many would use a bank account in the semi-urban or rural areas. Moreover, in our country, if you look at the government run banks, you will know that they are not equipped to provide information online, most of the information still resides there in paper. Another problem is that, to tie up with a mobile account, all bank must be taken under one system of accounting, otherwise the transaction between from one bank's account to another will be chaotic. So I think initially it will be difficult for GP to tie up with these banks and the alternative seems to be really easy.

Now the "financial express" has raised the concern that the banks will be losing the deposits - true, it will happen, but it will happen to the short-term deposits only, and we know how important is the short-term deposit for banks to operate the day to day transactions. So here is the problem, that banks will be losing these deposits once people will be used to the mobile banking. And honestly I don't think that is a problem, Grameenphone has taken a good initiative to bring the banking facility to the mass. Now it's time for the banks to take initiative to tie up the accounts with Grameenphone, and keep their account holders with them. Few regulations here can straighten up the things, like:

1) Grameenphone will keep the option open for the customer to choose, if the customer wants and his bank has developed certain supportive system for mobile banking, s/he may choose to associate his bank account with the mobile banking account. Grameenphone will not charge extra for this choice, however banks may charge for the mobile banking facility.

2) GP will not provide any interest for the money deposited. It will discourage the depositors to keep big amount of money for long time period in mobile account.

So what I am trying to say is that GP should not only be blamed, because this is a big opportunity for banks as well to expand their business, which they should utilize in a orderly manner. Thanks to the fellow blogger Mr. Ahmed Ali for bringing up this important issue, and kudos to GP for taking a good step. That should be my ending line.. Good Day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Emerging PPP in the streets of Dhaka

I really don't know why the other day I decided to wait for a Volvo bus to go from Bishwa Road to Kakoli. It has been long enough that I had stopped travelling by bus in Dhaka city, not because I have become richer and I need to maintain certain status quo, its just that I have stopped travelling around due to epic traffic jams and also because I have expanded physically in all directions to be able to fit into the 'murir tin' mini buses or literary naughty 'Duronto' vehicles which keep on clogging the streets of Dhaka. Gone are those days or even 3 years back, there were some AC buses which used to bring me from Farmgate to Bishwa Road, even the yellow cabs used to ply around with their ACs working, now it has all become fairy tales, or reality tales of living in Dhaka. However, getting back to my wait for the Volvo bus...many buses came and many buses left, my Volvo took ages to arrive. Wonder why was I handed the 8tk. ticket and why I was standing in the sun for 25 minutes to travel this distance. I also could not venture into other moving objects due to reasons described above. However, as something or the other keep on happening and does not elude my observing eyes, an emergence of PPP, yes a public-private partnership, seemed to be appearing in front of my eyes. I have noticed this phenomenon off and on before but that day, it was happening pretty frequently, so there is a good enough reason to blog about it.

While I was desperately looking towards the road expecting to see the double decker appearing, many private cars stopped nearby as the chauffeur very politely and with a smile extended his neck towards the window asking if I needed a lift towards Mohakhali. I was all ready to thwart off any possible mugging attempt under their new avatar and I was even more unprepared to see somebody smiling at me to offer a service. Although I nodded my head in the negative, I saw many fellow city dwellers and bus-awaitees getting into the private cars after a quick negotiation with the chauffeur. I gained confidence and since my Volvo bus never arrived till then, I decided to jump into the next private car cum cab that would come my way. After a while, came one Toyota Allion with a smiling and interested looking driver shaheb. For 10 tk. each he packed the car with many uradhura people like me and dropped us at Kakoli.I didn't forget to warn him that any possible attempt of 'thek deya' (mugging) will be vehemently foiled, so he better not think about it, he gave a red grin while chewing his betel leaf and cracked jokes on himself. We enjoyed a quick journey in the air conditioned Japanese car, while listening to Radio Foorti 88.0 FM. I felt free from the dust and noise of the 'otherwise chaotic' Dhaka streets. While in the car cum cab, the city looked better, and I felt pity for the not-so-fortunate people....thought what I can do for them, all while sitting in the comfy comfy Allion backseat. While getting off, we paid the 'fare' to the driver shaheb and he said 'thank you' with a smile, I didn't bother to I am not used to getting such service while using public transport in Dhaka.

Next story, my brother's friend got a drop at his university in Banani only to find out after going upstairs that the class had been cancelled. When he came downstairs to look for his car, he couldn't find it. The driver was also not following 'kaachey thakun' principle, implying that he was not carrying any mobile phone and he also disappeared. My brother's friend was puzzled and had no option but to wait in the premises for the next hour. The driver finally appeared with an embarassed face and upon interrogation, revealed that he was doing some part time ferrying of passengers from Banani to Gulshan-2 and Gulshan-1, as he thought his 'bhaiya' was attending the hour long class. He also admitted that he had been doing it for the last two months, which according to him 'helps him pass his time, does good to city dwellers in Dhaka and also gives him some additional ja khushi hoye dey arki'.

So I guess by now you can pretty well imagine that a unique partnership between public and private sector is emerging to tackle the poor transport service in Dhaka city. Although I scored very high in statistics while being in Notre Dame College, I am no statistician, I can't remember well figures and numbers, and there is that quote that says "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". So I leave the numbers for our think-tanks, gurus and liars, as a simple consumer and commuter, I believe that since the public transport system in this city has gone completely bollocks, such emergence of private sector taxi service is very natural. Think-tanks will keep on arguing about the ideal area of a city, proportion of required roads, number of cars, blah blah blah, but all these number crunching seminars and symposiums have done little to make the traffic move even an inch these days. People keep writing letters in national dailies giving ideas about tackling the traffic problem, but who is there to listen and who is there to implement? Many suggest to move Kamlapur Railway Station out of Dhaka, others suggest to make use of what we naturally possess...our water bodies and to introduce efficient water routes and water vessels to connect different corners of Dhaka, some even suggest to start planning for alternate capital city for Bangladesh somewhere near Gazipur with a 10 year plan to start designing a city from the scratch...somewhat like Putrajaya in Malaysia...but who cares and why bother huh? As long as I can move, go to my office, shoshur-bari, bachchar school, Nandon, Agora, Westin and Radisson, I am happy, bakita jader korar ora korbe...I am going for holiday in Dubai next week, then to London and then to the States, I can be least bothered of this blog post shit.

Nevertheless...I must mention that I am also amused to see many middle class families having as many as 3 cars in the same family, one for abbu, one for boro bhaiya and one for myself....if they can afford it, why won't they buy it, are there any rules to stop them? So they are also making good use of their cars, if its not serving the family, serve the nation profitably. Look at the misery of female commuters, help them and give them a hitch in your AC car, not a bad intention huh? So as heavy-brain-duty gurus keep on suggesting in seminars that private sector should join hands with public sectors to implement important development initiatives, the very chauffeurs of those gurus and ministers might be implementing what their shahebs must be preaching inside the auditorium. As an ordinary young commuter, who does not own a car yet and who cannot fit into buses and human haulers, such emergence of private car cum cabs is a welcome change. Although I am stuck in traffic jams anyways, be it in a private car or be it in a yellow/black cab, but atleast there is AC, music and a chauffeur who shows respect and smile...does not give me a feeling as if I am being hostage in this nearly unlivable city. Baki to shob dhorei nisi je kaj korbe na, so lets be happy as I ride jani na kon boro lok er dami gari from Bishwa Road to Kakoli.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Customer Care Dilemma

Ok you are seeing a pic I took, I hope this tower is called BTS, cos I have been looking for BTS ever since I had this little experience with my clearly ahead mobile subscription provider. I didn't know that it is important to know for a subscriber the location of this operator's BTS. The problem is I am not at all sure how to specifically locate this operator's BTS. So I am photographing all the BTS from my veranda cos I had this experience and I have another complain to make and for that I should better be prepared.

It happened so that I was staying in Chittagong for few days, and I found out that my heavily used mobile internet was shying to work in there. So I called up the customer service to inform the situation. ironically the guy who picked up is probably from Dhaka and doesn't know any place in Chittagong. Well that is not ironic, the ironic part was that, he was so keen to know my location that he started to ask questions after questions! to solve the problem. So I gave my address and the Thana in where I was residing. I thought that should be enough but this guy was irresistible, he asked about the adjacent thanas about which I had no idea. But enthusiastically this guy added, this is like dhanmondi thana is adjacent to mohammadpur thana and so your thana should be adjacant to some thana! (and I thought this guy needed a map and maybe he is bad in geography!). Now he asks (since I don't know about the adjacant thanas) "have you seen where the BTS is? How far it is from your house?" Ah so that was on this guys mind, to locate the BTS from the adjacent thanas, I understand!! But how on earth I should know where are the BTS located, they may be on some high-rise building, and I have no way to tell which one is grameen and which one is aktel. But most importantly I didn't know that it was important to know the location of your nearly BTS. Otherwise you will not be able to inform the Customer Care and they will not be able to take any action, and just as I was thinking after disappointing this guy, the line went "poof", call drop! yes while complaining about internet service a new symptom has arisen. I wonder what this operator would do. And how many like me would be passionately ready to complain these problems. Like now I am taking pics of all the BTS nearby my house in Dhaka. cos for few days I am experiencing calldrops and weak network from here as well. And now if the customer care asks about BTS I can send all the pics of the BTS and they could decide which one is theirs and from there they could (I certainly hope so!) solve my problem.

And finally this note is not to hurt anyone, I hope the companies in customer service would understand its importance and put proper support to satisfy the customers who are in trouble. Another thing is that since the customers are now charged to get the service, (probably 1 tk per/min or something) the persons providing the service would shorten their enquiry, or if required they should call back (even when a calldrop occurs while talking to the customer service).

Grameenphone Attempted to Rob 40 Banks

Grameenphone single-handedly attempted the biggest bank heist in history. They were getting ready to rob 40 banks at once. (I wish I was being sarcastic). Even the Bangladeshi operations of Standard Chartered, HSBC and Citibank were perturbed by the attempt which also involved them. Clearly you have never heard anything about this white collar crime because the diversion was media advertisements.

Secondly after the most anticipated IPO in Bangladesh failed so horribly, I am beginning to suspect if Anders Jensen is purposely being made into a scapegoat. Ironically Anders Jensen had his own scapegoat, ex-CEO Erik Aas. But the media seems to be buying into the story that the blunders of Telenor and Grameenphone was all because of Anders Jensen. But the image, corporate culture and intentions of GP have always been immaculate?

An article published in The Financial Express clears the 'bhera' Jensen over the fence. More importantly it raises the issue that even though GP did everything right business-wise, their image and IPO took the hit due to the internal machinations and schemes developed perpetually on a corporate level (and not Anders Jensen). Its not a coincidence after the entire world said 'no' to the IPO, the 40 banks, held hostage, let the ball drop to the floor. Everyone would have believed GP's $3 billion valuation and even a $300 billion valuation if Grameenphone didn't take Bangladesh for granted so often.

I will end the talk right here, I won't spoil the details for you (as much as I am inclined to). The article is posted below:

Special thanks to The Financial Express for publishing the article. Even though 'Grameenphone' is not mentioned due to an advertisement embargo, the message is clear.

Pros and cons of phone companies doing mobile banking

MOBILE Phone Banking allows banks to make transactions and allow banking activity with the use of a mobile phone. The concept is not new and has existed since the '90s as banks try to take the next step in technology. However, the procedure and guidelines for mobile banking proposed by the country's leading mobile phone operator to the Bangladesh Bank is suspiciously unconventional.

The conventional, orderly method is what we see adopted in North America and Japan. In these regions the phones are merely a medium of banking communication. Mobile phones in the banking landscape serve solely as a method of convenience much like ATMs and bank branches.

Bank accounts are linked directly with the phone, the money transacted is done on the phone and the changes are applied onto the bank account. The phone company never transacts money or accepts money in accordance with the banking laws. What the concerned operator has proposed in our case is the opposite.

It wants the phone company to have the right to accept money and carry out financial transactions that have nothing to do with phone time. The related operator wants a mobile banking license for a mere Tk 350 million while banks will have to raise their paid up capital to Tk 4.0 billion. Simply put, the related mobile phone operator is buying a license to kill the Bangladeshi banking industry for Tk 350 million.

Banks in Bangladesh are governed by the strict Banking Act and centuries of banking traditions and norms. But the concerned mobile service-provider has not had to abide by any of the high standard regulations of the banking industry in its entire history. Instead, it has been fined repeatedly for deliberately manipulating and blatantly disregarding its own less-stringent regulations. Giving a banking license to it for an industry that is extremely regulated is absurd. Banks in Bangladesh are shocked at the possibility that it is only in Bangladesh that a phone company can get access to a banking license. The related mobile phone service-provider's initial proposal calls for the innocuous feature of local remittance. But the limits are extremely high on this feature. For instance, if a person does not withdraw the entire remittance at one time, the phone starts being a bank account. With a phone license, the concerned operator easily becomes a bank.

It -- the mobile company under mention -- has made an ethical claim to the issue stating that if it receives a mobile banking license, it will be taking banking facilities to the poor and 'unbanked'. Unknown to it, for the last three years, private commercial banks (PCB) have lobbied the Bangladesh Bank for rural booth licenses. Because the costs of running a full-fledged branch is high, a stripped down version or a booth would be the answer for delivering world class banking services to all corners of Bangladesh. However, the Bangladesh Bank opposed this step by PCBs. Now the related mobile phone operator wants to copy this concept and market it as its own by labeling it 'mobile banking'. The playing field is clearly not level for banks as the mobile phone service-provider's rural outlets will be subsidized by their phone business. Furthermore, the implications for state-owned banks are more morbid. State-owned banks are already hanging by a thread and a banking license for the related mobile phone operator will make the situation even worse for them. It is also notable that despite the lack of bank booths, banks use each others' branches to full capacity and also signed up with the post office to offer remittance services to rural areas as much as possible.

If concerned mobile phone service-provider receives a banking license, there are some issues that are of great concern. The first is money laundering. Never having been trained in financial forensics, without having knowledgeable staff or being regulated by strict money laundering rules, the said operator expects the Bangladesh Bank to believe that despite these high-risk shortcomings, the mobile phone service-provider has overnight become best suited to offer mobile banking. In reality it will jeopardise the financial security and integrity of Bangladesh by making the country vulnerable to external claims of illegal activities.

The second problem is while banks continue to use triple DES encryption and AES encryption to offer transaction security, the concerned operator wants to get away by relying on SMS. SMS has been proved to be insecure. This is the reason Japanese phone companies use an NFC Payment system (think of it as secure bluetooth) that is linked up with banks instead of SMS. Not only does the mobile phone service-provider see itself not cooperating with banks where bank involvement is crucial, but it has also disregarded any investment for a secure protocol. The lack of secure protocols will only shift the blame onto the customer in false claims and identity theft.

The related operator has selectively thrown around quite a few case studies: Kenya, Philippines and DiGi Telecommunications while systematically ignoring the entire continent of North America and Japan. It states that DiGi does mobile banking, but this example is biased to say the least. Digi Telecom is owned by a familiar multinational parent company (which also has a stake in the related mobile phone service-provider in our case). But the real icing is that DiGi had to partner with a bank, Citibank, for remittance/mobile-banking services. But the said operator is conveniently unaware of this. The situation with Kenya does not fare much better. Phone companies have held Kenyan banks hostage. Kenyan banks have claimed that they are being cornered by Kenyan foreign-owned phone companies, Safaricom and Zain.

Kenyan banks have alleged that the phone companies have taken their own liberty with the laws (similar to the scandal over the Bangladeshi VOiP) and are in the process of wiping them out. Since the Kenyan phone companies also have major foreign ownership, their foray into the banking industry takes out capital to Europe where it would traditionally be used for the improvement of the Kenyan economy. The interesting thing is that the concerned operator found Kenya's scrambled egg mess exemplary when compared to the tried and tested models which have served North America and Japan just fine.

Maybe we will find some insight in the way India decides to deal with its poor and 'unbanked'. India, as you may recall has foreign remittance that dwarfs Bangladesh's remittance. India not only has a larger rural population but a rural population that is spread over a landmass 23 times larger than Bangladesh. Yet Indian phone companies do not take the liberty to accept money for anything other than phone time. Mobile banking exists in the realm of banks, not the phone companies.

Indian banks and phone companies seem to be doing just fine without any cause of confrontation because each knows where they stand and the limitations of their respective licenses. Where is Bangladesh's unique headache for granting mobile banking licenses to phone companies stemming from?

It is not new for the concerned mobile phone operator in our situation to systematically ignore banking channels.

Its new service BillPay which lets users pay bills through mobile phones could have easily been tied up with a bank account. Instead it took the roundabout route and did it on their own terms ignoring banks entirely. The problem is that this writer does not recall the mobile phone license allowing the concerned mobile phone company, operator or service-provider to accept customer deposits for anything other than phone time. It might not disclose the fact that in western countries, all bills are paid through a bank account (be it mobile, branch or ATM).

Instead it takes the credit of bill payment by restricting banks from their mobile network while taking pieces of the banking industry piece by piece for themselves.

As for remedies to the hypocritical and contradictory views of the concerned mobile phone operator, there are a few solutions. If the Bangladesh Bank wants to take the risk and allow phone companies to do banking business, it should be done in the same conditions as in the US, where banks are the backbone and mobile companies act strictly as the vessel.

The second solution lies on the consensus that the unbanked cannot be bought under banking channels without mobile banking. If so, then why not provide a few mobile licenses collectively to banks so that they can bring the "unbanked" under their umbrella? But that wouldn't be fair to phone companies as the banks would be getting more for their highly regulated banking license. Or would it?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Concert for Iceland

Henry Kissinger in 1971 remarked Bangladesh is the "basket case". Fast forward to 2008, Iceland, as a country, is threading on shaky ground after the sub-prime mortgage fallout. While I am not celebrating this news, I would like to remind everyone Bangladesh's accomplishment in preventing this type of 'basket case' scenario.

Clearly the laws of nature are against Bangladesh where we have been bombarded with every natural calamity possible. But bankruptcy is a man-made disaster and by the gesture of not acting (or doing anything) we have succeeded remarkably. We lack the financial instruments, the financial maturity and the financial knowledge that are being used in other developed countries. But even with this lack of knowledge our banks and financial institutions did not invest in "asset backed securities". Thereby avoiding a larger man-made disaster than puts some natural ones to shame. Congratulations.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

প্রাথমিক শিক্ষায় ব্যবসায়ী সম্প্রদায়ের সামাজিক দায়বদ্ধতা

শিক্ষার অধিকার একটি মৌলিক মানবাধিকার। একটি সমাজের সামগ্রিক বিকাশের ক্ষেত্রে শিক্ষার ভূমিকা অনস্বীকার্য। এই প্রেক্ষিতে মানসম্মত শিক্ষা নিশ্চিত করার জন্য আমাদের সরকার জাতীয় এবং আন্তর্জাতিক বিভিন্ন সনদে সাক্ষর করেছে। কিন্তু স্বাধীনতার এই দীর্ঘ সময় অতীত হলেও আমরা একটি যুগপোযুগী জ্ঞান বিজ্ঞানভিত্তিক ও মানসম্মত শিক্ষা নিশ্চিত করতে পারিনি। আমাদের প্রাথমিক শিক্ষায় শিক্ষার্থী অংশগ্রহণের হার বেড়েছে ঠিকই, কিন্তু গুণগত মান বাড়ছে না। শিক্ষা ক্ষেত্রে বিভিন্ন সমস্যার কারনে আমরা এগুতে পারছিনা।

আমাদের দেশে শিক্ষা বিস্তারের ক্ষেত্রে সমাজের বিত্তবান জমিদার ও ব্যবসায়ী শ্রেণীর এক আলোকোজ্জ্বল অবদান ছিলো। যা আমাদের দেশে শিক্ষা বিস্তারে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ভূমিকা পালন করেছে। যাদের অবদানের কারনে অনেক স্কুল হয়েছে। তা ধারাবাহিকভাবে কলেজ থেকে বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে রুপান্তরিত হয়েছে। তাদের অবদানের স্বীকৃতি স্বরুপ তারা এখনো অমর হয়ে আছেন। আমাদের দেশের জমিদার ও বিত্তবান শ্রেণীর শিক্ষা ক্ষেত্রে অবদানের উদাহরণ প্রচুর। এর মধ্যে উদাহরণ স্বরুপ বলা যায়, মানিকগঞ্জের জমিদার কিশোরীলাল রায় চৌধুরীর কথা। তিনি তার পিতার নামে ১৮৬৩ সালে জগন্নাথ স্কুল প্রতিষ্ঠা করেন। যা এখনকার বিখ্যাত জগন্নাথ বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় হিসেবে প্রতিষ্ঠা পেয়েছে। প্রখ্যাত দীন নাথ সেন ১৮৭০ এর দিকে ঢাকাতে প্রথম মেয়েদের জন্য ইডেন স্কুল প্রতিষ্ঠা করেন। যা বর্তমানে ইডেন বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় কলেজ। ১৯২৬ সালে ওয়াজেদ আলী খান পন্নী ও ইব্রাহীম খাঁ প্রতিষ্ঠা করেন সাদত কলেজ। ওয়াজেদ আলী খান পন্নী তার জমিদারীর সম্পূর্ণ অংশ ওয়াক্ফ করে দেন শিক্ষা প্রতিষ্ঠানটির জন্য। এরকম আরো অসংখ্য উদাহরণ রয়েছে। আমাদের নোয়াখালীতেও বেশির ভাগ শিক্ষা প্রতিষ্ঠানই প্রতিষ্ঠা করেছেন সমাজের শিক্ষানুরাগী বিত্তবান কিছু মানুষ। বিশেষত শিক্ষানুরাগী কিছু জমিদার। এভাবে তাকালে দেখা যায় যে এদেশে শিক্ষা বিস্তারে অগ্রণী ভুমিকা পালন করেছে সমাজের ব্যবসায়ী ও বিত্তবান কিছু সংখ্যক মানুষ। যতদিন সাধারণ মানুষসহ বিত্তবান মানুষেরা শিক্ষা প্রতিষ্ঠানের সাথে ওতপ্রোতভাবে জড়িত ছিলো, ততদিন আমাদের শিক্ষার মানও অনেক উন্নত ছিলো। আজ সেই জমিদারী প্রথা নেই। কিন্তু বিত্তবান শ্রেণী আছে। কিন্তু যে সামাজিক দায়বদ্ধতা আগে ছিলো, বর্তমানে তা আর লক্ষ্য করা যায় না। শিক্ষা প্রতিষ্ঠানে তাদের অবদান কমে যাচ্ছে, শিক্ষার মানও কমছে।

৮০-এর দশক থেকে এ দেশে কর্পোরেট সেক্টর ব্যাপক প্রসার লাভ করেছে। আমাদের দেশে কর্পোরেট সেক্টরের ব্যপ্তি বর্তমানে বিশাল আকার ধারণ করেছে। মুনাফার পরিমান বেড়েছে উল্লেখযোগ্য পরিমানে। কিন্তু সে হারে প্রাতিষ্ঠানিকভাবে সামাজিক দায়িত্ব পালনের প্রবণতা বৃদ্ধি পায়নি। আগেকার সমাজে বিত্তবান সম্প্রদায়ের সম্পদের তুলোনায় সামাজিক অবদান যতোটা ছিলো, বর্তমানে মুনাফা ও সম্পদের পরিমান বাড়লেও সামাজিক অবদান ঐ হারে বাড়েনি বলা যায়। আমাদের বড় বড় ব্যবসায়ী প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলো সামাজিক দায়িত্ববোধ থেকে তাদের লভ্যাংশের কিছু অংশ ক্রীড়া, স্বাস্থ্যসেবা এবং সাংস্কৃতিক খাতসহ জনসেবামূলক কাজের জন্য ব্যয় করছে। তবে শিক্ষাখাতে তাদের অবদান এখনো সে তুলোনায় কম।

সবার জন্য মানসম্মত প্রাথমিক শিক্ষা জনগণের দীর্ঘদিনের দাবী হলে ও বাংলাদেশ সরকার এই ক্ষেত্রে এখন ও সফল হতে পারেনি। এখনও ৫০,০০০ গ্রামে কোন সরকারি প্রাথমিক বিদ্যালয় নেই। এর মধ্যে বিভিন্ন বেসরকারি সংস্থা কর্তৃক পরিচালিত কিছু স্কুল রয়েছে, যা যথেষ্ট নয়। দেশের রাজনৈতিক ও সামাজিক উন্নয়নে যুগোপোযুগী শিক্ষার কোন বিকল্প নাই। দেশ ও জাতি গঠনে মানসম্মত প্রাথমিক শিক্ষা নিশ্চিত জন্য সরকার ও জনগণকে সম্মিলিতভাবে প্রচেষ্টা চালাতে হবে। সেই উদ্দেশ্যে ব্যবসায়ী সম্প্রদায় প্রাথমিক শিক্ষার ক্ষেত্রে নিজেদের সামাজিক দায়িত্ব পালন করতে চায়। কোম্পানী/ কর্পোরেট প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোকে সামাজিক দায়িত্বের অংশ হিসেবে প্রাথমিক শিক্ষার মানোন্নয়নে অবদান রাখার জন্য আগ্রহী করা যায় তাহলে সবার জন্য মানসম্মত প্রাথমিক শিক্ষা বাস্তবায়নে সহায়ক ভূমিকা রাখবে।

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Daily Star making Daily Gaffes about GP

Our Staff Reporter (imaginary)

Recently it has been noticed that the leading English daily of the country, the Daily Star, has been exhibiting frequent typos and possibly unintentional errors while spelling out the name of the most visible brand in Bangladesh, Grameen Phone. First it was in the news regarding the arrival of the high profile team from Telenor, where DS mentioned 10 times Grameen Phone as 'Garmeen Phone'. Then today in the main story in the business page of the newspaper the newspapers published the following pie chart and described the share-holding structure of GP.

DS mentioned, "Until 2003, there were four shareholders in Grameenphone. Telenor owned 51 percent, Grameen Telecom 35 percent, Marubeni Corporation 9.5 percent and Gonofone owned 4.5 percent." However the pie chart for 2003 shows in red the share of Telenor to be 35% and those of Grameen Telecom to be 51%. So it is obvious that the colors and the names got swapped while the editor was caught napping or busy Facebooking. Some surprised GP acquaintances have come up with the following hypotheses keeping in view this unusual errors by the leading and prestigious national daily.

1. Either the report or the editor or both are color blind, they cannot distinguish between the colors red and blue.
Corollary: They also think and see the logo of Grameen Phone as a red propeller.( it TeleRed)
2. The MS Excel software at DS offices is malfunctioning, which generated a faulty pie chart
3. GP advertisements in DS is gradually declining, which prompted the DS to make silly mistakes to show that they don't care either
4. DS became too nervous covering the news of the GP top brass arriving in Bangladesh and they want to grab attention by calling them 'Garmeen Phone'.
5. Grameen Telecom convinced DS to show in blue color in the pie chart that it is actually them who should own the majority stake in the blue cash cow of Telenor, not the Nordics.
6. DS is still hanging over Eid and Puja holidays
7. Any other reasons.

So whatever the reason be, we wish DS well and we hope GP will see this gaffe in a 'khomashundor drishtee' (forgivingly) which unfortunately also coincided with the arrival of the Telenor's Baba, Mama, Chacha...Chairman and CEO, wonder how they would perceive this.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sue kar...part trois...the big boys in town

The joys of Unders-pants knew no bounds lately, as combined with the fun of eating shemai, chotpoti, biriyani and korma during Eid holidays added with the extended vacation and festivities surrounding Durga Puja…his best friend, well wisher (and washer) and guide Arse Norbor is expected to arrive in town today! Just a like a Santa Claus in disguise, Arse is going to touch the (now) serene terrains of Dhaka city, with full of gifts, presents and who knows what else for not only Unders but also for his mates in GP, some leading bankers in town, the Stock Exchange Commission people, some poor people around and for some troublemakers. So Unders couldn’t wait, he waited at the ZIA VIP/CIP/RIP lounge and received with much fanfare the big boys who also are expected to play instruments during a concert titled ‘Grameen Murchhona’ (Grameen Symphony) in Gulshan-2 office premises for only GP employees. So here is the conversation between Arse and Unders as they head straight to GP office from ZIA. Incase you have missed the earlier episodes, read here and here.

Velkommen to Bangladesh Arse!!! Hvordan har du det? (How are you?)
takk bare bra. Og du? (I'm fine, thanks. And you?)
Couldn’t be better, as you are here, I am so relieved…we will have a great time at IC ok?
IC…what do you see? I don’t see anything good for you…for us…then?
Ahhh…IC does not mean I see, I meant International Club you airhead....we will have fun at that club you know…I am a regular there…these days I go there often and listen to Hindi music like Devdas, Jaane tu ya jaane na etc. while taking tequila shots…you will love it too.
Unders…please shut up….we are here with a mission…I am not here to dance with you…we are here to make others dance to our tunes, please grow up and understand.
Mission? What mission? Something like the movie Mission Kashmir?
OMG…you have completely become nuts haven’t you? Anyways…lets deal with problems now and find solutions…firstly why is this Daily Star calling us ‘Garmeen’? How can they afford to allow such typos in their national newspaper which is also read by our King the majesty back in Oslo?
I think they wanted to call us ‘Geramin’, much in a villagers tone, which literally means ‘rural’ in spoken Bangla…do they think we should become more ‘rural’? or are they hinting that we should handover more shares to those ‘khet geramin telecom’ people?
You are quite a linguist…and what does 'khet' mean? but ask Daily Star aren’t they satisfied with the amount of money we put up their @#* as advertisements, why have they made this mistake? Ask the editor to write GRAMEENPHONE a thousand times by hand in A4 size papers and send them to me as long as I am in this town!
Ok mate, no worries, I will ask him….what else? By the way..'khet' means 'khet' does not have a proper English equivalent...kind of not in mode, out of fashion, uncultured types you know..
Also…what the F is this Bangladesh Corporate Blog thing? Haven’t we put any ad up there too? Why are they talking shit every time against us and about us? What do they want?
Yeah I have seen my name there quite a few times with some pictures of mine…they should have put my better pictures, say the one with Katrina Kaif when I was visiting London last y…
Stop this non-sense Unders!...find them…
Okay….I will check the CV database with us provided by, wonder if they ever wanted to work in GP and were never called or interviewed…poor chaps…so they must be doing all this out of frustration...haha!
Hmm..forget bdjobs…find them…and tell them that we want to take them along with us back Oslo….they will work in Telenor!...and maintain our company blog from there…got it?
Are you sure? You know these people will disappear once they go abroad…so..
You have become one of them by staying in this place for too long…think beyond the box you …I don’t know what else-head to call you.
No worries…they will get the visa..and the job. What else can I do for you? Do you want to meet Bangladeshi female models? They are doing pretty good these days…
Uff…listen…set up a meeting with the banks…call in Thamun Ghushid of Citibank..and ask him to convince other airhead bankers to buy in to our IPO…
Okay…Thamun is there…and?
Set up a meeting with the good old bugger…the close-up toothpaste model cum nobel winner…lets talk face to face on his home ground….we will make sure that like all other important things in this country, this issue too…is put to rest and in oblivion once and for all.
Ok…do you want to visit his office or invite him to ours?
Call him at Gulshan…Mirpur is far…too much traffic…also..they might keep us hostage if we go in there…they have too many hungry poor people in that building…although the amount of their loan might be small…the size of their ambition to own the bigger pie of Grameen cake is notorious…you never know.
Great…as you say…what else?
Call up the SEC and tell them to keep mum…they think they know it all? We will tell them what they should know…
And finally call up the guys in BTRC…ask them about next fines….when they are going to throw their next fine blows…
Fine…fine is fine with me…in fine, I should be safe and happy…hehe..and keep on selling air time…to airheads around…baki shob gollay jak! (let rest go to ruins)
Shomoy bole dibe gollay ke jabe! (Time will tell who will be ruined)
Jeg elsker deg Arse (I love you)! You just spoke perfect Bangla! But how?
We have come prepared this time Undy…done our homework…learnt some local language and slangs (gaalis) too…incase people hurl it behind our back…we can turn around and retort well.
Excellent…so I will do what you have asked me to do..the meetings and all…here we are …your hotel…so lets meet at IC this evening, what say you?
IC….you see..I am in a business trip here…
Arey that’s what the media will see…you and I will see some good money and good deals….while people here will keep on seeing the neel pankha turned on and on and on… by the way...where is Abba?
Abba? What abba? what makes you think of the famous band? they are my favorite too...
Arey not that Abba....abba means our father...your and mine...Mr. Herald Nirvik...he is truly a nirvik person...means fearless in Bangla....try googling will get to know the weight of his visit to this country....
Oh right ofcourse...our Abba is coming in a different car...knowing me knowing you...he would prefer to keep his cool on his he is here to tighten a few screws here and there and screw a few people too. Not literally ofcourse hehe.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

State of TV Media in Bangladesh

These ad vessels have used their satellite network to promote their own networks as well as the minuscule accomplishments of the people involved in them (you know who you are). Where in the world does a "Farmer's News" section pop up in the middle of evening prime-time news? Readers, Farmer's News is not for us. But considering how farmers make up a staggering large demographic of election voters, unconventional TV programming is being used to reach out for votes (wait, what did I just say?!?!).

====FARMER NEWS BREAK by Ahmed Ali====
Ahmed Ali decided to visit farmers in some remote village (he can't recall the name, his staff set it up). During the visit he went with a camera crew of 30 people to document his every single step as if it was a miracle in the making. Ahmed Ali decided to spook farmers who in Bangladesh have always craved camera attention rather than any sort of financial assistance. Ahmed Ali reassured everyone that profits from the 45 minute ad segment accompanying this 5 minute news WILL NOT be used for farmer benefit. Instead Ahmed Ali will continue to accost the farmers how they feel about WiMax licenses issued and call "CUT" when the farmers ask him to spare Tk 500. This is Ahmed Ali reporting and be sure to remember ho to spell my name. You might need to tick it on an upcoming form.

(btw, its not me in that picture. It is an actual screenshot of the TV channel)

Secondly these Bangladeshi TV channels are more perverted than American ones. Fox, an American TV channel took out a (sadly) popular reality hit show called American Idol. Soon as TV channels and mobile phone companies realized the SMS voting revenues from this show, it had the most variants possible amongst Bangladeshi TV channels.

Let me start out by saying why American Idol shows are not right for Bangladesh. First because it is not Bangladeshi Idol. The Bangladeshi Idol is someone who has to be economically successful to cover their livelihood. This idol would also have to do something that is socially beneficial. Examples suggested, but not limited to, would be creating a miracle cure for a pandemic in an impoverished country, employing millions in an impoverished country, donating millions in an impoverished country ... but NOT singing like a rickshaw-walla in a shower.

In America, a singing oaf can be an "American" idol, because some noted individuals have done more than the suggested examples. This leaves the rest (a small and ditsy demographic) to wonder what will be the purpose of their lives. Also the American Idol came into existence earlier this decade when the music industry was more than booming. The Internet happened since then and most of the money disappeared from the music industry. Now the American Idols would be extremely grateful for a follow-up second album (yet none of them ever did see that light). To some degree mass and shameless popularization of music has led some fans to reject this event and to explore the Independent Label (indie) music scene. This was ironically facilitated by the Internet and have seen more from this sector than all the American Idols combined with the likes of Killers, Leslie Feist and Keane.

Given this scenario, what do we expect from Bangladeshi musicians? Or what does the aspiring musicians aspire to be from a Bangladeshi Idol. If there is very little business in the music industry in North America, the margins must be even tighter in Bangladesh. Are they fooling themselves of the 'idol' status despite the poverty and despair right outside the stage? Then again, they will always be written of as another act similar to how American Idol winners are pushed aside as they are the result of SMS voting and not the same musical talent of Keane or Feist.

But unlike Fox, the Bangladeshi TV channels always know how to take it further. The perversion is that they made a children's version of this show. This is where children sing their heart out in front of B List Bangladeshi musicians. The musicians themselves should be ashamed as they are judging kids in a music competition in front of national TV. This is the sad state of TV media. It is bad enough when children's academic performance is judged so early on, but now even their hobbies are judged. All for shameless promotion in a sector which is predetermined to have dead ends.

So when are we actually going to cultivate Bangladeshi Idols?

Cut your Billboard to make good impression

Haven't seen much of variations in billboard in our country, maybe it is difficult to do so, and that's I like to highlight the following for taking a bold step in breaking out of the billboard.

The billboard is placed at Jatrabari, and I took a quick snap from the bus I was traveling. Reminded me of one billboard pic I have seen from Kodak in some presentation. The idea was similar, in the billboard hot chanachur has burnt part of the billboard, in the Kodak ad, there was a hole from where you could see a park, the hole was shaped as a photograph and the billboard read "capture the real moment with Kodak (or something like this, I forgot)".

I really loved this one and I hope to see some more creative billboards like these in here. Also it has to make good sense and truly connected with the consumer insight. Hope the agencies and the marketeers are listening. And below you can see few other examples:

Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” Rescuing Metal Lovers

The heavy metal tune with guitar gods plucking strings creating tunes that echoes in the mind for eternity seemed to have reached an end as the global music market moved towards Hip-hop and Rap leaving heavy metal lovers still holding on to good old 80’s Rock and Metal songs. With few new bands making some mark in the minds of heavy metal lovers such as Rammstein, Limp Bitzkid and Linkin Park , it seemed like the generation metal had died and only way out for us is to try adapting to hip-hop and Hindi music. With anger, frustration and repeatedly listening to decade old metal songs playing through pioneer car speakers with extra large woofer, time just stood still in the world of metal, alas, it seemed like doomsday for metal has arrived and prayers is all we got left, and prayer it is that was granted.

“Death Magnetic”, released by Metal God Metallica on September 12 straight went to Billboard charts #1 and still holding that place for two weeks now. It was all because of the great anticipation of the whole heavy metal world who just wanted to listen to Metallica and Hetfield’s voice again with new songs after their unsuccessful last released album St. Anger 5 years ago. Did the new album make its mark is the question now.

Variation is how anyone would define this new album. It is full of typical Metallica style songs with surprise tune changes, heavy distortion and fast lead guitar work to add to the pleasure. It takes a little while to get in to the tunes but once it is in your mind, you will simply want to listen to it more and more. Check out the tracks like “That was just your life” with soothing tune, “Broken, Beat, Scarred” an unconventional composition with frequent tune change, “Unforgiven 3”, as usual, a tune that will play in your mind all the time.

If you are the one not trying it out yet, go grab it, it may not be the best Metallica album ever compared to Black, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, but it none the less is a buck full of water to drench the dried throat of Metal mania’s world wide. Bangladeshi Metal Bands should definitely learn from Metallica and start practicing harder to add variation and unconventional tune change and hope our local boys will one day give rise to metal revolution.
By Mahboob Hossain

Thursday, October 2, 2008

আমাদের টেলিটকের সোনার বিস্ময়, চমক বা আশ্চর্য

টেলিটকের কথা মনে হলেই দেশের জীর্ণ হয়ে যাওয়া সোনালী ব্যাংকগুলোর ছোট ছোট শাখাগুলোর কথা মনে পড়ে। আমি টেলিটকের প্রথম লটারি জিতে ব্যাংকে লাইনে ঘন্টার পর ঘন্টা দাড়িয়ে থেকে ছিম সংগ্রহ করে ছিলাম। অনেক আশা ছিল। কোন লাভ হয়নি। যেই লাউ সেই কদু। পরে আবার অন্য অপারেটরে সরে আসতে হয়েছিল। টেলিটকের একটা অর্ধমৃত ওয়েব সাইট ছিল। ওটাতে গুতিয়ে গুতিয়ে সহজে কোন তথ্য বের করতে পারতাম না। একটা হেল্প লাইন ছিল। ওটার কথা বলা শুরু করলে আজে বাজে শব্দ আসবে। আমি ব্লগে ঐসব শব্দ প্রকাশ করতে চাইনা।

আজকে কী মনে করে দেশের মোবাইল কম্পানীগুলোর ওয়েব দেখছিলাম। টেলিটকের ওয়েবে ( দেখি বেশ জবরজং রং মেখে একটা ভর্তা বানিয়ে রেখেছে। অন্য কোম্পানীগুলোর ওয়েবের সাথে এর তুলনা করা ঠিক হবে না বিধায় ঐদিকে মোড় নিচ্ছি না। যাই হোক, একটা আনকোরা নতুন মার্কেটিং দেখে একটা পোষ্ট দেওয়ার জন্য মনটা আনচান করা শুরু করল। এই নতুন মার্কেটিং-এর নাম ‍‍‌‌‘সোনার চমক‘ !

তো এই সোনার চমক দেওয়া হবে যারা গোল্ডেন জিপিএ (সহজ কথায় সবগুলো বিষয়ে এ প্লাস বা জিপিএ ৫) পেয়েছে। হুমম! আইডিয়া খারাপ না। সোনার ছেলেমেয়েদের জন্য সোনার উপহার। এখন এই সোনার উপহারের ব্যাপারটি একটু তলিয়ে দেখা যাক। যেই যেই ছেলেমেয়েরা সোনার জিপিএ পেয়েছে তাদের এ রেজিস্টার করে নিজের পছন্দের নম্বর দিতে হবে। ভাগ্য ভাল হলে ঐ সোনার নম্বরের ছিমটি ঐ ছেলে বা মেয়েটিকে দেওয়া হবে। এখন কাহিনী হল সোনার নম্বরের অর্ধেকটা টেলিটক নিজে পছন্দ করবে আর শেষের চারটি অংক ঐ ছেলে বা মেয়ে পছন্দ করবে। আমি কিছুতেই বুঝতেছি না, তাহলে এইটা সোনার নম্বর হয় কিভাবে। সোনার নম্বর বলতে আমার মাথায় প্রথমেই যা আসে তাহল ০১৫ ২২৩৩ ৪৪৫৫ , ০১৫ ১২৩৪ ৫৬৭৮, ০১৫ ৬৬৬৬ ৯৯৯৯ ইত্যাদি। এমনিতেই টেলিটকের সার্ভিসের যেই অবস্থা তার উপর এত বাধাধরা নিয়ম মেনে কয়জন এই কার্যক্রমে অংশ নিবে তা নিয়ে আমার যথেষ্ঠ সন্দেহ আছে।

প্রশ্ন আসতে পারে, একটা কোম্পানী আগ বাড়িয়ে ফ্রি ছিম দিচ্ছে তাতে আমার সমস্যা কী? আমি কেন পোষ্ট লিখার মত বিষয় মনে করছি এই ব্যাপারটিকে? আমার এই রকম ভাববার বেশ কিছু কারন রয়েছে। একে একে বলা যাকঃ

* টেলিটক যেই মার্কেটে খেলছে তা কিন্তু বেশ প্রতিযোগীতামূলক। এই রকম মার্কেটে টিকে থাকার জন্য বেশ আটঘাট বেঁধে নামতে হয়। এই রকম মার্কেটিং কৌশল এই তীব্র প্রতিযোগীতায় টেলিটককে এগিয়ে নিতে পারবে না।

* টেলিটক যদি মনে করে সরকারি প্রতিষ্ঠান হওয়ায় তারা সব সময় সব দিক থেকে সবার থেকে বেশি সুবিধা পেয়ে এগিয়ে থাকবে তাহলে তাদের ধারনা গলদ।

* টেলিটক যেই সকল সুবিধা ভোগ করে সেগুলো অন্য কোন বেসরকারি মোবাইল কোম্পানী পেলে তারা কিন্তু পাংখা হয়ে যেত। সুতরাং, টেলিটককে তাদের সবল দিকগুলোকে ভাল করে চিহ্নিত করে দুর্বল দিকগুলোর দিকে নজর দিতে হবে।

* তাদের এই সব টক টক মার্কেটিং কৌশল পরিমার্জন করে নতুন নতুন মাকেটিং কৌশল বের করতে হবে। সেই জন্য টাকা খরচ করতে হবে। পরামর্শকদের সাথে আলোচনায় বসতে হবে। দেশের মানুষ যাতে করে দেশি মোবাইল ব্যবহার করে দেশের টাকা দেশের অর্থনীতিতে রাখে সেই ব্যবস্থা নিতে হবে।

আপনারা আশা করি টেলিটকের মিশন ও ভিশন স্টেটমেন্ট সম্পর্কে অবগত। না থাকলে আপনাদের সুবিধার্থে এইখানে পেষ্ট করলাম সরাসরি তাদের ওয়েব থেকেঃ

To innovate and constantly find new ways to enhance our services to our customer’s current needs and desires for the future. Our vision is to know our customers and meet their needs better than any one else.

এই স্টেটমেন্ট এর কত কাছে টেলিটক পৌঁছাতে পেরেছে এটা যারা টেলিটক ব্যবহার করছে বা ব্যবহার করেছে তারা ভাল বলতে পারবেন আশা রাখি।

শেষ কথা

আমি কিন্তু সত্যি সত্যি চাই টেলিটক ভাল করুক। বিদেশি কোম্পানীগুলোর উপর আমার কোন সহানুভুতি নাই। ওদের সাথে আমার সম্পর্ক খুবই সাধারণ। আমি পয়সা দিই আর ওরা আমাকে দেয় সার্ভিস। কিন্তু টেলিটককে নিয়ে আমার আশা আছে যে এটি আমাদের মত সাধারণ মানুষদের ইচ্ছাগুলো পূরণ করবে, ভাল সার্ভিস দিবে, নতুন নতুন প্রচারণার মাধ্যমে আরও মানুষকে অন্য অপারেটর থেকে নিজের নেটওয়ার্কে আনবে। কিন্তু এত সুযোগ পেয়েও যখন এরা গা বাতাসে এলিয়ে বেড়ায় তখন মেজাজ ঠিক থাকে না। এই সব গুঁতানো পোষ্ট লিখতে হয়। অসহ্য!