Sunday, June 20, 2010

Self-indulgent hyperbole : ICICI Bank's narcissism

I was surprised and dismayed to find the following compliment from a customer being included in the Directors' Report of ICICI Bank for the year 2009-10:

"I was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from you in response to my e-mail requesting for a refund of charges. This was followed by your e-mail accepting my request. What is really amazing is that this was all done in just about 12 hours. I am an admirer of ICICI Bank for your liberal attitude, transparent transactions, up-to-date technology, customer friendly automation, professionalism with a human touch, etc. The list goes on and on and this response to my request has made me indebted to ICICI Bank always. I shall remain your brand ambassador for the common man, Thank you and good luck to you always!" -D.Sivaswamy, Chennai.

Three more compliments in similar vein also find a place. Does publication of such encomiums betray the fragility of the bank's ego? Would fairness not demand that the bank give similar publicity to complaints made against it? If refund of charges is praised, should not the levy of unreasonable/inapplicable charges in the first place be condemned? Does correction of a mistake (albeit within 12 hours after a complaint is made) warrant a pat on one's back? ICICI Bank ought to have better benchmarks.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Histrionics in the Supreme Court

That our legal fraternity is adept in histrionics too was demonstrated in the Supreme Court on 15th June. The case relates to a special leave petition filed by the Karnataka High Court against the utterances of one of its judges, D.V.Shylendra Kumar.

Senior Counsel Mr.Uday Holla appearing for the High Court contended "it pains me a lot". Not to be outdone, one of the two judges on the Bench observed, "I have tears in my eyes". One cannot be more theatrical. Incidentally, where was the pain and where were the tears when the Supreme Court recommended elevation of a land-grabbing judge ?

(Reference to Supreme Court was apparently necessitated to rein in Justice D V S Kumar who has been questioning the administrative orders issued by the Chief Justice P.D.Dinakaran against whom parliamentary impeachment proceedings are under way. The Chief Justice is attending to administrative functions only and not judicial functions. This arrangement itself is funny. The Supreme Court has so far been unable to sort out the issue. One hopes that the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Kapadia will soon bell the cat.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crises galore

Thomas Friedman advises us that in the midst of all the potential crises, there is still some scope for sensible action on our part that will ensure sustainable progress for mankind. We need to act before it is too late, apprehensive that there are just too many trouble-spots and groups which can go bonkers anytime. Here is Friedman in his own words: (Courtesy: The NewYork Times)

June 11, 2010

This Time Is Different  By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

My friend, Mark Mykleby, who works in the Pentagon, shared with me this personal letter to the editor he got published last week in his hometown paper, The Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina. It is the best reaction I’ve seen to the BP oil spill — and also the best advice to President Obama on exactly whom to kick you know where.

“I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V. Mark Mykleby.”
I think Mykleby’s letter gets at something very important: We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles in creating our own problems. We — both parties — created an awful set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to create new products that improve people’s lives. We — both parties — created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages available to people who really didn’t have the means to sustain them. And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price. (Of course, we expected them to take care, but when you’re drilling for oil beneath 5,000 feet of water, stuff happens.)

As Pogo would say, we have met the enemy and he is us.

But that means we’re also the solution — if we’re serious. Look, we managed to survive 9/11 without letting it destroy our open society or rule of law. We managed to survive the Wall Street crash without letting it destroy our economy. Hopefully, we will survive the BP oil spill without it destroying our coastal ecosystems. But we dare not press our luck.

We have to use this window of opportunity to insulate ourselves as much as possible against all the bad things we cannot control and get serious about fixing the problems that we can control. We need to make our whole country more sustainable. So let’s pass an energy-climate bill that really reduces our dependence on Middle East oil. Let’s pass a financial regulatory reform bill that really reduces the odds of another banking crisis. Let’s get our fiscal house in order, as the economy recovers. And let’s pass an immigration bill that will enable us to attract the world’s top talent and remain the world’s leader in innovation.

We need all the cushions we can get right now, because we are living in a world of cascading and intertwined threats that have the potential to turn our country upside down at any moment. We do not know when the next Times Square bomber might get lucky. We don’t know how long the U.S. and Israel will tolerate Iran’s nuclear program. We don’t know if Pakistan will hold together and what might happen to its nukes. We don’t know when North Korea will go nuts. We don’t know if the European Union can keep financing the debts of Greece, Hungary and Spain — and what financial contagion might be set off if it can’t.

“It is not your imagination,” says corporate strategy consultant Peter Schwartz — there is a lot more scary stuff hanging over the world today. Since the end of the cold war and the rise of the Internet, we’ve lost the walls and the superpowers that together kept the world’s problems more contained. Today, smaller and smaller units can wreak larger and larger havoc — and whatever havoc is wreaked now gets spread faster and farther than ever before.

That is why we have to solve the big problems in our control, not postpone them or pretend that more lobby-driven, lowest-common-denominator solutions are still satisfactory. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, but a reprieve and a breathing spell — which is what we’re having right now — is a really terrible thing to waste. We don’t want to look back on this moment and say: How could we have gone back to business as usual and petty political gridlocks with all those black swans circling around us? Then we will really kick ourselves.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Travel risk: Between the Maoists and the (co-)pilots

Travel has become more hazardous in India. If one undertakes train journey in the large corridor where the Maoists are active, one is not sure when one will reach the destination. If one chooses to fly, one is not sure whether the pilot will understand what the co-pilot is telling him. (It is reported that the co-pilot in the ill-fated Dubai-Mangalore flight advised the pilot to opt for a go-around when the safe distance in the runway was overshot. The pilot apparently could not understand him.) In another flight in the Dubai-Mumbai route, when the pilot had gone for a wash, the co-pilot was in command. The auto-pilot system got disengaged testing the skills of the co-pilot. He was not equal to the task and the aircraft dropped by about 5,000 feet causing a justifiable panic among the passengers. The pilot tried to make a quick entry into the cockpit. Just then the cockpit door did not open. The pilot had to use some emergency procedure to open the jammed door. It is also reported that the co-pilot had a spatial disorientation at that crucial time. Providentially the pilot could resume command at the last minute (second?) and a horrible accident was averted.
Travellers are between the devil and the deep sea, between the Maoists and the (co-)pilots.