Friday, 28 August 2015

Avoid Go Direct Stock Market Investments

Here's a warning about Go Direct Stock Market Investments from the the Financial Services Board in Cape Town.
"The Financial Services Board (FSB) warns the public against conducting financial services business with Go Direct Stock Market Investments (GDSMI), Mr Mzoxolo Bezu and/or Mr Mbuso Mthethwa."
Given that the High Court in Grahamstown declared the scheme as "unlawful" in October last year, don't you think that the authorities would have perhaps reacted a little faster than this?

We first warned people to be cautious over two years ago and NBFIRA issued a public warning a few months after that. Maybe it takes South African regulators a little longer to recognize a scam when they see one?

Inspired

Perhaps the most emotional and uplifting elements in our recent Consumer Watchdog Conference were the service stars we celebrated. They were the real stars of the event, the ones deserving the greatest recognition.


These were individuals who had demonstrated the highest levels of customer service over the last year. In the last year we’ve received about two hundred celebrations of such people. We took that list and narrowed it down to about fifty and then gave that list to an independent panel of business people who managed to reduce it to thirteen. These were the people who Former President Mogae helped us recognize at the conference.


All of these people have certain things in common, regardless of whether they work in a bank, a parastatal, an insurance company, a supermarket or the public service. They all have incredible commitment to their employer, their colleagues and above all, their customers but better than that, they all have passion. Real passion.


If you join our Facebook group or look at our blog you can see a video we shot of interviews with all the service stars but I think some of the things they said need to be published. All of these comments were unrehearsed and unscripted. They were all speaking from the heart.



We asked what they thought great customer service was. One said:
“Excellent customer service is the first impression that you give to the customer. Smiling to the customer, greeting the customer by his name or her name and also selling your products, putting yourself in the shoes of the customer and making the customer feel happy and walkaway with a smile, wowing a customer.”

We asked them where good service comes from. Their comments included:
“Where there is team work there is always good results.”
“Good customer service is something that you learn and nurture. For you to offer good service you need to really understand what a customer means to the business. You really need to have that element of treating people with respect and integrity that they deserve.”
Several of them mentioned the cultural inspiration that helped them offer such amazing service.
“If you have botho you humble yourself and speak in a manner that this particular person you are assisting would understand, and put their trust in, whatever you are serving them with.”
“Good customer service should actually be inculcated through the spirit of botho because once you have botho you know what another person measn to you.”
“Botho is very important because if you treat other people the way you want to be treated it’s going to be easy to work with other people. You have to have passion for helping people, you have to love other people so that it becomes easier when you work with them on a daily basis.”
They told us what we needed to do as a nation to spread this approach.
“Customer service should be taught to the young children so that when they grow up they have to know what is expected in life.”
A police officer told us that: “I think it should be included in the curriculum, because for instance in my organization customer service is very important, it improves public trust. We need public trust so much.”

Others spoke about their personal motivations.
“For me, seeing a smile on the customer’s face, I mean, it’s what I come for every day”.
“That makes my day, to see a customer excited, to have that smile.”
“I think customer service is in me, it’s in you. Customer service is all about building a good relationship between you and the customer. The moment the customer enters through the door that thing should burn. You should be willing to help the customer.”
“I live with a motto which goes ‘my purpose in life is to help others’.”
“Customer service is very easy because what you have to do is just to humble yourself and respect other people and love them. Give them love, show them that you really want to help them.”
“Yes, it is a stressful job but if you like your job it’s not!”
A public servant from the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (who I hope is destined for a senior position) told us that:
“We need to really up our game and help our citizens and our visitors.”
One of my personal favorites is a police officer. He said that:
“I would like to encourage all members of the Police Service to strive to be the best in whatever service they render to the public because that is essential especially for winning public trust. We need public trust, we need people to trust us because we have been entrusted with protecting them, protecting their property, ensuring their safety. Some people say it’s not part of our culture but I tend to disagree because we have always been practicing it and it has always been enrooted in our culture.”
The same police officer told us:
“I would like all of the police to shun mediocrity at work, to be always compassionate when helping members of the public.”
He concluded by saying this, which I think is truly impressive:
“I believe that criminals do deserve good customer care because they are also humans. They are entitled to their rights, they don’t have to have their rights trampled upon just because they are criminals.”
I urge you to take a look at the video clip online. Check our blog and Facebook group to see it. I guarantee you’ll be inspired by these wonderful people, all of whom have demonstrated that they don’t just talk about excellent customer service, they deliver it as well.

I promise you that you’ll be inspired.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Was I scammed?

I have a problem with an insurance policy. In May 2013 I opened a policy through a financial advisor and contributed a sum of P1,500 monthly and it was deducted at source through my employer’s payroll. In February 2015 I changed employment hence my premium could not be deducted in March 2015. In May 2015 I received an SMS informing me that my account was in arrears. In June I went to update my account whereupon I was referred to the insurance company offices.

I met a man who gave me a poor service because he could not tell how much I was owing in order update my account. I eventually requested for my statement to see how I had performed since I opened the account. To my surprise the fund had not performed instead I was given a statement with a value of P8,410 but my contributions amounted to P39,615. I was informed that I should continue paying the premiums until 2030 when the true positive value will then reflect. I demanded for all my premiums to be refunded at least since there have not attracted any interest from 2013 but was told to apply for the P8,410 as my only entitlement.

I then called the advisor for further clarification because I cannot invest in fund which hide the performance to policy holder. He requested to continue paying until My 2016 in order to get a positive value. May you please help me with the issue in particular that premium did not perform even though there was no recession whatsoever since 2013.


I think I know what’s happening here but I’m just an amateur. Instead I contacted a friend who is an expert and this is what he said:
“It appears that the consumer has been sold a long-term policy without being guided as to the charges. Long-term policies tend to have fixed charges that pay for the costs of selling and administering the policy over its whole lifetime. These are either taken out explicitly from investment values up-front, or taken out gradually over time with a surrender penalty if the policy is stopped.

This person either has a policy where a) the charges were explicitly taken out up-front (ie the initial part of his money was not invested, but simply went to pay the future charges) or b) the charges are taken out gradually, but he’s now been given a surrender value which includes a surrender penalty.

The bottom line is, if you take out a twenty-year investment policy and cash it in after two years then it’s not going to work.”
I think you should speak to the insurance company to get more detail on the product and to establish when you will in fact go into profit.

Is he being scammed?
My uncle received a communication from Euro Milliones Spanish Lottery Prize Award Department. He has supposedly won millions of Euros and in order for the money to be released to him he has to pay $1450.00. May you kindly investigate on his behalf if these people are genuine.

I think you know that this is a scam, don’t you? I’m certain that everyone else reading this recognizes it.

You need to explain to your uncle that he must not, under any circumstances, send these crooks any money. He needs to understand that there is no prize money, there is no Spanish Lottery win, there is only an advance fee scam. The only genuine element to this is the money they want from him to get the fictitious winnings. That’s the “advance fee” they are seeking. My experience is that if he does send them the money they’ll just demand more and more money from him, endlessly promising him the winnings until he either realizes that he’s being scammed or he simply runs out of money. Please tell him the truth before he loses out to them.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A few pictures from the 2015 Consumer Watchdog Conference

Just a few to begin with. More will certainly follow!

Arrival.








The official opening by His Excellency, Former President Mogae.


The service superstars.




The speakers

Tony Leepile, Chair, Mmegi Investment Holdings

Odie Merafhe, Cash Bazaar Holdings

Stuart White, HRMC
Ben Dahwa, Air Botswana
Sandra Moreau, Maano Masisi, Lepata Mafa, Orange Botswana

Connie Matabiswana, MRI
Adam Jones, Wealth Magazine

Kabelo Binns, Hotwire PRC
And the Day 2 workshops included...

Aldo Brincat, a national treasure.
Bogolo Kenewendo, eConsult
Chris Hughes, LEAD
James Fern, SCI Wellness
Mariam and Vish Sethi, IT-IQ
Our Captain for the flight.

Captain Bonni Dintwa, our MC
And...

Kate Harriman, Consumer Watchdog
Richard Harriman, Consumer Watchdog
And finally, the service stars.


Friday, 21 August 2015

Exhausted

By the time you read this, assuming there hasn’t been earthquakes, lightning strikes or alien abductions, the Consumer Watchdog team will be lying down, having a day off, trying to recover from the exhaustion of the last two days, from the 2015 Consumer Watchdog Conference. Don’t bother calling the office, we’ll be too tired to even pick up the phone.

With luck you’ll see some of the pictures and newspaper coverage of the event that will show that the conference, like last year’s, was very different to other conferences.

I’ve spent a small but significant proportion of my life in conferences, ether speaking or in the audience and the thing that they all have in common is that they can be incredibly boring. Even when the content of the speeches is useful, the approach can be wickedly dull.

But our conferences are different. I believe that in all areas of life, whether it’s our relationships, our jobs or our free time things are always best when we’re having fun. Why can’t it be the same with a conference? Why can’t there be comedy, theatre, music and dance in a conference? Of course the content must be serious, informative and educational but why can’t it be fun as well?

A company called us a few weeks ago enquiring about the conference. “We’ve heard it’s going to be fun”, they said. Yes, we said, it certainly is and then we told them about the speakers and workshops but that we were deliberately inserting fun into the equation. “Then we can’t come”, they told us, “we want it to be serious.”

I’m glad they didn’t come. Who wants people sitting at an entertaining event who look like they’re at a funeral? We certainly don’t.

[Update: They eventually booked a place. Maybe they DO like fun after all?]

We also do our best to be optimistic and despite what some pessimists and professional complainers will tell you, there is plenty of reason to be positive about service in Botswana. Yes, there remain many challenges and there are plenty of organizations who are bad at customer service but there are also many who are doing their very best to make things better.

Do you need examples?

In just the last year we have received celebrations of around 200 service stars. Thirteen of these were celebrated at this year’s conference as service stars, people who are going places. Of the service stars we celebrated in 2014 almost all of them have gone on to better things in the subsequent year. Several have been promoted, one has opened another store, one even left his employer and started his own company in competition with them. They are all examples of what can happen to you and your company when you offer your customers what they deserve. And then give them even more.

I have a confession to make. I was becoming more and more disillusioned about the talk we constantly hear about “Botho”. It seemed to be the sort of thing that politicians and business leaders spoke about but which might not convert into real actions. But that changed in the last few weeks. I’ve met botho in the people we’ve been celebrating. I’ve also seen it in their bosses who are enormously proud of their staff who have been celebrated. One of the MDs told me that their service star, one who we celebrated, was “family” to him and that they were grooming her for a position at a very high level. Last year two of the happiest people I saw at the conference were the two senior managers from a company seeing one of their most junior staff being celebrated by Former President Mogae and everybody else at the event. This year was the same. Proud managers witnessing the people they had trained and developed being recognized as ambassadors for their companies and their country.

Above all other things, this year the conference had a purpose. To dispel the myth (perhaps even “the lie”) that there is something about Botswana and its people that means we aren’t capable of offering excellent customer service. That there is something in our national bloodstream, our heritage, our culture that means we’re incapable of offering the level of service customer want.

Utter rubbish. Complete nonsense.

I have a very strong belief that some of us use this myth as an excuse. For instance I met a middle-aged woman recently who said it was culturally impossible for her to greet a customer if he was young enough to be her son or nephew. “He should be greeting me”, she said. I was tempted to say something callous like “Get over it, he’s paying your salary” but instead I suggested that she should treat this customer exactly as if he WAS her son or favorite nephew. Smile at him the way you would if your son or nephew walked into the room. He’ll love it. Imagine you were a young guy. Wouldn’t you like a bank cashier or waitress who was like your Mum or favorite Auntie?

The real truth is the complete opposite to this idea that we can’t do service in Botswana. The values we cherish, the ones we say define us as a people, are the very same values that equip us to offer the best service in the world. Maybe not the fastest, perhaps not the most sophisticated but nevertheless the warmest and most courteous.

So the message from the conference was simple. There s nothing stopping us from offering customer service not just “as good” as elsewhere, but better than elsewhere. That’s what we need if our national ambitions are to be realized.

And there’s nothing stopping us.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get my money back?

I need your assistance. Last month I paid someone a P500 deposit for them to assist me with proposal for CEDA loans but when I did not receive the receipt after a few days I had a bad feeling and asked if it was too late for me to get my money back and they said there was no problem I could get my money back.

He then said he had to wait for payment from other clients before giving me back my money because I had inconvenienced him which I understood. But its been a month now and I am not sure I will be given my money back and I feel my patience is being taken advantage of. Please your advice and assistance will be highly appreciated.


I think you were extremely reasonable to give the guy a chance to repay you once he received money from other customers, even though I think that tells you a lot about how well he runs his business. If he doesn’t have P500 in the bank you have to wonder how reliable he is in other areas?

Frankly I’m a little tired of this excuse. We’ve heard from all sorts of companies making this excuse. “We can’t refund you until other customers come in with cash.” It’s just not acceptable in 2015. Haven’t they heard of internet banking? Haven’t they realized that delaying a refund is simply wrong?

Real, trustworthy companies, the sort that you want to deal with, set aside modest reserves of cash to cope with these situations. I think it’s also fair to say that companies that say they can help you get a loan but who can’t manage their own finances, can’t be trusted.

I tried to contact the guy but he refuses to respond. I suggest that you write him a formal letter giving him 14 days to give you the refund. If he doesn’t pay you back then you should go straight to the Small Claims Court with all your paperwork and get an order against him.

Update: He sent the reader a message saying “if you feel the need to threaten me go na le small claims court not richard. i dont answer to him and wont talk to him”.

He has one week or the gloves come off.

SMS warning
A number of readers have contacted us asking about strange text messages that they’ve received. All of them have originated from overseas and they‘ve all implied that the recipient to should call the number in question.

Several came from number starting with +44701 and said things like “Hello We have important Voice message for you call ‘free’ this number now to hear it”. Other messages arrived from numbers starting with +675 and said things like “I need your love” or "its cold today, I need u to warm me tonight", “its so hot today i need you” and “Hi darling i mis yu a lot”.

There are various things that might be happening here. They could be the beginning of a scam, particularly the ones that are trying to entice you with comments on how loveable you are. However what is perhaps more likely, according to a friend who is a telecoms expert, is that this is an example of “International Revenue Share Fraud”, a long-running scam that exploits the high costs of making international calls to certain countries and the money made by some of the operators you’re calling. The scammers do their best to prolong the time you spend on the phone with lengthy recorded messages. The longer you’re on the phone the more money you’re paying them.

The solution is actually very simple. Don’t ever call an international number unless you know exactly who you’re calling. And even then, why aren’t you using Skype or Facetime?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Insure yourself

Late last year we conducted a public survey on the perceived honesty of twelve different industries. We asked several hundred people on the streets of Gaborone to say whether they felt each industry, including car dealers, banks, attorneys, cellphone network providers and supermarkets, were honest or dishonest.

Given their reputation nobody was surprised that second-hand car dealers were perceived as the least honest, with only 8% of people saying they were honest. They were closely followed by microlenders (18% saying honest) and furniture stores (22% saying honest).

What surprised me most were the scores given to the insurance industry. Only 22% of people said they thought the industry was honest and 60% said they thought the insurance industry was dishonest.

I don’t think that this suggests that the insurance industry IS actually dishonest, I think it means something else. I think it means that the majority of the public simply doesn’t understand what insurance really is. That’s something that we’ve seen at Consumer Watchdog over the last decade. Take this example of a message we received (I’ve removed the name of the funeral parlour).
“There is someone who is part of a union and has a funeral cover which doesn't include a casket and she opened another policy at XXX Funeral Parlour because it has the inclusion of a casket and later on the union policy cover adds casket as part of the funeral cover which meant she had two similar funeral policies. She then writes a letter to XXX to cancel the policy which was successful but was told she will not be able to claim her money or change the policy to another or replace it with another family member. Why can't she be refunded since the policy has never been claimed?”
So is she wrong to think that her friend is entitled to a refund of the premiums because she never made a claim?

Yes, she’s wrong. This isn’t how insurance works. Insurance policies aren’t savings schemes. When you pay insurance premiums, in this case to a funeral parlour, you receive something every day in return: cover against risk. In a sense you’ve paid the company to take the financial risk on your behalf. In return for that small monthly payment they offer you a large payment in the event of a tragedy. If you or one of the people covered by your policy die then they’ll pay out. Even if you’re lucky, nobody dies and you don’t make a claim, you still had the knowledge, the comfort that you were covered if a tragedy had occurred.

We’ve heard this same story many, many times. A lot of people genuinely seem to believe that if they don’t make a claim against an insurance policy then they’re entitled to have their premiums refunded. Then they get angry and that anger is what, I believe, is behind the fact that 60% of people seem to think that the entire insurance industry is dishonest. I suspect that a lot of people have been disappointed when their misunderstandings about insurance have been revealed.

We had another email from a consumer whose wife had a minor car accident. Thankfully nobody was hurt but some damage was done to the other driver’s vehicle. Everyone involved accepted that the collision was her fault. The other driver claimed against his vehicle insurance policy and his car was repaired. However, while the other guy’s insurance covered the repairs there was an “excess” amount of P3,000 that the other driver was required to pay. This is common in insurance policies, there is an amount that the policy doesn’t cover which the insured person has to pay. So the other driver came to the husband, owner of the vehicle, and asked him to pay him back for that sum of P3,000 which he willingly did.

Months later the other driver’s insurance company wrote the husband a letter demanding that he compensate them for the entire cost of the repairs, P10,742. He asked: “Am I legally bound to pay this amount? If so can it be paid in monthly installments?”

The answer is simple. Yes, he IS required to compensate the insurance company. The other driver did nothing wrong, so he deserved to be paid back for his losses and the insurance company didn’t do anything wrong either. They were “innocent parties” and they deserve to get their money back. It’s perfectly normal practice.

Of course what he should have done is had his own vehicle insurance policy. That way THEY would have paid his debts for him. They would have taken the risk for him.

Finally another consumer contacted us asking if it was true what an insurance salesman had told her. That if all her family had funeral plans that covered her grandfather only one of them could ever claim when he passed away. Could this be true?

No, of course it’s not. If someone is covered by multiple policies then multiple claims can be made. The insurance company confirmed this to us, saying that: “This is definitely incorrect. We pay benefits based on whether or not all premiums are up to date and not based on how many people had covered the deceased.”

I’m a big believer in insurance. It protects you against the financial threats offered by all manner of events. It can save you a fortune if a disaster occurs. The problem is that I don’t think we’re being educated enough about it by insurance companies. The stories we hear seem to confirm that. The fact that 60% of people don’t trust the entire insurance industry seems to confirm that as well. They are seen as only slightly more trustworthy than second-hand car dealers and loan sharks.

So insurance industry, what are you going to do about that?