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A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Month: September 2014

Axis Bank & Axis Direct Sites – Poor User Interface

We often see award ceremonies for best Banks from ET / Business Standard / Business India etc. Happy CEO’s gloating over their trophies ( which in most cases is linked to the ad spends you have made with that media group). I wish there would be an award for Online Bank Sites on ease of User Design / interface. I am confident that if there were one such award the bank that would win the LAST price for being the worst designed site would be Axis Bank & Axis Direct. 

Axis-Direct

Online Interface design for financial institutions have been happening for over 15 years. I remember how easy it was to use Datek Online in the US in 1999. Wellsfargo, Washinton Mutual in US and even Citibank and Stanchart in India have excellent intuitive UI design.

In addition to color, layout, font and clutter the two basic rules for website design are

1. How many clicks to get your job done

2. How prominent is my Call to Action

If I evaluate the Axis Bank and Axis Direct sites on these two parameters they fare very poorly.

Lets take the simple job of logging into www.axis.com – you want to see your balance. In most global banks that would be one click. the login page would be visible on the home page. In Axis bank its 5 Clicks.

1. www.axisbank.com – 2. Click on Login in a  cluttered home page where the CTA of Login is barely visible – 3. You land at a page that says imp information and has the login button again saying continue to login – 4. You land at help and support and how Axis bank.com is now available for Mac users & Continue to Login – 5. Finally you come to the secure login page where you can enter your login credentials

Painful? But thats Axis Bank and its incredibly poor UI design. I wonder who designed this website. But your problem doesn’t end there. In most sites including banks you can customise your login credentials. In Axis Bank its your Cust ID thats a 9 digit number which is difficult to remember. Most people would have their logins to all their favourite sites common – its easy to remember. Trying to remember the cust ID for Axis Bank is a pain – so every time you need to log in you need to check back on a file / folder where you may have written this number.

There are many transaction – which requires you to enter your Cust ID even if you have logged in with it. You have a Transaction password but in most cases you need to do the Transaction Password and the OTP that comes by phone. Overall very messy – the folks in the bank say its RBI regulation – but I am surprised that Citibank , Stanchart and most MNC banks operating in India under RBI guidelines don’t have this level of mess.

I am stopping here on Axis bank – but there is lots more to talk about. The site is begging for an average UI designer to take it up and clean it – I hope someone from Axis Bank management sees this blog and gets on the the job fast.

Lets move on top Axis Direct the trading site which even beats the Axis bank site. The home page is a clutter with no clear CTA, but if we can live with that lets see the effort to do some basic tasks.

View your Portfolio – thats the basic you want to do and see whats the gain / loss in your portfolio. Its 6 steps to get there after crossing many Ads

1. www.axisdirect.com – 2. login – 3. My Portfolio – 4. Equity – 5. Detailed View – 6. Instrument Equity . And once you finally land on the equity page there is no way for you to buy or sell the stocks that you see listed there. Normally there would be a simple button next to the equity in the Portfolio page saying Trade. But that common sense does not exist with Axis Direct.

Lets look at a few other examples and how difficulties to get to something as basic as seeing your Profit & Loss or your Trade book history. All of which is needed to determine your Tax Liability. The list below may look simple now – but the site is so poor on intuition that it took me hrs and multiple trials before I was able to figure this out

To check Derivatives Profit and loss: My portfolio>> Derivatives>> Portfolio analysis>> Tax Implications on my Derivative Portfolio.

To check Equity Profit and loss: My portfolio >> Equity>> Portfolio analysis>> Tax Implications on my Equity Portfolio.

To check Derivatives Profit and loss: My portfolio>> Derivatives>> Portfolio analysis>> Tax Implications on my Derivative Portfolio.

For Mutual fund Profit and loss: My portfolio >> MF >> Portfolio analysis>> Tax Implication for my Mutual fund portfolio.

Getting to Your Trade Book : Step 1: Login www.axisdirect.in 
> Step 2: Click on Trading >> History >> Trade book.

 Step 3: Select Equity trade book.

 Step 4: Select date ‘From and To’.
 Step 5: Click on ‘view report’.

India is known for its software design expertise. But examples like this clearly show why we are an outsourcing hub and not a design centre for products. User Interface, aesthetics, testing are all areas that are way down on our priority list. We just want to get the job done and say – we also have a website, so what if its the worst website in the country – who cares.

If Axis bank has a SEO / SEM web Marketing department – I am sure someone will pick this up and forward it to their MD. I hope very soon I can see a better site with better UI capability.

The True meaning of “Gotra” in Hindu Tradition and how it got mixed up

You can understand when the village Khap Panchayat invokes the concept of Gotra during marriage. But when highly educated, modern, urban relatives start talking of how they will not have their children married to prospective grooms or brides from the same Gotra it gets me angry and worried.  This Blog is dedicated to all these people.

Firstly lets understand whats the meaning of the word “Gotra”

The word Gotra is formed from the two Sanskrit words Gau (meaning Cow) and Trahi (meaning Shed). Note that the English word Cow is a derived word of the Sanskrit word Gau with the same meaning Gau. So Gotra means Cowshed. In Atharva Ved, it is referred to a clan

 The traditionalists and the Khap interpret this as family lineage.

They claim that according to the brahminical theory, the Brahmins are the direct descendants of seven or eight sages who are believed to be the mind-born sons of Brahma. They are Gautama, Bharadvaja, Vishvamitra, Jamadagni, Vashista, Kashyapa and Atri. To this list, Agasthya is also sometimes added. These eight sages are called gotrakarins from whom all the 49 gotras (especially of the Brahmins) have evolved. For instance, from Atri sprang the Atreya and Gavisthiras gotras

I dont agree – let me disprove this with simple Mathematics

  • Total Population of India  = 1.2 B
  • Total Population of Brahmins in India = 120 M ( assuming 10% – the actual figure is lesser)
  • On an average if we distribute this across the 6 Main Gotra thats 20M Brahmins / Gotra.
  • So Bhardwaj Gotra should have 20 M people – 10 M men and 10 M women.
  • If Sage Bhardwaj is our patrimonial starting point in the lineage lets do a backward calculation using the an annual population growth rate of 1 % , the formulae is simple , 10 M = 1 ( 1 + 1/100)^ n. That would solve for n = 1620.
  • In other words if Sage Bhardwaj lived 1620 years back i.e. in 394 AD then at a 1.2% annual population growth the size of the Bhardwaj male clan would be 10M today.

But hindu Mythology says that Sage Bhardwaja one of the 7 original Rishis who lived many 1000 years back. If we date the Mahabharata to 2000 BC ( as many historians do ) , then Sage Bhardwaj would have lived around 1900 BC since he was the father of Dronacharya. Some say that the Mahabarata and the origin of the sages date back to the time of Adi Yogi which could even be 10,000  BC.

So clearly Sage Bhardwaja did not live in 394 AD, because if history documents Buddha and Mahavira from 500 BC then Sage Bhardwaja would have found reference in our History books. Like always the dots in hindu mythology never add up.

Let me share a possible view of what could have been a strong case for the creation of Gotra’s and this logic comes from the meaning of the word ” Cowshed”

Lets assume the year was 2500 BC. Man was a nomad. He had just learnt to domesticate animals. The Cow was the source of livelihood & food it was central to the economy of India in 2500 BC. Like normal tribes these wandering nomads used to cover vast distances with their families and cows always on the lookout for greener pastures.

Man being man there would invariably be a fight amongst the group wrt ownership of their cows. In a storm or a melee the cows would get mixed and cause tremendous anxiety and ill will.

The possible solution for this was to identify 7 wise men and distribute the total population – men and cows amongst these 7 wise men. Tired of travelling they would have decided to settle down. Each Wise man set up his farm / village / cowshed in an area and that group / Clan came to be known by the Rishis name. Since they lived in a cowshed – they were called Gotra. Each clan probably followed a concept of collective responsibility and  shared the resources they had in their clan. The Cows were now common property and the Wise man / Rishi was the head of this Clan.

Since each Clan shared and lived together they became an extended family and marriage was probably not advised within the clan as the population of Cows could not go up. I am sure dowry existed in those days. So marriage always happened between two clans living maybe a few 100 Km away from each other.

Does that sound logical ? If so then the issue of each person being a descendant of the great Rishi does not arise. Clearly this concept has been advanced at a much later date – maybe by the likes of Max Mueller and Western Historians who were always on the lookout to create concepts that could divide and fraction the society.

And I just hope that the educated  people of today stop thinking like the Khap and take a more balanced view to getting their children married.

Buying a new Flat in Bangalore ? 8 Points to Check Out

Real estate in Bangalore has given excellent returns since 2000. And with Acche Din promised the near future looks bright. If you buy at pre launch from a good builder at a good location, chances are that you can see  75 – 100% appreciation in 4 – 5 years. However given the lack of regulation and rules the journey can be frustrating and challenging at times. Here are some pointers that you need to be aware of.

Let me start with a real life case. I booked a flight in Nov 2010 with a premium builder ( top 3 in Bangalore). It was a good location – on the main road, a metro station was supposed to open 100m away and a large Mall was also planned adjacent to the complex. The rate at Rs 3100/sft (pre launch) was great and with a staggered payment over  30 months and possession in Oct 2013 – it sounded like a great deal.

elevation

I am yet to get possession but I still think its a great deal – my investment has appreciated almost 100% , the flats are now selling at ~ Rs 6000/-sft and I am sure that in the next few years this will become 8 – 9000/-sft. But not everyone who bought at a later date are singing happy tunes. Lets look at some of the challenges of buyers in large complexes with 2000 – 3000 flats.

1. Density of Population 

This complex spread across 15 acres will have about 3000 flats. On an average 4 people / flat i.e. 12,000 people in 14 acres.

1 Sq Km = 247 Acres. So 14 Acres = 0.05 Sq Km. With 12,000 people in 0.05 Sq Km that would make it one of the most densest complexes in the country or the world. I did not do this math when I bought my flat. Initially the builder had promised large flats , later there were more 2 BHK and the no of floors went from 18 – 20 – 25 floors adding more flats and people.

Be mentally prepared for this – what you see in your prelaunch brochure is indicative and not the final.

2. Scale of Investment 

The first flat was sold for Rs 3000/- sft , the last one at Rs 6000/-sft . lets take the median price as Rs 4500/- sft. Flat sizes vary from 1200 – 2500 sft , again lets take the average size of a flat as ~ 1500 sft . Across 3000 flats the total super built up area sold is 4.5 million Sft. At Rs 4500/- sft the revenue earned by the builder is Rs 20250 Mn – 2025 Crores (337.5 Mn Dollars)

Thats a colossal investment – something that would make ET headlines – and we see at least 3 – 4 such projects getting launched in Bangalore every year. A company running this investment needs to have accountability/checks and balances /some Government control thru a regulator – sadly most of this doesn’t exist.

Even a vegetable trader make a 20% margin in Business – chances ares that the real estate majors make 3o – 40% margin , thats a 750 Crore profiit from a project of this size. Now you know why builders and politicians are best buddies.

3. Advance Payment 

This builder like many others had a Pre EMI scheme and collected the money  100% advance from many  gullible buyers. Others got a 10% discount for paying upfront. All this is great if the project is completed in the committed time. However in most cases the project delays are from 1 – 3 years. (Bangalore is better – in Delhi the delays can be 5 years +) How leading Banks like HDFC /Axis, SBI  entertain a scheme like this is baffling – but they do. The builder normally struggles to get a loan from a financial institution – by this scheme he conveniently funded himself 2000 Crores at a very low cost of funds . As the project gets delayed he has the seed money to fund other projects. So what if there is a delay here – the buyers have no choice.  I was lucky to be in Phase – 1 and my project is delayed by 15 – 18 months. But think of the people who bought in Phase 2 and 24 months after paying 100% money are yet to see the excavation work start. Not a happy feeling.

Learning – Never pay a Builder 100% advance, always pay as per structural progress, avoid the Pre EMI scheme which looks so attractive.

4. Structural Modifications 

Be prepared to see modifications. The brochure always says indicative drawings. What changes most commonly are two things

a) Roof height comes down to accommodate more floors ( from 11 – 12 feet ceiling height 10 years back they are down to 9 feet these days)

b) What are shown as stand alone buildings get merged. A stand alone multi-storeyed building needs two staircases from a fire escape ruling. By communing multiple building in one long wall like structure you can eliminate 1 staircase / building and save sft to build more flats. yes its cramped and results in less sunlight but who cares . The blocks are not connected internally and the only fire escape solutions is from the roof of one block to the other.

5. Contract & Undivided Share of Land 

The contracts are always one sided. You just have to sign on the dotted line. Most contracts do not even mention the undivided share of the land that is due to you. This is because the developer doesn’t know on day 1 how many flats will be built, what will be their size. In large projects the building comes in phases and the design and size of the flats vary basis demand and market conditions.

So what happens is that at the time of registration you get land based on the Plinth area of the building. The total Plinth area of all the buildings is normally not even 50% of the total complex area. Who owns the balance land ? The Builder doesn’t – since he is a developer. The land is always owned by a 3rd party. What if the land owner at a later date comes and stake claim ? Difficult to find answers to such simple logical questions.

The contract mentions a nominal delay penalty  (3 – 5 Rs / sft / Month) – thats less than Rs 7500/- for a 2500 sft flat. Even that is not paid on the 1st month of delay – but the builder says he will pay in final settlement. At the same time the contract does have a clause on cost escalation which the builder can invoke anytime.

6. Club House and Common amenities 

As the building develops the size and facilities of common amenities continue to shrink. rarely will you get the promised glamorous club house at the time of possession ( delayed possession) – the Club House will happen slowly as other phases construction starts. So in a 14 acre project – when you get your Phase – 1 flat , there is construction work and noise all around you for the next 5 years.

3000 Flats , 12,000 residents – have to make do with 1 swimming pool , 1 tennis court and 1 TT table. Thats what you have even in a 200 flat apartment complex. Get ready to reserve your play slot 1 week in advance.

7. Maintenance 

Most builders maintain the complex for the 1st 3 years. Post that they hand over to the community. I shudder to think how it will be to form a  management Committee in a  complex of 12,000 Indians. We struggle to get one going in a complex of 124 flats. How will one treasurer collect the monthly maintenance ? What if people don’t pay ? Are there large established 3rd party companies that can maintain complex of this with SLA’s.

8. How to protest 

Its almost impossible for the buyers to get together and stage a strong protest. For starters nobody knows his neighbour. Even if you get a Yahoo Group started – there is a lot of noise but little action. Leadership is a rare quality in India. Everyone is scared of getting over aggressive – the builder can always hold back your registration or penalise you with the worst parking lot.  Filing a case or going to the consumer court to protest is not an option – unless you are a very high profile buyer with strong connections (One Bangalore West) – so you just pray and wait. CREDAI , State Government , Builder Regulator , Agencies giving FAA ratings , Banks – all are not a partner to help you – they are all agencies just in name.

But inspire of all this people still flock to buy flats. With the top 3 builders you know that even if you get 80% of what was promised with a  2 year delay – you are still on a hot property with decent appreciation and a good community. So you are OK to look the other side and forget the pain and agony.

My only suggestion is – maybe we should be careful of the mega projects and look for complexes in the 250 – 500 flats range. Less complexity, faster completion, easier to maintain.

What drives Success ? Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

A friend yesterday asked me a simple Question  – “What are the skills needed for a teenager today to be successful in life?”  –  My first response was quick and simple – aligning success to the Corporate world  – Be a specialist , Make your presence felt – Build your BRAND – Communicate right , Adapt , Be ready to learn and unlearn and integrate technology as part of your day to day life . Last but  not  the least learn to be a tactical diplomatic conformist – dissent is no longer the voice of progress.  But then as  I thought thru this for 24 hrs and started peeling the onion a totally different set of perspectives started to emerge.

The first question I asked myself  – How do you define Success ? The easiest answer is the materialistic answer – Being successful in todays world is Being Rich, Famous and powerful. A good job , managing a large team , a big house , International Holidays , No Debts, Large saving in the bank  and a good education . Maybe a powerful job like a politician. (Remember this is defining Success not Happiness)

Success

Thats the path which we normally take –  most parents in India would say that if you get to an Harvard – MIT – IIT – IIM….  chances are that you are on the right track and all set for a successful career and hence a successful life.

If you do a Google search on “Traits of successful people ” – its easy to find lists that include the following attributes as the key to Success – Resilience, Honesty, Time Management, Courage , Passion , Vision , Adaptability , Creating Value, Drive , Ambition  ….. etc

When everyone knows this Track and everyone wants to be successful – The Question I ask is why do only some people have these qualities and why is it that only a very few % less than 1% make it to the hallowed portals of Ivy League Colleges and then hop onto the so called Successful league.

WhyNotMe1

To answer this question – let me reference a recent dinner meeting I had with Ishani – a colleague from Durgapur –  the small town where we grew up. We lived in ABL – a model township. The officers quarters had about 100 Flats/Bungalows. Ishani was an encyclopaedia and knew details of almost every boy & girl who had passed out of ABL from 1975 to 1990. Across these 15 years about 100 Kids would have completed their class 10 . It was amazing to observe that almost 90% of them could be termed as very successful. More than 50% were in good jobs outside of India and the remaining doing very well in the country.

How could a small township generate such stupendous success demographics? What were the Ingredients? How could this work not just for one year but for 15 years at a stretch ? Could the answer for what makes you Successful lie here ?

And its not just ABL the above phenomena can be attributed to BARC Colony in Chembur, an IIT Campus where the kids of the staff do so well , and large colony like TISCO / TELCO etc.

Key Ingredients from these ecosystems ( Like ABL Township) that could be the defining Criteria for Success  

I was able to quickly identify 4 key Ingredients that could possible be the defining criteria on how the Kids from here had a great start

  • All parents were highly educated – Engineers and top notch professionals from good colleges and schools  – GREAT GENES
  • The two schools in town St Xaviers and Mount Carmel – ICSE were best in Class – Good faculty, good environment , Good Syllabus – GOOD SCHOOL
  • Township life was perfect to develop the all rounder – Sports , Plays , Public Speaking – there was always an opportunity to get the sporty or creative juices out – EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  • Being a small group people interactions was high, bonding was high, it felt like an extended family – GOOD COMMUNITY

The formative years are so critical and getting an excellent grounding from birth to Age 16 with a  good school and a good community , backed with the right Genes made all the difference for this group of Kids . Of course you needed to work hard – but the community and peer pressure and school ensured that part happened.

But is that all – Basis this I developed a very simple model to define the key elements of success

Success copy.001

At the root of everything is Destiny – why were these 100 Kids born in that community, getting all the favourable Tailwinds to succeed. Why did the balance 10% not take off ? Why were there some cases of  two children born in the same family – One taking off to a very successful career and the other falling back down the way ? Why did some have a slow start but accelerate later ? Why were some doing so well – suddenly fall back ? I would argue that at the root of everything is DESTINY. We may all say that we are self made men – but then the seed with which we are born has a significant part to play on which tree we grow up to be .

Destiny – Genes – Community – School are the Basics that gets you started with a great foundation. Then you build your competencies and skills thru college and work. And here the hard work, perseverance pays off as you polish your skills and get better with age.

And then you have another block called the  Personality Trait on which you may not have much control. This may be linked to you as an Individual. The personality trait some Psychologists argue stays with you from birth to death – you can works towards modifying them … a little but the personality is YOU and cannot be modified totally. Like Destiny you may have little control over them. You may at best know your Personality Trait and operate in an environment conducive to that.

The 5 Common Personality Traits 

  • Openness refers to traits such as how inclined someone is to conform to societal or cultural norms, how concretely or abstractly they think about things, and how open or resistant someone is to change. A person who is a creative thinker and always looking for ways to do things better would likely score high on measures of openness
  • Conscientiousness has to do with a person’s degree of organization, level of discipline, and how prone he or she is to taking risks. The college student who never misses a class and has a 4.0 GPA would probably prove to have a high degree of conscientiousness as measured on a personality assessment
  • Extraversion is a personality characteristic that describes things like how social a person is, or how warm and loving they tend to be. Extraverts are people who would typically prefer to go out to a party with lots of friends as opposed to stay in and watch a movie with one or two friends
  • Agreeableness takes into account how kind, dependable, and cooperative a person is. People who score high on scales of agreeableness are typically more interested in doing things for the common good as opposed to fulfilling their own self-interests
  • Neuroticism is a personality characteristic that describes how nervous or anxious a person tends to be, as well as, the degree of self-confidence and self-contentment he or she possess. Individuals who score high on levels of neuroticism will often be preoccupied with the ‘what ifs’ of life. They tend be worrisome and preoccupied with things that might not be within their control

And last but not the last – you may have everything going in your favour but Lady Luck may be missing. And without her – its difficult to find the magic called Success. With all your competencies, attitude, skills , personality Traits you still need to be at the right place at the right time to encash your cheque. If your Personality has A Positive attitude and some risk taking abilities that beckons Lady Luck faster – but most of the time its a wave that sweeps a generation to success. We had the baby boomers in the US and we in India were a lucky generation – thanks to the economy boom and 7% + GDP Growth rate since the 1990’s. We have hardly seen war or unrest. And with a high energy PM promising Acche Din – lets just hope that lady luck continues to smile on us for ten more years and see us thru our productive phase of this life.

So what are the levers that you have ?  Destiny, Genes & Luck are out of your control. You really can’t choose what community and school you will study in – thats your parents call. Yes you can work hard and get into a good college and develop the right set of Competencies all across your career to succeed. And knowing your personality traits strengths and weakness – work on some visible areas of weakness.

So is this the one formulae for Success ? Of course not. You will always have the Ramanajuam’s and Dr Abdul Kalam growing up to global brilliance after studying under a lamp post in a small village with no school or infrastructure. But these are exceptions and not the norm.

The huge advantage that some kids get – will go a long way in helping them get ahead in the race. But how they capitalise on it remains to be seen. Sadly most of them don’t see the advantage they have and let complacency seep in. Is that laziness or Destiny – I don’t know !

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