German Tsunami Mission in Asia – My Experience and Memories

I couldn’t imagine how a tremour underneath in the form of an earthquake by tectonic plate movements caused a massive disaster in the coastal areas of most of the Indian Ocean Rim countries.

Memories of the early morning travel from George Town, the capital of Penang Island of Malaysia to the Teluk Bahang, the northern coastal front of the island still come to mind with the different panoramas of the Strait of Malacca and the silently waving southern seas of Andaman-Nicobar Islands in the far distance.

Likewise the memories of my recent visit in association with a mission on disaster relief to the northern regions of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna come to mind.

Dietmar Doring, Director of “Peace Village International”, a German national with his country’s young university students as volunteers, Jean Claude Ramige, a veteran German documentary filmmaker who visited and documented various issues ranging from the tribal’ cultures to the worst war atrocities around the world and a few relief work volunteers from some local television channels made up the rest of the group.

When we arrived in Kilinochchi, twilight was turning into complete darkness everywhere. A member of the Sea Tiger unit of the LTTE was all the way along with us by guiding us in the tsunami ravaged areas.

The LTTE member was telling us that they were discovering everyday the dead bodies of the tidal wave victims from a pond which was once a rain water catchment – source, but now a sea water overflowing area.

He said that the bodies were being burnt immediately after recovery and asked us to wait to witness that day’s excavation. The heavy devastation had not only shattered the coastal areas but also the planet earth itself by changing its orbital direction by the explosion it caused.

We had a chance to meet a Catholic priest who narrowly escaped from the tragedy near his totally perished church in coastal Mullaitivu. His visit to a nearby church that fateful day saved him and left a spiritual leader alive, who could lead the remaining few who have lost their kith and kin and almost everything.

The flood ravaged ruins of the houses were scattered everywhere and I managed to get onto a piece of debris to have a wider view of the area.

Now I could see the far corner of the village “Kallapadu”, a southern coastal hamlet of Mullaitivu which was totally devastated by the giant tidal waves.

My inner-eyes started to visualize in a distance spectrum gradually and now I could experience the tragedies of the coastal hamlets “Semmalai” and “Alampil”, which were almost sunk underneath, where a few years ago, during my tenure as an officer in CARE International in the war – torn periods of the northern region, I visited extensively and was amazed by the hospitality of those village folk, but now everything has perished.

Still I could hear those melodies of a cinema song which was aired over a radio while I was resting under the shade of a flock of densely grown coconut trees.

Oh! What an illusive world, now everything has changed and everything has disappeared. When I turned my attention from the solid ruined wreckage where I was standing towards the distant northern horizon, the devastation of the coastal villages Manarkadu, Nagarkovil and Chempianpattu were coming to mind.

All were destroyed leaving a few to witness to the horrific tidal waves to the forthcoming generations.

Our next destination, the Mulliavallai hospital which is located nearly fifteen kilometers away from Mullaitivu towards the jungle interior, is telling many stories of the events immediately after the tidal wave disaster.

The hospital, which was originally for maternity purposes has now turned to caring for the injured people from the tidal waves. It is struggling with a General Practitioner who is assisted by a retired medical practitioner and a junior medical officer from a different hospital, while their medical service requirement is to be provided by at least twenty medical officers when compared with a standard developed country which has a healthy medical history.

The German volunteers were busily unloading the medical equipment from one of the medium – sized lorries out of the six-vehicle convoy which was moving always together.

These volunteers who came to Sri Lanka as part of their student exchange program to complete their internship are from various universities in different fields in the streams of Economics, Business Administration, Sociology and so on. They were very active in their humanitarian task which they chose voluntarily.

The German TV personnel were busy documenting the experiences of those young European adventurers who were volunteering in Asia by risking their lives to the epidemics which are always associated with tragic devastation and other jungle borne diseases, dengue and the malaria. Friederike Wagner, a second year student of a leading German university was relating her experiences a couple of hours ago.

The satellite transmission of that documentary would reach millions of Germans in a few hours and certainly make them heroes and heroines in their motherland. While we were passing the bridge which links Mullaitivu to the mainland, speedily hurrying black – cranes from the sea to the land frightened me, making me wonder whether there were new tidal waves on their way.

A couple of hours earlier we were told when we were passing that bridge towards Mullaitivu, how the tidal waves washed away the vehicles and the passengers who passed-by.

An Overview of Multi-Channel Banking

Banking Turns Increasingly Digital

It is not an exaggeration to say that digital consumers are like no other. They belong to a generation that is more educated, more technology savvy and better connected socially than any other that came before. If they need information, they will research it on the Internet; if they want advice about a particular purchase, they will ask their social network. Their demands fuel innovation in the technology and communications space, giving rise to new, better products that they can’t get enough of. They seek convenience, reach, availability and instant gratification.

These expectations have split over to their banking activities too. Now, digital consumers want their banks to acknowledge these needs and fulfill them, just like other retail businesses are doing. Banks are responding by delivering their services over a range of digital channels including the mobile and the Internet.

Digitization in Africa and the Middle East

Today, digitization is a worldwide phenomenon. The following data indicates how it has pervaded banking in this part of the world.

Banks in Africa and the Middle East record the highest number of average monthly ATM cash withdrawals. In 2009, this figure was 3,914 compared to 1,631 in North America, 2,797 in Western Europe and 2,789 in the Asia Pacific region.

In the Middle East, Internet penetration is 33.5% which is 3.3% of the world’s Internet penetration. Mobile penetration in the UAE is already in excess of 200% and broadband penetration is expected to reach 100% by 2012. On the African continent, mobile adoption has crossed 50% in 26 nations; South Africa achieved twice that number at the end of last year. As a natural progression, this region will surely see high rates of adoption of these media as banking channels in the Middle East and African regions.

What is Multi-channel Banking?

With the availability of alternative modes of banking, consumers started to use more than one channel. They went to the ATM to withdraw cash and enquire about their account balance. Then they started to use Internet banking, first to monitor their accounts, and then to make payments and transfer funds. At the same time, they also made visits to the branch. This was the time when consumers “banked on multiple channels”.

The drawback of this kind of banking was that each channel was isolated from the other. Data generated on one was not visible on another, which meant that if a consumer initiated a transaction at the call center, but resumed it at a branch, he would have to explain the entire situation all over again to the staff. Banks too lost the opportunity to render efficient service or cross-sell, to these channel siloes.

With the integration of channels on a single platform, multi-channel banking became reality. Today, banking is integrated across devices, channels, products, and functions to provide seamless experience to customers across all touch points. Accordingly, banks have a 360-degree view of customer activity on every channel at any point of time. Customers enjoy similar visibility, and are also able to seamlessly transition from one channel to another, even during the course of a single transaction.

What Multi-channel Banking brings to Banks

A recent report by a research firm indicates that although branch investment still tops the list of a bank’s spending, investment in other channels like Internet and mobile banking is on the increase. In Middle East and Africa, spending on online banking channels is expected to touch US$ 50 million in 2012.

Banks stand to gain substantial benefits by investing in integrated multi-channel banking.

• Cost reduction

Multi-channel banking helps banks optimize operating costs and resources. For instance, branch staff engaged in routine operations such as cash disbursement may be deployed in other, more critical functions. With fewer customers walking in, branches can be smaller, and more cost effective to establish and maintain. Channel integration reduces data duplication. Overall, it is estimated that the cost of serving a customer or transaction through Internet and mobile banking is a fraction of that incurred at a branch.

• Customer satisfaction

Seamless multi-channel banking makes banking convenient for customers as it allows them to transact from anywhere, at any time. Since transactions and data are updated in real time, customers have access to the latest information irrespective of the channel. Integration also provides customers a single view of all the accounts held by them at the same bank. These facilities improve customer satisfaction and with time, loyalty.

• Customer acquisition

Banks with an advanced multi-channel banking system can attract customers of other banks, which are lagging in channel integration. They can also use channels – such as mobile banking – to make in roads into markets where they have insufficient branch presence.

• Revenue enhancement

By providing a unified view of customers and enabling tracking of their channel usage, integrated multi-channel banking improves banks’ cross-selling efficiency to bring them more business from existing customers. By reducing cost per transaction as mentioned earlier, and improving sales, multi-channel banking can make a reasonable impact on banks’ top and bottom lines.

The Profile of an Ideal Multi-channel Banking System

A multi-channel banking system should be simple, convenient, affordable and anytime anywhere accessible, providing a unified view of customer’s banking relationships for customers as well as for relationship managers. True multi-channel banking extends beyond the provision of banking access over multiple channels, to add value through:

• Superior user experience

Seamless customer experience is the essence of multi-channel banking. A customer should be able to use a bank’s service on any of its channels. Also, having initiated a transaction, he should be able to continue it on another channel without obstruction. For instance, if he receives an offer about a new high interest deposit on SMS, he should be able to buy into it using his mobile, but send all the supporting documentation via the Internet banking channel.

• Personalized banking

Today’s consumer has a strong sense of uniqueness that he would like service providers to acknowledge with personalized products and services. He desires personalized banking facilities that enable him to set reminders, quickly access links and”favorite activities”, and choose the channels on which the bank must send alerts or initiate contact. Not only that, he may also want to personalize each channel separately. Multi-channel banking must be able to fulfill all these expectations.

• Interactivity

While customers are happy to conduct routine transactions on self-service channels, they invariably seek human assistance when faced with a problem. If ready help is not available at that time, they may give up the channel altogether. Banks can prevent this eventuality by making help available to customers on every channel, at the touch of a button. This can be achieved with a text chat facility – already provided by many – or an audio/video help service, or even co-browsing, whereby a customer care representative can remotely see the customer’s desktop and walk him through the solution. What’s more, using social media, banks can not only make these situations more interactive but also enable a customer to seek assistance from other customers who have had similar issues.

Latin America Distribution Channel for Newbies

When I am at an event with colleagues that are not yet doing business in Latin America, I am often asked the same questions. This leads me to believe that these are the topics that most people interested in the Latin American channel would like to learn about. So I thought it would make an interesting article to answer these questions here for those that are new to our channel in this region of the world.

How big is the market?

Latin America is comprised of over 20 countries, which is home to approximately 550 million people. Because their buying power is not as high as it is in the USA or more developed countries, they are much more price sensitive. A rule of thumb to use from a manufacturer’s perspective is the 5% rule. The 5% rule is that sales of your product line will be approximately 5% of your revenue in the USA. Obviously this is not set in stone and some companies reach 10% and higher, however it is a quick barometer of what to expect in the region.

As for specific markets, here they are in descending order: Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile. These top six countries represent 80% – 85% of the total Latin American market, depending on who’s numbers you want to believe, with Brazil being the largest and representing approximately 45% of the entire Latin American market. All the other countries not in the top six will make up the remaining 15% – 20% of the total market.

Is there a technology gap?

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was somewhat of a technology lag in Latin America. While more mature markets in that time-frame were selling IBM ATs, Latin America was still buying IBM XTs (I realize I’m dating myself here but it helps make my point). This was due to a lag or gap in technology where the Latin America market just wasn’t aware of the newer technologies available. However, since the mid to late 90’s, Latin America is up to speed on the latest and greatest product offerings coming from the Americas, Europe and Asia. However, today in some countries we have a financial gap, and not a technological gap. Why a financial gap? It comes down to buying power. For example, if you have a bank branch manager that makes $12k per year and needs to order 500 LCD monitors for his branch, they will go with the smaller size LCD because of the difference in price. A US$20 difference per monitor on a 500 unit deal is almost equivalent to his salary for one year. In the USA and other mature markets, when the difference for an LCD monitor is US$20, most consumers go with the newer, larger models because US$20 doesn’t represent a significant amount of money.

Does this mean you will sell only older technology in this region? The answer is definitely not. The channel in Latin America is well-versed on the new technologies and the example above applies to certain countries that offer opportunities to move some product in your warehouse. However, by no means underestimate or treat customers in Latin America as technologically inferior as this is a sure fire way to get them to buy your competitor’s products.

Do customers expect credit terms?

The direct answer is YES. There are many large, well-established companies in the market and they do expect payment terms. Most will ask for 60 day terms using the reasoning that it takes much longer for the product to reach them, however the grand majority have net 30 day payment terms. Smaller companies may opt to pay cash, but you will still get some resistance to do business with you. Most suppliers pay for credit insurance to hedge their receivables from any large defaults on payment. There are also organizations that allow you to share credit information with others in the channel such as the NACM ( National Association of Credit Management ), which keeps close tabs on common customers and have a warning system should a customer fall behind on his payments with another NACM member.

Many suppliers entering the market usually start with cash terms and then offer small lines as the business grows with their partners and they feel more comfortable working with them.

Is it safe to travel to Latin America?

Traveling to Latin America is like traveling anywhere else in the world. If you are in a large city, whether it’s New York, Tokyo or Mumbai, there is going to be crime. So it pays to play it safe and not be alone wondering out in the streets or stand out too much from the crowd. Sporting expensive electronics, watches, handbags and jewelry is probably not a good idea. In some cities like Mexico City, taking a cab off the street is not recommended either. Either have a customer drive you, use a cab from the hotel, or have someone call a cab for you and they will ask for you by name when the designated cab gets there. After 20 plus years of travelling into the region, I have never had an incident thus far. Now I’ll probably get ripped off on my next trip for having written this last line!

Well, I hope these questions are questions you would have asked. I realize the answers are rather short and to the point, without too much explanation or room for grey areas, but for time’s sake, we have to keep it this way. Obviously these topics can be really delved into, but we’ll leave that for some other time.

Feel free to contact me with any specific questions or comments.