After one of its legal advisors reportedly quit, Speak Asia's PR agency LinOpinion, has also decided to stay away from the controversial MLM company
Speak Asia, the controversial online survey company, is facing rough weather these days. Following reports about senior advocate Ashok Saraogi quitting as one of its legal advisors, here comes other news. LinOpinion Public Relations, a division of Lowe Lintas group is no longer handling the Speak Asia account.
Lowe Lintas, one of India's top communication groups is a unit of Interpublic Group (IPG), and is part of the Lowe Worldwide network. The PR agency had won the full service business for Speak Asia online just three months ago.
Last month, several banks froze accounts of Speak Asia's distributors...sorry, technically, they all are distributors of Haren Ventures Pte Ltd, while Singapore-based United Overseas Bank closed accounts of Speak Asia online Pte Ltd. Following this, the MLM company has stopped paying its agents and accepting cash transfer requests as well, according to some panellists who do not want to reveal their names. They said the company continued sending some surveys and deposited reward points in the agent's e-wallet on its website. But the reward points cannot be encashed, unless the company accounts are unfrozen. Nevertheless, by its own admission, Speak Asia's chief executive Harender Kaur said in an e-mail to agents that the process to open an account in another bank in Singapore would take six to eight weeks and it could not pay money to anyone till that time.
The multi-level marketing (MLM) company that used to claim and advertise as "Asia's largest Online Survey Company" has changed its mind and tagline, and now describes itself on its website as "Asia's Largest Community of Sovereign Consumers".
Speak Asia also appears to be communicating with its panellists through the Moneylife website in the guise of a member. An email posted as a comment says,
"Few figures for you which shows how SPEAK ASIA is taking care of us:
Present Balance in UOB a/c of SA: 482 million dollars
(Sufficient funds to pay survey income to all the existing panelist for the next two years)
Now company has to withdraw funds from UOB as per the decision of UOB bank (Not abide by RBI, Govt. of India or Singapore its UOB's own decision as they are confused b'coz of media).
So company is taking following decision:
Escrow a/c*: 200 million dollars
a/c with new bank: 300 million dollars
But to process the pending request it will take some time so the company is trying to establish a temporary arrangement on priority basis for the newly associated 4 lakh panelists so that they don't get panic.
For SA upcoming ambitious project i.e. e-shoppe SA is already having 10 million dollars in advance from different prestigious brands.
Another fantastic news any time in the coming months SA in association with a UK based company can go for a 2G spectrum licence and launch our own Mobile network.
In context to ad based survey SA has already captured approx. 10% of the market share from advertisement in the TV channels all over India.
From Monday onwards their will be SMS blast by company to make us aware about new updates and news.
We had made a claim of Rs.3320.00 crores to all those who tried to defame us.
All staff of company will not withdraw their 2 month salary to support company at this crucial time.
2ND june 2011 talkatora stadium delhi booked for 2 seasons meeting of ticket 200/- only. (morning & evening 4000 speak asians each seasons) for tickets call priyal sir & myself.
(Three cheers for them)
Its really a good news to cheer.
Moneylife emailed it to top officials who gave us their visiting cards at the press conference on 16 May 2011. However, our messages sent, especially to Manoj Kumar, the company chief executive for India, bounced. Our mails to Mr Kumar have bounced many times in the past as well.
This (the bounced mails) further reveals, that the so-called biggest survey company, with over 19 lakh agents, does not even have its own e-mail server. Instead, all its officials use a paid e-mail service from Rediffmail Pro that is available for as low as Rs1,199 a year for five e-mail IDs.
Last month, advocate Saraogi called a press conference in Mumbai, barely after five days after Speak Asia's first media interface. Speaking at the press conference, Mr Saraogi said, "The company (Speak Asia) is not selling any surveys to panellists, but e-zines to its subscribers. Surveys are offered as additional benefit and can be withdrawn any time if the company's contract with clients comes to an end."
The senior lawyer also claimed that Speak Asia is selling its magazine over the Internet, which is allowed under the existing law in India and the company is in the publications business. Although Mr Saraogi said that he was a legal advisor for Speak Asia, not a single official from the company was present at the press conference.
We learn from our investigations and Speak Asia officials have also confirmed that the company is not registered in India and does not have any establishment or office in the country.
According to a PTI report, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) said it could not investigate the Singapore-based multi-level marketing (MLM) company as it is not registered in India. "Speak Asia is not registered in India so we cannot do any investigation against it. MCA does not have any database of the company," corporate affairs secretary DK Mittal told reporters in New Delhi. He also said that Speak Asia has not applied for registration with the ministry, PTI reported.
However, on Wednesday, Manoj Kumar, Speak Asia's chief executive, told reporters in Delhi that the company is in the process of seeking approval from the Registrar of Companies, the Reserve Bank of India and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. This is in contrast with the company's stand throughout past several months that it does not require any kind of permission, registration or licence from any Indian authority.
Since the company does not have any office in India, it is difficult to start proceedings against it, in case somebody wants to file a case. It becomes difficult to file a case in any police station as the company does not have any address in India and hence the police might refuse to lodge a complaint. According to Mr Saraogi, in such cases one can file a case from whatever location he or she is present and has accessed the website. Police can register a complaint based on the IP address location, he said.
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While a majority of countries have shifted to more secured card payment systems like EMV plus PIN, the US, China and India are still not ready to ditch the magnetic strip card system. However, due to newer payment systems, the future of the card payment system looks bleak
Credit cards and debit cards, or automated teller machine (ATM) cards, commonly referred to as plastic money, are undergoing tremendous changes across the globe. In order to improve security and reduce frauds in plastic cards and card payment transactions, authorities, researchers and innovators are searching for newer ways. This has resulted in many countries shifting to the more secure Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) chip cards with personal identification numbers (PIN).
However, countries like the US, China and India are still using the older magnetic strip cards (MSDs) and signature, or PIN verification, for plastic cards transactions. In the US, the resistance to change is primarily due to the cost of migration to EMV, as profitable revenue channels associated with current interchange fees do not offset the cost of re-carding. In China there is a strong legal framework to handle financial frauds, which acts as a deterrent to fraudsters.
On the other hand, over 99% of the total cards issued in India are based on magnetic strips. Interestingly, about 90% of the existing point of sales (POS) terminals in the country, managed by 21 acquirers (among them Axis Bank, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank), can accept EMV chip cards and PIN. However, not all ATMs are equipped to do the same. Only 50% of the existing ATMs with minimal software and hardware upgrades can accept EMV chip cards. The rest of the ATMs would need major hardware upgrades, or even replacement, to enable EMV chip card acceptance.
A majority of the lenders, who have installed around 70,000 ATMs across the country, are also not keen to spend on upgradation. There is a reason for this. According to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rules, any cardholder can use another lender's ATM free of cost, for up to five transactions each month. This means, that many lenders are serving many who are not their customers, through ATMs, without earning much revenue from these transactions. On the other hand, lenders earn commission on each transaction through the POS terminals.
In the period between March 2010 and February 2011, the total spends value in India on credit and debit cards, including e-commerce, interactive voice response (IVR) and mail-order/telephone-order (MOTO) transactions, was Rs1.13 lakh crore. In the same period, India had 22.2 crore debit cards and 1.8 crore credit cards, while there were 5.6 lakh POS and around 70,000 ATMs installed.
The industry reported a loss of Rs13 crore due to stolen and counterfeit card frauds. While the fraud-to-sales ratio came at 1.4 basis points (bps), early cases of domestic counterfeit and skimming are on the rise.
Certain issuers such as Citibank and State Bank of India issue Maestro debit cards. Maestro debit cards are magnetic stripe cards that require a PIN to be entered at the POS terminal. Citibank's experience has been that card usage levels are significantly lower when a PIN is required to be entered at the POS terminal. No wonder that a majority of cards require the user to use the PIN only for ATM transactions and not at POS.
A few large card-issuing lenders like Citibank, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and SBI issue EMV chip cards, while for most other banks the host systems are not ready and have not been certified for issuance of chip card. However, these banks are issuing chip-based cards to customers who frequently travel abroad and have high credit limits. In addition, all these cards use signatures as a second authentication instead of the global practice of using PINs.
However, MSDs and PIN are susceptible to skimming or counterfeit frauds. This has forced many countries to adopt the EMV chip card and PIN, which protects against skimming and lost and stolen card frauds. Based on international experience, EMV chip card and PIN migration typically takes more than five years, depending on the market size.
According to a report by a "Working Group on Securing Card Present Transactions" of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), there is a need to put in place a series of measures to strengthen the payments infrastructure and ecosystem in the country. Inferences drawn from case studies clearly indicate the need to have a much stronger authentication mechanism and reiterate the need for a second factor (2FA) for card present transactions.
"In the absence of 2FA for POS transactions there is a possibility of the fraud losses increasing by more than 200% in a single year, in the event of a sharp increase in fraud incidents in the country. There is also a possibility of POS FTS (fraud-to-sales ratio) increasing by around 200 basis points in one year under adverse conditions," the report said.
The report discusses new systems like EMV chip cards with PIN that has been adopted by many countries and enhancing the current MSD card system with help from biometric identification.
"Aadhaar (issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India - UIDAI) authentication using biometrics, provides a strong 'Who you are' factor of authentication. This can be combined with a second 'What you have' or 'What you know' factor to achieve strong customer identification at the point of sale."
While the option to use biometrics from the UIDAI database looks good, in practice, due to insufficient feasibility tests, it may not be a viable option. "The working committee considered biometric, or UID, as the second factor in one of the solution sets; however, the decision to adopt this would depend on various factors like the number of UIDs issued to the population which transacts through cards, the error rates, authentication network capability to handle transaction volumes, network capability to handle enhanced transaction size and acquiring infrastructure," the report said.
Therefore, while on paper the use of biometrics as 2FA may sound feasible, its uses would be limited at specific locations. In this situation, EMV chip cards and PIN look like the future proof system, despite the higher costs, for card-based transactions. Nevertheless, this may not be the last in payment transaction systems.
According to Bhavin Mody, senior product manager, ElectraCard Services, EMV chip and PIN cards require the industry to make a huge investment in the card issuing and acquiring infrastructure. In addition, it involves replacing all the MSD cards that have been issued, which in itself could be a huge exercise.
"EMV chip and PIN is surely a long-term solution, but it would require a very long time (3-5 years) to implement. One more advantage, which EMV chip cards have, is that this solution is extendible to offline modes of payments. This would enable mass transit payments and payments requiring fast-moving queues," he said.
One of the options available for payment ecosystem players to consider is contactless smart cards. Transit payments, like metro rail, buses, toll and loyalty applications and micro-transactions might accelerate the move to contactless cards in India. Contactless transactions are known to be significantly faster and more efficient than magnetic stripe or contact cards.
Last month, internet search giant Google launched 'Google Wallet', which allows people with compatible mobile phones to pay for goods and services in shops by just waving their phones. (http://googlemobile.blogspot.com/2011/05/coming-soon-make-your-phone-your-wallet.html). Google Wallet is based on near field communication (NFC) protocol. According to Juniper Research, by 2013, one in five smart phones in the world would have NFC capability. NFC is also available as a MicroSD card or sticker.
Ashok Shankar, Solutions Deployment Manager at NCR Corp India Pvt Ltd, said, "Financial institutions along with regulatory authorities and technology companies could come together and use a holistic approach to address the security risk and other aspects by adopting technology such as NFC that significantly eliminates potential frauds and benefits the entire eco-system including Customers, Banks and Technology providers."
Such technologies will be a huge advantage in India, which has 24 crore debit and credit cards and 58.1 crore GSM mobile subscribers, as of April 2011.
"The nation wide adoption of the NFC technology could be viewed from a 3-5 year roadmap. The first priority however, is to be given to safe guard customer's trust in the ATM channel and his investments with the bank. We believe that now is the best time than ever as consumers continue to demand more and are looking for enhanced self-service experience," Mr Shankar added.
In November last year, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) launched its much-awaited interbank mobile payment service (IMPS), which has the potential to change the payments scenario in the country. According to bankers, this system could revolutionise the retail payments process and even overtake the number of payment transactions carried out through cards and the internet.
However, while there are nearly 60 crore mobile phone subscribers, there are less than 20 crore 'active' bank accounts. Although on record there are about 31 crore savings bank accounts, many of them are either multiple accounts or they are not operational. IMPS could help revive these accounts.
Unfortunately, the initial response for IMPS from lenders and customers has been lukewarm. In the absence of information and awareness campaigns from the lenders to the end user, the IMPS may not take off, as per expectation. Moneylife has been trying to get access and use IMPS for subscription services since December last year, without any luck so far. The reason is no one from our bank or branch seems to have complete knowledge about IMPS.
In the end, there is not a single payment transaction system that we can label as future proof. While the EMV chip card and PIN provide good options for safe and secure card payments, other systems which use mobile phone may turn out to be the dark horse.
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What Anna Hazare is saying may not be news anymore. And even as the scams are increasing every day, for those who are over-exposed there is a numbness that is creeping in. But, on the ground, an awareness is building, which was not there before
Anna Hazare was on television all day long on Wednesday, and what he as well as his supporters are saying, is not news anymore. Nor is the scale of corruption and scams—increasing by leaps and bounds every day—really all that surprising either. Truly, there is a numbness creeping in, and that's a simple truth.
But what is surprising is the way this government is trying its level best to make any sort of dissent or protest next to impossible. Tactics mastered in small towns and habitats far away from the public eye are being tried out-from the Ramdev episode to what they tried yesterday—much of which did not make it on the news.
On one side, the Civil Society protest meeting at Jantar Mantar was denied "permissions", on the grounds that Section 144 does not permit a gathering of more than five people. On the other side, a quick drive past the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) offices, as well as the Race Course part of Race Course Road, where they race horses also, and in the same New Delhi District, Section 144 certainly did not seem to apply—it was business as usual, like at any other counter selling tickets, for example.
What was the real reason, then? One hint dropped was that last time around, easy access to Jantar Mantar because of the Delhi Metro was a reason for the success, and orders had come "from above" that this could not be permitted this time around. In addition, Jantar Mantar is surrounded by all the logistical back-ups required-food, access to medical facilities, close to the welcoming environs of Gurudwara BanglaSahib (a traditional safe haven) and more.
You have to understand the geographical location of Rajghat, to figure out how devious minds can work. It can be accessed only by road, and a few small traffic diversions can make it close to impossible for people travelling there by bus to reach the venue. We saw that also, as the whole of Ring Road was closed off to southbound traffic from Shantivana till the ITO Bridge crossing.
In addition, the place is remote as far as other back-ups are concerned. So not only would you have to walk, all the way from Old Delhi, but you also had no facilities in the area.
At the venue itself, it seems that no effort was spared to make things as uncomfortable as possible for the participants, squeezed into a small area on one side, leaving the larger part of the area reserved for the authorities to stand and listen too.
Despite that, there were a few thousand people present, and more on the streets outside, trying to get there. And to put things in perspective, the gathering was certainly eclectic, with people from all segments of society present. Correction: most segments.
Unlike in the past, with the Freedom Struggle with which this is compared, glaringly obvious by their absence this time around are those who claim to be impacted the most by corruption: the industrialists, their associations and what could pass of for modern-day royalty.
Drive past the offices of CII, ASSOCHAM, FICCI, and it is business as usual. Search for their latest activities online, fighting corruption is nowhere among the new horizons. Yes, it did appear as though markets and roads were not as crowded as usual; that was probably due to the continuous coverage of the Rajghat events throughout the day.
However, on the ground, matters are rapidly reaching some sort of boiling point, and not just with the people attending. More than a few rank and file from the recently much-maligned Delhi police appear to be more than aware of what is really going on and are making their views heard as well as felt.
Most of all, however, is the simple fact that some of us who have been over-exposed may be reaching a numbness or cynical stage. But, on the ground, there is an awareness across segments that was not there before. And that, truly, is something the already-informed among us are not able to understand, appreciate and digest. This is no longer some convenient Congress versus BJP game. This is more than that: people have twigged to the simple fact that bi-polar politics is about tweedle-dee-dee and tweedle-dee-dum, 12 of one and a dozen of the other.
And that is something which Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and team have picked up on. At Rajghat, the Congress leaders were about as popular as the BJP leaders, and that is something not coming through strongly enough in mainstream reportage.
As I send this article, I am surprised to see and hear P Chidambaram competing with the closing moments of Anna Hazare's fast, just when Arvind Kejriwal was getting into full flow.
If anything else, the body language of our UPA government leaders, the ones who are not headed for Tihar that is, gets more and more worrisome every day. Here too, the whole approach smells of a patronising and condescending attitude towards the rest of us Indians, and the effect is the same as that of Iftikar (as cop) landing up in Hindi movies in the old days to take the villains away.
Of course, we know the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is behind the good Baba, we didn't need the might of the State and the home ministry to tell us that; but more than that, who is behind the RSS?
The answer to that lies in another anecdote: 'Whose mother anywhere in India would cook a halwa of any sort without adding saffron to it?'
Anna Hazare's movement makes one thing very clear—the people of the country really don't see much difference in the saffron tinges of both the Congress and the BJP. And won't see them through rose-tinted glasses anymore, either. Anybody who promises, and delivers, fair development, gets to govern the country. Simple as that.
However, if you are going to sell the country, then goodbye. And it doesn't matter if you are like Iftikar, you now go with the bad guys; movies have changed.