Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"Dear" banks

What do you think of bank charges?

I had a horrible money-losing experience with bank charges since the beginning of this year. Due to a cheque that bounced end of last year.
You see, I have two accounts with this bank but I don't exactly use them as they are too basic. One of them was the first account that I opened in the UK so I wanted to keep it due to the long personal history (Lesson: it is business I shouldn't be personal). I put odds and ends in there and have some direct debits from ages ago ... Mostly magazine subscriptions to be honest. Let's call this, account number 1.

Now, account number 2 was opened a year and half ago. This was an attempt to upgrade account 1. I was hoping to bank with this institution again as the other one that I use on a regular basis is becoming off putting with their services. But again, I was given the most basic account of them all so I didn't really see the point of using account number 2 either.

One happy day last year I wrote a cheque for a magazine. Instead of writing from account 1, I mistakenly wrote from the cheque book of account 2. I use cheques like... twice a year. Bam! Cheque bounced but magazine still came regularly so I didn't really realized that a cheque had bounced. It turns out I have a direct debit w/the magazine but they had sent me the cheque notification as well... by mistake?! Why do people keep making these silly mistakes? You see, if the cheque didn't bounce, I would be getting two copies of this magazine monthly.  I wish that had happened.

Anyway 2 months+ on from that bounced cheque, I still hadn't noticed it 'til one sunny morning they called me to say I had charges. I went online to check... And went bonkers! For some reason it had gone from bounced £35 cheque to almost 200£ overdraft (worth of charges!).

So apparently this bank charges you a £20 maintenance fee a month if you went overdraft. For any amount. On top of that there was a 30£ charge for ... (don't remember what to be honest). Probably for them having to call me? And of course there were interests accumulated on that "overdraft", which to be honest is interest on the charges they imposed. You see, interest on interest is what bankers, retail or investment, love! Are you still following me?

That interest as I found out yesterday was around 20%.

I understand my personal mistakes in monitoring of my accounts. And I deserve to be charged for bad management but it surely doesn't cost £20 to maintain an account per month? Neither do I deserve an interest on top of  that monthly charge?!

So I talked to them and explained the situation I was in... They replied that they could only wave the £30 "penalty fee". I had to put in the remaining (almost £200) to bring my account up to date! Imagining losing £200 for a stupid mistake?! So I paid up. Blaming no one but myself. After I bought the account back to order, I contemplated closing the accounts... A few days later I moved all remaining amount from account 2 to account 1 (I had put in over £200 just in case). And then life happens, sometimes you forget to do non-life-threatening things.

A month later on a random check, account 2 has gone in arrears by £20.59. I went "huh"? I cleared everything?" So I called them up and was explained that there was still interest charge of -59p on my account from the month of February?! I asked "Didn't I pay off everything already?". The adviser kindly said "No. But if you pay in the £21 then I will waive the charge as goodwill. 59p is a small amount".

Two days later and the £25 I put in only has £4 something left. I thought "wait a minute, shouldn't I be given back the £20 charge that as been waived on that 59p?". So I called again, and guess what I was told "No. You have been waived the £20 charge for the month of April!" Wtf!!! It isn't even April yet! I was seriously confused.

So I went on a rant. Believe me I gave them a piece of my mind. Not swearing. But just tell them that none of these charges was making sense if it was nothing I had done. I have relatively good financial knowledge and I had worked at a retail bank when I was at uni. So I understand it is a business and there is cost involved. But this was just utterly unfair. They claimed that I had overdrawn 59p. No I did not!!! They had charge me interest for I don't know what, then charge me another fee for "being overdrawned" and could have kept charging me (even in advance for April) even though I had bought the account up to date in March!

Frankly the lady on the land must have thought "shit. This really doesn't make sense". But she was a good employee and stuck to her ground. Kept explaining but made little sense. I kinda understand how it works for them as my accounting professor used to say "always consolidate your account". But I was in no mood to be have money taken away from me again. And so unfairly. I demanded to get my money March charge back. Even if it was just £20. After an hour, I won.

I apologized for raising my voice at her. It wasn't her fault. It was the retail banking system that has been put in place. Made no sense whatsoever with their charges. Charging people for being irresponsible is ok. But that charge should level with the amount. It does not cost you £20 if people overdraw say £1. And in this case, it hadn't even been overdrawning. They overdrawn on me!

I started thinking about other people who may not have much money monthly and are only making ends meet. Had they not been qualified for an overdraft and somehow they are overdrawn even just £1 or £2 every month, they will keep having to pay interest on that. And they probably don't know it because they use it so regularly. I prob wouldn't notice anything had I it been my normal account. It's scary that we actually don't really know what goes in and out of our account. Even if we think we do.

Now I'm off to investigate on my more regularly-used accounts!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, 29 March 2010

Testing MoBlogging

I am only just checking out Mobile blogging. It is fab :) Camel is about to write on the go...the suit-case kid style!

By Huma Mulji
(Currently exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, London)

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sounds of London (video unedited)

I was walking by Gabriel's Wharf one Friday afternoon and suddenly I noticed the sound of the Thames for the first time. A random thought occur that I should record this...

Had there been only sound, how many of us would believe this is central London? No traffic noise nor ambulance siren... just the water hitting shore, people talking, kids playing in the distance. Quite lovely, isn't it?

We live in one of the busiest cities in the world, where there is something happening every single minute it seems. But in London we are also quite blessed with beautiful green & quiet spaces, you just need to look out for it. And appreciate it.

Currently almost everyone I know is looking to move elsewhere. To many, London is like a stop-over. I hope they get to where they want to be but I just wish sometimes they would stop and listen to the real London...  another side of the city that isn't all noise, glitz&glamour nor money-talking...

For me, this is my soul-mate city and if I could, I would always come back here. Like a person coming home. Sometimes home is where you make it to be.

I Love London - for richer or poorer.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Earth Hour 2010

Will anyone be taking part in Earth Hour 2010? At 8.30pm local time on Saturday, March 27th, cities, businesses and homes across the world turn off their light electricity for an hour to show solidarity and call for action on climate change. Many iconic landmarks like Sydney Harbour Bridge, Big Ben in London , Tour Effel a Paris, CN Tower in Toronto, The Golden Gate Bridge in SanFran will have lights switched off for one hour as a symbol of hope for a cause that is urgent.

I am all for raising awareness and the movement has raised considerable momentum across the globe since it started. It is truly quite magnificent. From East to West within 24 hours, we probably do save a considerable amount of energy  for this occasion.

However, I do have a funny story from last year...

This day last year, Will and I were in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and March 27th 2009 happened to be a Friday. We were walking down the main street from Town Hall when traffic all of a sudden picked up like crazy. You have to understand our amazement because ... 1. Being Vietnamese I am already used to the crazy traffic and 2. my travel partner was also used to it after one week in Vietnam. But that night, it was unbelievable!!! The streets were so thick of traffic, literally one motorbike after another in a constant stream, like a never ending snake making its way through the quite large boulevards of HCMC. And they didn't seem to be moving either. Motorbikes actually spilled on to pavements to try and get ahead of each other... Where they were trying to go, we had no idea. We were just so stunned with the sight that was in front of us. Will kept asking me what was happening and I seriously was clueless. I knew it was some sort of celebrations as the Viet like to show their enthusiasm and solidarity on the streets.

In no time I realized it was Earth Hour as there was music and speeches from somewhere near the City Theatre. So everyone had gathered in the centre to celebrate the occasion, which was nice. But it just happened that they were all on their motorbikes, all of which were on power but none was moving anywhere. I hope the electricity they saved on this occasion compensated for the amount of fuel that was used and released into the city air. If that made sense?

So my point is, raising awareness is important... but we hope that that awareness will go further and turn into actions; that it won't stop at being just "noise". We have enough of that in the world.

As for our part, we were strolling the streets of Saigon that night on foot so we did our Earth Hour duty by saving the electricity of our hotel room. That probably benefited the hotel more than anyone else. This year, we will light candles in central London and smoke up on the balcony before hitting London night life. Hell yeah!

No photograph taken that night. This is a video of us crossing traffic on a typical normal day in HCMC. Gotta love Asia.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Economists taking over!

What will Economists do when they take over? This is a hilarious post by Freakonomics Radio.

Freakonomics NYTimes - What would the World Look Like when Economists take over?
If you can, please listen to the podcast - it's funny! An abstract from interview with Russ Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Stephen J Dubner: Okay, let’s play a fantasy game for a minute and pretend that you, Russ Roberts, a creative and very bright economist come to Washington and are put in charge of the whole country. And unlike every other economist that’s ever gone to high office, you don’t start acting like a politician. You really act like an economist from day one. So you get there, you’re behind the desk, you’ve got a pen and paper. What are some of the first things you do as soon as you arrive?
Russ Roberts: I’m getting goose bumps, it’s so exciting. Well, what I would do? Let’s start with some obvious things. I would get rid of the Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce doesn’t do anything except subsidize exports, which is just a way of saying it makes certain companies rich at the expense of the rest of us. So I don’t think the Department of Commerce does anything particularly useful, I would get rid of that. I’d get rid of the Department of Education. I don’t think that the Federal Government has any productive role to play in the school system. I’d get rid of all tariffs. I’d let people be free to buy whatever they wanted from all around the world. What else? I would get rid of the minimum wage law, which I think makes it hard for low-skilled people to find work; it makes them artificially expensive. I’d change the Federal Reserve. We spend a lot of time trying to find the right interest rate. That’s a fool’s game that has contributed to the current crisis. So I would change the Federal Reserve. I would certainly at a minimum require it to only care about price stability. Right now it cares about price stability, unemployment, the health of the stock market, Wall Street salaries, evidently. So I would get all of those things out. It’s going to be hard to do legislatively, so I would probably replace the the Fed with a Friedmanite fixed growth and money supply or just abolish it entirely and let private money emerge. I’m getting out of control here.


'Ello 2010

So far, 2010 has blessed me with great kindness. Personally I still have a lot of S*** in my life to sort and figure out but surrounded by wonderful friends have helped me, all of whom are so beautiful, so caring and fun. Most of whom have their own version of "carpe diem" which inspires me every single day. I can't thank life enough for the people who have come into mine and have become "like hand prints in my heart". It makes my life away from my family a bit easier.

I have also gotten to know some wonderful new friends, who are also great sources of inspiration for me. Ladies you know who you are :) I hope our friendships will flourish.

My mind is clearer and more focus, thanks to my new commitment and passion for yoga. This is an exciting journey for me. I don't really know where it will lead me but I have a feeling it is the right one. I will share my stories with you along the way.

So yes, I hope the first quarter has been a great one for everyone!