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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Booboos And Butthurt

More to the point, a Malaysian company's booboo, and (some) Filipinos who feel the (requisite?) "butthurt" at the perceived attack on our country, yet again.

(Courtesy of YouTube/News Graph)

I'm not sure which ad agency was it that produced this "not for public consumption yet" advertisement, that - there's no two ways about it - clearly targeted the Philippines as a less than desirable place to invest one's business in, raising four key points: unfriendly climate, safety concerns, less government support and poor infrastructure. (In case you doubt this, take a look at the video, that clearly states this, and also highlights why Malaysia is a better alternative.)

Someone put it this way in an online comment (I'm paraphrasing): it would be akin to Philippine Airlines making an ad that, given recent events, would portray Malaysian Airlines as your gateway to the afterlife, or the one airline not needing a return flight ticket. 

Even though this is a "war" between businesses, it hit a nerve that some Filipinos would probably say reeks of personalan - but I have to say, every issue that paints an unflattering picture of the country is always deemed as below-the-belt, anyway: basketball, beauty contests, treatment of our Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW), say anything not-positive, and be prepared to be accused of the R word, racism. (Even when none was intended or implied. It's immaterial to some citizens.)

However bad a taste the ad left in one's mouth, I cannot help but ask: why do we get so riled up when someone from another country makes mention of the ills we have, when we make no bones about how unhappy we are with the same points, and we criticize our own government for those exact same things, every frigging hour?

Take the ad's point about (our) poor infrastructure, and juxtapose this with countless (local) videos and news reports about the horrendous lines for our trains. We roundly hurl invective after insult against the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), for our never ending pasakit (suffering) just to get in the station, which could take hours, all because many train cars have broken down, are poorly maintained, and if you're horribly unfortunate, you could get a ride off-track. I'm sure Secretary Abaya feels our collective loathing, but a Malaysian company says this, suddenly it's supposed to be all out war?

Just a week ago, we all expressed disgust and fear when a roadside "incident" revealed that cops were trying to extort money from supposed drug dealers, making us unsure if we can even approach our law enforcement agents. But all hell breaks lose when Aegis Malaysia (or at least the company doing their ads) says just about the same thing? (And in a more general sense, even)

Our independent film makers always lament how the government does not given any support, to the point that they have to showcase their films in other countries (some even reaping awards). How is this different from an ad - albeit done in another country - that essentially repeats this?

(I won't even touch the weather angle, for the obvious absurd reason.)

So let me see if I got this right: we can complain about how our government and public services suck rain boots, but as long as it's just us. Outside/foreign observers should never dare say the same things, things we gnash our teeth over.

Okaaaaaaay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The iPhone6 Reminds Me Of My Mom

This morning will certainly be abuzz about the launch of the new iPhone variant, iPhone6. I can see it now: scores of online posts debating on the new features (if any) or mere upgrades and refinements of existing ones, how exorbitant the prices will be, who will be getting it as soon as it hits the shelves, etc.

(From business insider.com/ the Apple website)

All I could think of was my mom.

In particular, a life lesson she would inculcate in me many, many years before anyone even heard of the word iPhone, as this occurred in my elementary school years.

I must have been at the 4th or 5th grade, or about to enter that level. As is customary, my mom would take me and my sister out to buy the school supplies needed. (I have to confess a certain, er, predisposition to wrapping my new textbooks in plastic. As Jessica Zafra once wrote, there seems to be a secret society of book wrappers. Count me in.)

I noticed that we skipped one "ritual" that year: that of buying a new pair of shoes. The scene that I remember most from the shoe department is the sight of a saleslady in blue, carrying a mike, barking out shoe sizes to a stockroom person, and the needed shoe would just fall out of a hole in the ceiling. I would giggle because it seemed like a scene straight out of a cartoon series: an irate lady, incessant shouting, shoes falling from the sky.

My pout must have been too obvious since my mom called me out on it even before we walked out of the department store.

"Ba't ganyan mukha mo?" She asked. (Why is your face contorted that way?)

I muttered, and she asked me to speak up. "Why didn't we buy new shoes?"

She stopped walking and turned to me, sensing this was going to take a little explaining: "Because you still don't need a new pair."

"But we always buy a new pair every school year."

"That's true. We did. But remember last year, when we bought a new pair that was a half size larger than you were used to? That was in anticipation of this year, when it would still fit you, even if your foot size grew."

"So...is that why I was using extra thick socks last year?"

She smiled. "Yes. That way, you won't be too bothered with a shoe that was slightly larger than what you'd usually get. Besides, your shoe is still in good condition, right?"

I looked down while I said my next statement: "But everyone will be in new shoes...and they'll know I didn't buy new ones."

"If they're the kind of friends who think you are worth less just because you don't have new shoes, then you need new friends. Why, when I was in school, Angkong (Grandpa) would ask me to have the same shoe from my older sister repaired. And by then, I was getting it from two older sisters. You're lucky because at least it's still your own shoe."

I remember thinking what a cheapskate my mom was at that time, but over the years, she would instill this lesson in us again and again: in the bags we used, our trusty Isuzu Gemini which we had for 15 years (my mom sold it to a car collector who was floored by how well maintained it was after all that time), or the clothes we had.

You could say that my active dislike of anything trendy or labeled Right Now has its roots in what my mom taught me early on: differentiating between a need and a want. And that if something can still be used, there's no sense throwing it away, just because a newer version has come along.

Fast forward to today, and I know for certain that there will be people discarding their iPhone 5's for no other reason than "there's a new version out." I actually got to talk to one of them, and the justification he gave me (at that time, he was moving from iPhone 4 to 5) was that "I'm selling my old one, anyway, so it's not like I'm paying full price for the new model. In a way, I'm being smart about it, having someone subsidize my new phone."

"I suppose you can think of it that way," I said. "But, you can't sell it at the same price you bought it, it will be way lower since the new model is out, and since the new model has supposedly better features, it will be more expensive than the last iteration. So, you'd be shelling out more and more money out as each new variant comes."

"Ano bang paki no? Eh, pera ko naman to!" (What do you care? It's my money!)

"Don't get me wrong, I know it's your money to burn. But I can't help but see the discrepancy in your financial goals, when you have indicated to me that you don't have too much money in your savings for emergencies and rainy days, but you seem to have ready cash to spend once a new iPhone is out."

"You're only young once, so live it like it's your last, right?"

He will undoubtedly be one of those lining up for the iPhone6. And I also have no doubt that his savings account has not increased by much. How can it take off, when every year, like clockwork, a tech company is getting his funds, an amount that could ensure a comfortable emergency fund and even an excellent start to a good retirement account, if only he began saving these amounts since the iPhone first came out?

At an average of at least 40k per model, that's a total of 200k for 5 models. Even if you were able to sell these older models at half the price, that would still mean a missed opportunity of saving at least 100k.

And for something you don't really need. Which is in contrast to an emergency fund. Or a fund for health concerns. Or protecting your family, with kids aged 7, 5 and 3. Any parent who would deem getting a new phone more imperative than ensuring their family's financial well being should have their parental privileges - yes, parenthood is a privilege - revoked.

As Tim Cook entices the Philippine market to give out 40k once again for their company's newest darling, I would like to give a shout out to my mom, who gave me a lesson that can only be described as priceless.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Day I Saw A Parenting Fail Before My Eyes

(Courtesy of izismile.com)

As part of my birthday celebration, we gathered - yet again - for more food, and this time, over a buffet that claims to span the entire world. (They tried. A for Effort.) So there I was, happily munching on my sashimi - the one item I almost always am sure will be on my plate - when I heard giggling from the next table.

I looked over and my jaw literally dropped at what was about to transpire.

Some siblings (wearing almost identical clothing), probably aged 8 to about 15, were laughing because they picked up the sticky label of a bottled water from the floor. They were passing it on to each other so they were squealing so as not to be "stuck" by it. Then one of the siblings saw a potential victim.

An elderly woman, heavy-set and limping because she seemed to have a foot ailment, who was walking very slowly while eyeing the buffet spread and gingerly placing items on her plate. (It seemed like even her arm mobility was similarly compromised.)

He started following the woman, mimicking her actions from behind, which elicited even more laughter from the other siblings. Then he ran back to their table, grabbed the bottled water sticker/label, then placed it on the back of the elderly woman - who probably had slower reflexes and did not realize what had just transpired. The three siblings then started pointing at the woman and laughed out hysterically, even dancing behind her back, with so much glee.

Just as I was beginning to frown, the parents went over to see why they were making so much noise. Finally, I thought, someone will straighten them out.

The father saw the sticker behind the woman's back, then asked one of the children, "Who did this? Did you do this?"

The guilty child looked woeful and muttered, "Yeah, I did."

Then the father erupted in laughter.

He then explained what happened to his wife, who then joined in on the laughter.

Just when I thought this unreal scene couldn't get any lower, the father then rushed back to the table (where they had a maid waiting): "Yung camera, bilis! Kunan natin tapos ipost natin mamaya! Hahaha!" (Get the camera, quick! Let's post this online later!)

I guess my death stare hasn't been functioning well, because I bored my gaze right through the parents, who seemed oblivious. (Operative word seemed, because I know that they knew I was giving them the evil eye, but they pretended not to notice.)

I turned around and got up my seat to remove the sticker from the old woman's dress, but she was lost in a sea of people fighting it out for tempura, Indian curry and mushroom lasagna.

When I took my seat again, the parents were high-fiving their kids, beaming with pride.

Just because you can procreate doesn't mean you should.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It's Official: I'm Retro

(Courtesy of pinterest.com)

For my friends who I've already told this snippet to, bear with me.

I was driving along C-5 one hectic afternoon, and when I turned on the radio, Waterfalls by TLC was playing. I got out my rusty pipes and started singing my heart out - I was in the privacy of my own car, anyway, and not mutilating a song over a videoke machine, inducing homicidal rage in the neighborhood cats - and when the song ended, the DJ then said, "That was Waterfalls, from the girl group TLC...part of our Retro Day!"

 Whatthehell.

The first thing that shot through my mind was, this is NOT retro. Hello. Retro would be bell bottoms, Saturday Night Fever, ABBA...until the DJ continued her spiel: "This song is 20 years old...all the way back from 1994."

What the hell, indeed. And for this DJ - who might have been barely a toddler when this song debuted, this really was a blast from the past. I've mulled about this for some time, and I think the reason I reacted so strongly is because of what it means in terms of how many years have gone by in my own life.

When talk of retro and revisits are front and center, another R word comes to the forefront: relevance. Am I no longer relevant? Will I be replaced by someone more relevant? Are my contributions less relevant now that I'm older? As my birthday tomorrow signals the inevitability of time marching on, and this being the last year I can cling on to the statement "I'm in my thirties," I find myself wondering what the hell it is I've learned about life so far.

With no embellishments, or lengthy explanations, this is what I've come up so far.

1. Life isn't fair, and it doesn't give a flying fig. Suck it up.
2. Happiness/being positive about any SNAFU is sometimes a choice. Sometimes it's hypocrisy/a lie.
3. Feelings are more important than the pop treatment we see portrayed in TV and movies. Always listen to them.
4. Families come in so much, much, much more shapes and forms than the traditional mode. In fact, the "normal, regular" family - one pop, one mum, 2 and a half kids - might soon be like Caucasians in America, a minority. Not one is better than the other. Period.
5. We all have sh*t and baggage to deal with. Knowing this helps in imbibing empathy. But sometimes, people use it as their get-out-of-everything-free-card.
6. 1000 Friends in Facebook doesn't mean you have that number of friends. The real ones are extremely rare. Seriously.
7. I've knocked fashion and material things - but let me quote a friend: "When you're sad and crying, it's better to be and do so inside a Mercedes Benz than on a tricycle with 5 other people crammed into a space meant for 2."
8. It's not wrong to want more, earn more, have more. It's just politically incorrect to declare the same.
9. Never work with friends, if you value your friendship more.
10. If you've found the one, hang on until your fingernails fall off. Besides, kung talaga siya nga, you won't have to. 

Older, not necessarily wiser, but learning that even the most effed up experiences have their value. I can live with being labeled retro - while listening to some really great music.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Financial (Mis)Understanding

One of the perks of my job as a financial advisor is never facing the same set of faces everyday. While some people may find that daunting, I relish it because it means no two workdays will ever be the same. It keeps me on my toes, and makes "an interesting day" part of the job description.

I have been feeling distressed as of late, though. And it stems mainly from the observation that some would-be clients do not comprehend financial terms as they were meant to be conveyed. (Hint: compound interest has nothing to do with parking lots) I realize a lot of jargon in the financial world seems to be made to be deliberately obfuscated, as if they were code words of a secret fraternity that no outsider should ever know.

But I'm not talking about derivatives or corporate mergers. I'm referring to terms that I expect high school graduates to have no problem comprehending, but are somehow (intentionally?) "misunderstood". I've compiled a list of terms that seem to generally confound people when I try to explain how to utilize them.

1. Emergency Fund

On my drive yesterday, I heard Randell Tiongson, one of the country's famous financial advisors, over the radio talk about emergency funds and how much one should set aside for this (three to six months worth of salary).

Reading the terms, this means a fund purposely set aside for unexpected expenses (or not factored in as a daily/expected expense). This list would include a sudden onset of major illness, which requires hospitalization; the smashing of your car in a four-car collision, rendering you at the mercy of public transport until your car insurance company deems the accident to be, well, accidental; or the loss of your job (goodbye, useless superior!) which will most likely ensure you will be knocked off your feet financially, even if only for a couple of months.

(From mecob.co.tz)

In short, these are occurrences that are unwanted but you have to prepare for, because they impact your financial state.

Therefore, a trip to an Asian country, just because there was a piso sale with your favorite airline, does not constitute an emergency.

Neither does your need to complete #100daysofhappiness by eating at another fancy restaurant.

And if you just bought a new smartphone, when the phone company announces a new model coming out, trying to scour for funds just to have the "latest" incarnation is not a correct use of the term "emergency".

Don't wait until you have a real emergency to find out how to properly utilize it.

2. Insurance

By definition, any insurance product is designed for protection and uncertainty. Whether it's life, car, fire or mortgage insurance, the aim of insurance is to make sure that someone benefits from the insurance proceeds: with life insurance, it's so your beneficiaries - oftentimes your family/loved ones - can hopefully retain their standard of living should you pass away unexpectedly, seeing as they all depend on your income for survival. When a coconut falls on your car, breaking your windshield, you can't very well haul the tree to court to collect damages, it is the car insurance company that covers the cost of repair.

Again, these are instances no one wants, but everyone has to prepare for because paying full cost for a windshield or asking a spouse who just stayed at home to suddenly find a job while grieving for your loss can be devastating.

So it surprises me no end when people say, "walang pakinabang/gastos lang ang insurance" - thank your lucky stars if none of these events happen to you, but you and I know better. We have people in their thirties dropping dead from a heart attack, or an innocent bystander waiting for the bus (at the proper bus stop!) getting rammed down. These are not fictional stories, they are in our current headlines.

Getting insurance is a way to cushion life's unpleasant eventualities/occurrences from being a sinkhole to your finances. (Seriously, I cannot comprehend breadwinners who think of insurance as a waste - I daresay it is foolhardy to have a family, especially raising children, without protecting yourself: do you have any idea how much tuition fees are these days?)

And today, life insurance policies have evolved to have an investment component in them (a way to address the notion that insurance is a waste), but that is for another post. Suffice to say that I have clients who are happy that they are actually "earning" with their insurance policies, just to lay the "" notion to rest.

3. Investment

Arguably the most contentious term here, spurred on by the fact that Filipinos are generally averse to anything related to risk. (And it also surprises me when they are averse to the previous term - insurance - which is designed as a risk management tool. Ayaw sa risk, ayaw sa risk management - truly, financial advisors in this country have our work cut out for us.)

Ask the average citizen here what financial product they know, and overwhelmingly, they'll say "bangko." Those who fancy themselves as financially savvy will say "ay, nagta-time deposit ako!" These are products that have minimal to virtually no risk, which explains why your money in the bank isn't growing. (The current bank deposit has an interest rate of less than 1% annually, and given our inflation rate,you're actually losing money by letting them sleep there. Again, this deserves another post.)

The general rule with investments is: (blank) risk = (blank) rewards. So if you invest in a fund that has more risk, you will probably earn a lot more than if you placed your funds in a relatively risk-free vehicle (my bank deposit example illustrates this clearly). More equals more, less equals less.

Nowadays, there are more investment options to choose from, from the POV of an ordinary citizen. You do not need millions of pesos in order to take part of stock market gains - you can gain access to those levels of profits by investing in a mutual fund. (Pooled funds from numerous investors which can be chosen based on risk appetite and desired returns.) Banks have offered their counterparts called UITFs (unit investment trust funds), and companies like Citisec Online also offer their services for those who wish to get their feet wet in the stock market, but by investing in a number and variety of listed companies.

So when someone approaches you and tells you "invest ka sakin, kikita ka ng 30% in two weeks!", realize that you are taking a huge risk, seeing as the stock market (on average) hasn't even breached this number, on an annual basis. Legitimate investment  companies will have returns that approximate or slightly surpass the stock market indices, since they invest in the same place.

Study the companies that want you to invest in, because as with all investments, you have to bear the brunt of the risks yourself - but you also reap the rewards fully.

4. Retirement Fund

Another two-word term that seems to be confusing, I find it easier to state one acronym to instantly illuminate the client in front of me: "SSS".

The Social Security System was designed to "force" workers to save a part of their earnings for when they retire, and to have them use this once the mandatory "retirement age" kicks in. Ideally,this is a fund that is - all together now - for retirement, so it would be logical that one doesn't withdraw or use this fund prematurely, e.g. while you are still working, in your thirties, etc.

And because of the length of time before it is needed, the way to build this fund into a sizable amount is to start early and save consistently.

You often hear seniors who are now collecting their SSS pensions complain: "Eto na yun?" Some have even been interviewed on TV because either the agency miscalculated the benefits due, or the companies they worked for did not properly remit the correct payments.

Against this backdrop, I often encourage my clients to set up their own (voluntary and personal) retirement fund. That way, they can monitor it closely, increase/decrease contributions as the circumstances warrant, and without going through bureaucratic processes. Private companies that offer this often make it easier for clients to do so by installing auto debit arrangements.

But guess what? Even in these auto-debit setups, some people fail to have money in their accounts to be actually debited from. They completely forget what they signed up and agreed to do - set aside a certain amount of their salary to be saved for retirement - and then wonder - surprisingly - why their fund isn't growing!

I've also encountered people who say "tsaka ko na pagipunan yan, matagal pa naman" but fast forward to almost a decade, and when I see them again, they sheepishly mutter, "di ko pa nga naumpisahan yung pang retirement ko, hehe", punctuated by an awkward laugh.

Do people expect a retirement fund to just magically appear? Are they expecting dole outs from relatives or the government? How can they even proclaim - loudly - "ang hirap ng buhay!" but are not doing anything constructive to prepare for a certain question we all face once age 60 hits - who/what will fund my retirement, so romantically called The Golden Years?

Anyone who has heard of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare should heed its' lesson: slow but sure wins the race. Nowhere is this more evident than when preparing for your retirement fund.

Most of us will never be multimillionaires, let alone billionaires, in this lifetime. But one statement from a foreign speaker at an event I recently attended still rings in my ears: it's not your fault if you were born poor, but it's definitely your fault if you die poor.

In a country that relishes and champions the underdog, it may sound harsh, where "maawa ka" is a common expression. But until we face the reality that we are solely responsible for our financial state and future, this culture of dependency or fatalism where money is concerned will not die out anytime soon.

Your finances are your responsibility. Start now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where's My Thank You Card, Makati?

On a particularly stressful day, I got out of the office to find that my car has been towed.


I was able to park right in front of our building entrance - luckily, or unfortunately, given the towing incident. I remember lining up the car quite gingerly into the designated parking slot, but because the car behind me was a 4WD, and took up some of my parking space, I had no choice but to to have the front part of the car gut out (nakausli in the vernacular) beyond the slot.

I was waiting for the Makati parking attendant to issue me my parking ticket (and s/he would have been able to tell me that a little portion of my car was over the drop-off/loading zone). When the attendant didn't show up (I parked just before 230pm), I decided I would pay my fee after two hours. (Every 2 hours of street parking in Makati is 40 pesos, a third hour and you have to add 50, or the lovely total of 90 pesos for 3 hours.)

I was appalled to find my car missing as soon as I got out of the office. There was a chalk inscription on the sidewalk (I was too annoyed to take a picture) saying "the owner of this vehicle, claim car at impounding, Amorsolo-De la Rosa".

I got to the impounding area and explained why I shouldn't have been towed - it wasn't my fault that the car behind me was taking up my "proper" space. "I want to contest this."

"Ok," said the traffic enforcer at the impounding hut. (Literally, they were holding office in a makeshift hut.) "But you still have to pay the fee even if you plan to contest it."

"Then what would be the point of contesting it, if I have to pay, anyway?" I asked - rhetorically, of course.

He let my dig slide right over....way over there. He scribbled furiously on some papers and said, "that's one thousand pesos. Take it or leave it, contest it or not."

"Don't I get a thank you card from Binay?" I responded.

"Huh?"

"I am one of, if not the most anti-Binay people in Makati, yet here I am, being forced to give him money...so again, where's my thank you card?"

The traffic enforcer pretends not to hear anything, and looks down, gazing his pants.

"Not even a calendar? Or keychain...nothing?"

He mumbles a thank you upon getting my cash, and I imagine him feeling victorious because he still has my money, whatever I say, against my will.

I've always liked living here. This is not one of those days.

*My ticket (from the picture) was issued by P/A Baylon (parking attendant), at 2:39 PM. It can't be a coincidence that I waited a good 3 minutes when I just parked - with no parking attendant around, at 2:30pm -  and 9 minutes later, when I had already gotten in the building, my car was towed ASAP...can it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Because She Has To Have The Last Word

Having finished my haircut, I was reminded by Art that we ran out of bread and that I should get replacement for it. "You can pass by Pan de Manila so we can also have some of their Coco Jam."

(From paranaquecity.net)

Luckily the mall I was in had a Pan de Manila branch, so I went in and headed straight for the Coco Jam. I placed it on the cashier's counter and went to choose the bread we would pair it with.

I noticed that the loaf I picked up didn't have an indication for the expiry date. I went for the loaf beside it, and it also didn't have one.

"Miss," I asked the cashier. "Kailan expiry nito?" (When does this expire)

She glanced over, looked at what I was holding, and said, "Kakagawa pa lang nyan, sir." (That's freshly baked, sir.)

"OK...pero kailan siya masisira?" (But when does it go bad?)

"Ay, sir, kakagawa pa lang nga niyan." (Like I said, it was just freshly baked/made.)

I wasn't sure if she was just ignoring the question, or if she was just lazy and didn't want to go the baker or back office to ask the information I wanted. "Alam ko na kakagawa lang niya, ang tinatanong ko, kailan masisira para alam namin kailan di na pwede kainin?" (I know it's freshly baked, my question was, when will it expire so we know when to throw it out?)

She looks at me with an exasperated smirk, and heads to the baking area. "Kuya! Sagutin mo nga tanong ng customer!" (Can you answer this customer's question!)

The baker comes out and I repeat the question. He goes over to where the breads are, looks at several loaves, and is just as surprised that there is no expiration date on any of them. He finally finds one in the middle of the bunch with an expiration label and hands it to me.

I say my thanks, and I headed to the counter, smug that I could drive home the point that the cashier wasn't helpful and needed someone else to do what appeared to me was her job.

She looks at me condescendingly as I approach her and beats me in having the last word: "Sabi ko sa inyo kakagawa lang ng tinapay, ayaw maniwala sa akin, kulit!" (I already told you, it was freshly baked, you didn't want to believe me! So noodgy!)

I rolled my eyes so hard, I saw the stores in the floor above us.