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Has Technology Stripped Our Banks of Human Values?

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While maintaining ethical standards in every profession is fundamental to its efficient functioning and ultimate success, I am writing this commentary with a deep sense of anguish and pain. Although developing on modern lines and infrastructure in terms of machinery and technology is imperative, however I regret to maintain that we have not achieved optimum levels of success and customer satisfaction still in our country.

While use of new machinery and technology is not bad but the fading human face and highly personalized treatment of customers as its consequence, is the real worry. Somewhere along the line, we are missing the very vital human element, that too very brutally. Banking staff throughout the country needs to be sensitized enough to deal with illiterates, semi-literates and especially women and elderly, to sustain a judicious balance of the human face of banking as a business and socio-economic institution in a country that is still struggling with poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, helplessness, lack of technological know-how, lack of access to internet, etc. Though I understand that the somewhat harried banking staff may have multiple issues like heavy workload (that got further added due to demonetization) lack of sufficient staff to cope with in addition to discharging their daily duties in an efficient and speedy manner, and that these factors may contribute to the constantly irritated behavior they display on a somewhat routine basis but for how long can they expect customers to keep taking it, is a matter of conjecture and concern! Also getting modernized does not mean just meaning business and a formal communication with every customer irrespective of his/her age, background, context, etc. As a customer, many a times, I have felt embarrassment because of the banking staff who hardly have the time to listen to you or your queries reflecting their lack of professionalism and human sensitivity. I have also witnessed enough incidents where even the elderly and women are not spare such brusque handling, are mistreated and their queries avoided. It remains a fact that whenever I went to our country’s prestigious bank- the State Bank of India, I felt deeply sad by the kind of irritated behavior of the employees there (even before the demonetization move).

Recently I went to a bank for a passbook update. The official pasted the bar code on it and I went to update the same. The machine though couldn’t update all my entries in full due to some fault which made me return to the same official. Very reluctantly and after much pleading, he updated it on his system and while I was there, one elderly lady came for the similar updating of her passbook. The official reacted rudely and said, “When the bar code is already pasted, why are you here still bothering me?” The elderly lady’s gaze was a picture of affronted dignity and she left helplessly, not knowing what to think and with the confusion clearly mirrored on her face! I was shocked at this incident and asked the official very respectfully, “how can she update when she does not know anything about the uses of the new machine?” I further asked, “is there anybody that can help her or guide her or does your bank have any guidelines for such people who don’t know how to deposit cheques, cash or update their passbooks through machines and need to be assisted?” With a frown, he stared at me and replied that ‘she should request the security guard outside.” I was dumbfounded by such a bizarre reply.

In yet another recent incident I went to a branch of State Bank of India for a Demand Draft that I was in urgent need of for an application of employment in a university. The bank official out rightly rejected my request citing that we are a big bank and do not issue DD of just Rs.300/- that I was asked for by the employer institution. Not only this, the official added that he can make the DD for me only if I had a cheque ready for the same amount and for that I needed to be the account and cheque-book holder of the same bank. I was shocked and dismayed to the core to see such a system which has no place for a student or for a customer who is not their account holder. The big banking leaders of India have to think about it and make banking inclusive in a country where exclusion still prevails and people feel discriminated and humiliated by such unfriendly policies. That day I wanted to write a letter to PM and RBI governor and ask that just Jan Dhan is not sufficient in our country, banking system as a whole needs to be streamlined.

I think that society has dichotomous views about banking, based on their personal experiences, expectations and the medley of problems that they have encountered at various levels and in different situations, in their dealing with several bank personnel. The level of society you belong to, your literacy and levels of technological familiarity are a significant factor in determining how much of challenge or pleasure the entire banking process is bound to be. For those more savvy with bank procedures and their intricacies and adept at coping with routine procedures and quickly assimilating slightly more complex and complicated procedures and processes of banking, banking is a pleasure and a swift means to realizing your aims and goals in achieving the necessary target. However for those who hail from the rural areas, are illiterate and uneducated in terms of even basic banking formalities, even routine bank transactions can assume the monumental proportions of your worst nightmare and prove to be a stumbling block in moving forwards.

Banks have a varied approach as regards dealing with the demands and banking needs of society. It is, I think, largely influenced by the personality factor and your individual sense of humaneness and readiness to help another human being, with patience and perseverance, without losing your innate ability to relate with that person on a humane level and a potential customer. They are definitely over-burdened and short-staffed many times and frustrated by the unimaginative policies and decisions of the higher level banking authorities, who do not release the requisite number of suitably qualified personnel to assist customers and thus attend to their problems in a kind and courteous manner. Sometimes, though, the banking officials tend to be somewhat high-handed in their basic approach towards clients and this is what needs to be guarded against in the long run, as it tends to create arguments, irritation and bad feeling.

The old ideas of banking do matter to some extent but it is impossible in this highly techno-savvy age, when both man and machine are so much more equitably equipped to deal efficiently and speedily with situations where earlier they would have plodded through procedures in a painstaking manner, plodding along slowly and explaining the matter to the customer at every step, thereby sacrificing efficiency palpably, to maintain the same level of the human touch as before. There has to be an understanding of this very vital factor and the changing equation of banker versus client, by both sides so that both sides can make a concerted effort to acquire more knowledge of the other’s domain and coalesce at a harmonious level. Only then will meaningful banking come of age and the erstwhile faith of the community be restored in the banking personnel, not only as the facilitators of their financial needs and dispensations, but also as the true caretakers of their essential needs and interests.

On self operating/knowing the bank Apps and mechanized procedures, we must realize that even literate people in this country do not necessarily know all banking procedures, not to talk of elderly people and many others and therefore the bank authorities have to take into consideration a much broader need-based approach and the much needed human face of banking that is fast vanishing. There must be strong assistance guidelines especially for those who don’t know how to use these new machines like cash deposit machine, self pass-book updating, etc. Also to adopt a line of behavior that is both professional and humane with the customers, banks need ample sensitization, gender sensitization and greater sensitization towards the elderly and all those who don’t know the use of new machines and, therefore, are more prone to needing help. There must be distinct and clearly defined guidelines in this respect and branch help committees must be set up in every big and small bank in the country. After all banks are there because of the customers whether illiterate or literate. If such an indifference and lack of ethical banking persists unabated and unchallenged it may tantamount to yet another form of structural violence that is still the hallmark of many of our public institutions.

On asking how society today perceives banking, my feminist friend Aparna Dixit said, “As a part of society I would say that we are totally connected with banks in our day to day life that is much in a technology led phase. We can do most of the things on phone, laptop or e-banking kiosk today. Apart from this there are bank executives who are supposed to assist a client for their queries and problems and they shouldn’t forget it that they are behind the counter for their customers .One more thing is that to respect every human being is a humanity and after all they are a service provider so they shouldn’t neglect any customer. Though they have their work deadlines but that should be internally managed from their end”.

While asking how banks perceive the society, well known Banking Executive and a friend Ankita replies from a banking perspective. She says, “From a bank perspective and as a service provider the motive is business. Therefore, banks give more attention to the elite class customers that they feel are more relevant to them. There are lots of enhanced facilities and services for customers and nowadays, most people are doing banking so logically it is true that their work pressure is increasing but customers shouldn’t be affected by this. However I would say an ethical banking is a two way process and therefore both the bank staff and the customers should display utmost professionalism and humanity. How many times we entered in a bank and wished the staff with a good morning or hi or hello? We as customers are also in hurry and sometimes neglect the human from the other side.”She further adds, “As per my observation, there is a difference to attend or serve a customer in Government and Private Banks. I’ve been visiting both the public and Private banks and I find the difference that private banks are more public friendly so I think the government bank staff should be educated and trained in the same manner as private banks orient their staff and this can change the current scenario of government banks while dealing with the people especially those who are not acquainted with modern technology.”

In my opinion, in banking, every new idea has originated from the older one and all these are just to serve people more and more and not to trouble them. Banking is upgrading or advancing day by day just to serve the customers efficiently which could not be possible with older ideas or patterns. But while we change the pattern, we have to be friendly towards those who are not so tech-savvy. We can see and feel the revolution in banking sector only taking the innocent masses along be that the recent demonetizing decision, Jan Dhan or maintaining high ethical standards.

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Economy

What are Market Anticipations and Policy Expectations as Shares Tumble?

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On April 21st, the three major A-shares indices saw a severe drop due to a combination of local and global causes. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 2.26%, the Shenzhen Component Index dropped 2.7%, the ChiNext Index dropped 2.17%, and the CSI 300 Index dropped 1.84%. More than 4,400 stocks fell in both cities, while industrial categories led by tourism, fertilizer, agriculture, and photovoltaics almost across the board.

As April started, the Shanghai Composite Index has fallen 7.5%, down 10.5% from the beginning of March. The CSI 300 Index has dropped 13.40% from 4,614 in early March to the current 3,995.83, which tumbled 21.31% from 5,078 in mid-December last year. Because incremental funds were not injected into the market anymore, only stock funds were up for grab. Since the middle of March, A-shares stock trading has been declining, indicating a lack of investor trust.

Researchers at ANBOUND believe that this demonstrates the market’s pessimism about the future economic situation. With the downward pressure on the economy increasing, market confidence restoration and expectations stabilization are critical to helping in the healthy development of the capital market, as well as important in maintaining growth and averting risks.

Figure 1: The Shenzhen Component Index plunging more than 4,200 in the past 4 months

Source: Sina Finance

Market institutions have generally accepted the several factors that have caused the recent severe falls in the stock market. First, the worldwide geopolitical risk of distorting the supply chain and affecting company earnings is rather high. Second, since the Federal Reserve has escalated monetary tightening, the quick reduction of the interest rate gap between China and the U.S., as well as the inversion of the RMB exchange rate, is driving the RMB exchange rate to alter, raising concerns about capital flows. Next, the resurgence of the domestic pandemic has a substantial negative influence on China’s economy, particularly in consumption and real estate as indicated in the first-quarter economic statistics, which has heightened concerns about the country’s macroeconomy. Finally, the pessimism has been accentuated by a substantial disparity between recent central bank macro policy actions and market policy expectations. As a result, as long as present internal and external concerns persist, the A-shares market is unlikely to improve much in the immediate term.

Figure 2: The Shanghai Composite Index shedding more than 600 in the past 4 months

Source: Sina Finance

Historically, the fluctuations and transformation of China’s stock market couldn’t fully reflect China’s overall economic situation. However, in terms of expectations, the shifting trend of the A-share market, by acting as a barometer of the economy, continues to illustrate the genuine expectations of capital market investors on future business and overall economic developments. As observed in the March market trend, changes in external variables have been absorbed, but recent stock market volatility is more likely to be aggravated by changes in internal elements. As a result, changes in China’s economic circumstances and policy expectations are undoubtedly the cause of the stock market’s dramatic volatility. Investors are increasingly concerned about the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as a lack of trust in the stability of present economic strength and the rhythm of macroeconomic measures that sustain the economy. As things stand, despite the continued implementation of measures and policies aimed at stabilizing the capital market, these policies are insufficient to boost market confidence.

The pandemic and policy declarations are not only harming the capital market but are also major variables influencing China’s economic future. Notably, the recurrence of COVID-19 is concentrated in those economically developed regions such as the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta. The scope and depth of its economic impact may surpass that of the outbreak in Wuhan in 2020. In such a case, we believe that there is a demand to put dedicated unconventional policies into place. In this regard, it is necessary to implement targeted measures to stabilize economic fundamentals based on strengthening prevention and control. On the other hand, it is also essential to promote systematic easing among macro policies to avoid the catastrophic consequences caused by shrinking demand.

Since the beginning of the year, in the framework of the Chinese central bank’s monetary policy implementation process, it has taken a cautious approach to progressively easing, which is far from the policy expectation. Although the central bank has maintained “reasonably ample liquidity” as a whole, the reality of the domestic economy indicates the private economy and a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises are unable to obtain sufficient credit support from those “accurate liquidity provisions”. Such economic structural difference requires not only targeted structural reforms, but also overall easing to achieve the dredging effect from “loose money” to “loose credit”, which would reverse the passive situation. Zhang Jun of Morgan Stanley Securities also pointed out that the policy-level “fueling tactics” will cause a waste of policy space and may also deepen the risk to diminish the expectations.

Concerning the present external limitations that limit China’s domestic measures, ANBOUND has previously stated that variables such as interest rate spreads produced by economic and policy disparities are only one of the external factors impacting China’s economy, but not the most important one. Further concern should now be given to the fundamental factors that drive economic growth and structural improvement. In terms of policy, it is imperative to enhance the ‘autonomy’ of macro policies. We should occupy this window, fundamentally reverse the economic trend, and assist the capital market to construct stable market expectations and policy expectations before the international situation undergoes further evolution, hence coping with a better response to the changes in external factors.

It would be difficult to reverse the situation after market expectations have shifted. When combined with a self-reinforcing impact, it frequently leads to a downward spiral vicious cycle in the capital market and the actual economy. Hence, it is hard to reverse market expectations without stable policy expectations. Judging from the economic data of the first quarter, the overall economy is still resilient and possesses a stable foundation. However, to achieve the economic growth target of the current year, it is still necessary to strengthen the implementation of macro policies. This is not only conducive to the stability of the capital market but for the overall economy as well.

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Economy

Education Must Come First in our Global Economic Agenda

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A 13-year-old girl solves a maths sum at a school in Gujarat, India. © UNICEF/Mithila Jariwala

With leaders gathering at this year’s World Economic Forum, it’s time to prioritize the impact investments in education bring to businesses, economies and beyond.

As all eyes turn to this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, we call on world leaders and world-leading businesses to put education at the heart our global social and economic agenda.

Education is our investment in the future, our investment in sustainable economic growth and global security, our investment in the vast potential of our collective humanity.

To realize our goals of delivering equitable, quality education to every girl and boy on the planet – especially those caught in armed conflicts, forced displacement and other protracted crises –  we must activate a global conscience and commitment, and create a value proposition that shows businesses, politicians and the general public just what an investment in quality education means for our world.

This means pre-schoolers can learn to read and write in safe environments. It means girls can become entrepreneurs and doctors – not child brides. It means boys can be teachers and lawyers – not soldiers.

It means refugee children and adolescents displaced by conflict, climate change and other crises in hot spots like Bangladesh, Colombia, the Sahel and Ukraine can go on to complete 12 years of education and become leaders of a peaceful and healthy society.

It means college and beyond, a smarter workforce, and greater socio-economic stability. It means an end to poverty and hunger, establishing gender-equality, and advancing human rights for all.  

Unravelling the challenge

This is one of the most complex problems ever to face humanity. When Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – was established in 2016, an estimated 75 million crisis-impacted children and youth did not have access to the safety, protection, hope and opportunity of a quality education. That number has risen to an estimated 200 million in recent years as we see a rise in conflicts, displacement, climate disasters and a deadly pandemic that has upended our progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

While a minority of people on the planet are enjoying all the comforts of modern life – and football teams sell for more than $5 billion – over 617 million children and adolescents worldwide cannot read or do basic math. That’s more than the total population of ECW’s three largest donors – Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States – combined. 

Nevertheless, to date, less than 3% of government stimulus packages have been allocated to education, and in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the share is less than 1%. We can and must increase this government funding three-fold, following the example of the European Union, which announced in 2019 that it would increase education spending to 10% of humanitarian aid.

Government aid alone isn’t enough

The private sector, businesses and philanthropic foundations like The LEGO Foundation, Dubai Cares, Verizon and Porticus are already activating significant investments into the space.

We need to bring in more funding from industries closely connected with education – like Google, CISCO and Microsoft – and from those which have a vested interest in ensuring global economic stability and resilience, like the Jacobs Foundation, Western Union and Hilton Foundations of this world.

As we embrace the spirit of Davos – “to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance” – it is clear that this is a global issue that won’t just impact the rights and life trajectories of the world’s most vulnerable children, it will impact the bottom line for businesses, disrupt global socio-economic stability, and affect us all if we don’t act immediately with decisive action and collective humanity at the forefront. 

Building together

Education Cannot Wait has already mobilized over US$1 billion over a few short years and reached approximately 5 million children, but it is simply not enough.  

In the next three years, with the support of donors, the private sector, philanthropic foundations and individuals, we need to mobilize at least an additional $1.5 billion. This needs to happen with the leadership of the G7, the resources and know-how of the private sector partners featured at this year’s World Economic Forum, and the enhanced commitments that will make headlines at this year’s Transforming Education Summit, convened by the UN Secretary-General.

This will enable ECW and our strategic partners to respond immediately and effectively to the education needs of at least 10 million children and adolescents – including 6 million girls.

Think about the ROI. This works out to just $150 per child. If each of the world’s Fortune 500 companies made just a US$15 million contribution, we could surpass our goals and reach 100,000 children per donation! That’s 50 million more children with an education, 50 million more children breaking the hunger and poverty barriers, 50 million more opportunities to provide certainty in the face of very uncertain economic times.

Think about the future. If you could future-proof your business for the next 30 years with such a simple investment, wouldn’t you do it? Investment in education is good for the bottom line. With increased security and economic opportunity in the Global South, we are opening new markets, increasing economic resilience and building a more prosperous world.

Think about the legacy. For every $1 spent on girls’ education, we generate approximately $2.80 in return. Making sure girls finish secondary education could boost the GDP of developing countries by 10% over the next decade.

Think about scale. For every dollar raised, ECW and our strategic partners are leveraging about a dollar. This grows impact exponentially.

Think about our place in history. This is our moment to transform education for those left furthest behind. Please join us in ensuring every girl and boy – no matter who or where they are – has the opportunity to go school, to learn, to grow and to achieve their potentials not just for a day, but for a lifetime.

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Economy

The Politics of New Global Borderless-Class

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No, they are not the immigrants; they are citizens of a country in their own habitats, but active in yours. Slow circumnavigation of our earth will only prove that at the bottom of the population of each nation now there exists a new borderless-class slowly rising. Firstly, they are effortlessly, technology supported, secondly, squeezed out of imbalances, injustices and inhuman entrapments, thirdly, engaged in ‘nouveau occupationalism’ with virtual hopping from nation-to-nation all in the same typical routines of a normal day.

Fourthly, they are screaming silently, they see the global problems in desperate need of global solutions. Nevertheless, still inaudible in the political rotundas slowly they now become the force challenging old models of governments.

Study Pakistan, Sri Lanka and dozens of population-rich nations of the free world, notice the restless citizenry and their social media centric mobilization of dissent and protest narratives. As in coming months, peak temperatures will further fry the incompetence of the lingering economic bureaucracies. The sizzle is awakening, the awareness of incompetency on the rise. Unless grassroots prosperity issues are boldly addressed the economic fakery clearly visible on trillion blinking devices. Such blinks do not prove neither fame nor popularity but points to a silent ocean ready to drown them. What are the most important and dramatic roles that these borderless-classes will play in our behavioral economies and future demographics? Observe the goals, vision and narrative of Imran Khan of Pakistan.  Notice the silent Australians and polls in dustbins… 25 more national elections ahead.

Why elitism was multinational: Observe, in contrast, for centuries, only elites allowed global games; multinational organization with multinational rules of engagements. Today common folks are on the same platforms. They, born in a country but grew up in another country, work in some other continent and eventually settle in another new country. Exposed to massive digitization, access and internalization of rules of engagement in a massive global society with residency in multiple jurisdictions they are different.

Now Face-to-Face around the world: Compared to previous generations, the new borderless-classes are extremely well informed, this significant feature makes them locally, regionally, nationally and globally interconnected and creates a game changer. Most dramatic economic behaviorism of this borderless dynamic is face-to-face engagement around the world, while remote. Previous elite borderless-class was jet- set dependent.  It will take some deep yoga exercises to figure out mathematical variations to measure the power of their productivity of these hush-hush global whisperers.

What is the world waiting for? What does all this mean to the institutionalized bureaucracies, nestled in governances of the nations of the so-called free world, awaiting a nuke-flash? Perhaps nothing, or shocking realization that masses are discovering by the day how artificially created pre planned economic dramas are hurting local grassroots prosperity. Most importantly, they are equipped and capable to see the root causes and equally to recognize the available workable options. This is the difference.  Unlike some generations fooled sometimes or some all the times but this global-generation cannot fool all the time.

Is this brain drain or invasions of skilled minds?
The coin-operated competency of the Gig-economy now takes notice…

Most difficult questions; almost numbing most bureaucracies of the free world; when billions are already displaced due to pandemic, a billion replaced due to automation and a billion in wrong mismatched mandates how such masses are handled before they move towards populists viewpoints. Such shifts measured as unemployed now occupy remote work for overseas assignments and equally when local workers pushed over by higher skilled workers at half prices but working as foreign workers without paying taxes or contributing to the local societies. Is this brain drain or invasions of skilled minds?  The answers now buried in the several decade long abundance of higher quality upskilling and reskilling in hands of the leading nations of the free world points to massive breakdown of skilled citizenry. Study Expothon on Google on such issues, notice what is changing the thinking…

Only fake economies fail, as only houses built without builders and architectural rules collapse.  Observe the root causes of the last few financial crises. How such collapses systematically occurred, how the whole world of finance, quietly went so wrong, no punishments or lessons, just silence? Now all wait for the repeat performances.

Unfortunately, the jobless cannot create green economies and jobseeker mindsets cannot build new economies, therefore, bold, authoritative narrative on entrepreneurialism needed to bring the job creator mindsets in collaboration as the new art and science and combine both mindsets are going forward strategy. Is climate change a global politics or an entrepreneurial challenge, find the answers.

Study why capitalism is not the one failing: It is actually economic development. Winners of the future not necessarily are the visible rich and power of today. Notice the rising power of the bottom societies. Value creation economies when they become beneficiaries of primarily institutionalized value manipulation economies they become open public frauds. Nations without clear and decipherable narratives on economic fronts with national mobilization of entrepreneurialism will not create a distinct advantage.  Learn fast, fail fast, but move

Nations must demonstrate superior skills to build economies and not wars, creation of armies of entrepreneurs and new valleys of new enterprises.  Only in-depth discussion and nationally televised debates about such economical mysteries will highlight the answers. The silent new borderless-classes of the free economic world are now learning how to fix their government, how to bring change and how to create grassroots prosperity. The rest is easy. 

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