‘Absolute rubbish’ said Kunal Dasgupta, CEO of Sony Corporation when a newspaper asked if he was on his way out. He even threatened to sue anybody who ‘carried any false report’ on the subject. May be Dasgupta should go easy with the threats. Information about his problems in Sony, the fact that the Japanese company has curtailed his powers and is looking at several deals with a fine toothcomb, from very good sources. If Sony has not made its actions public, it is only because the company wants no controversy; only time will tell how long Dasgupta actually stay on with the organisation. While he insists that there is no downsizing, several top people have left after Rekha Nigam. There is also that business with Mark Mascarenhas of WorldTel over the $17.5 million agreement for telecasting the Bangladesh matches. While a face saving settlement is being negotiated, reliable sources say that the deal turned controversial because it probably did not have the approval of the board in the first place—which is why WorldTel was given such a runaround. This was part of Sony’s plan to do a Kerry Packer on an even bigger scale—a grand idea, which unfortunately, like several of its recent shows has failed to fly.
Scam in the making
A market regulator has to be on the alert all the time. That is because every time Sebi plugs some loopholes and strengthens audit trails, there are ingenious new minds working to find new ways to beat the system. A couple of weeks ago, I received an unsolicited email from one Ali, offering his Permanent Account Number (PAN) for market operations. Ali is barely educated and doesn’t know how to write up a biodata, but he is obviously good at spotting and anticipating opportunities to make a fast buck. Ali has apparently been filing tax returns for three years and has acquired a PAN number—he now wants to cash in. Here is what he writes: ‘Sabi New Rules Oddlots mens share investors are compulsaory Pan Card. i have pan card, if you want to use mypan card, then use it’. For every Ail who is foolishly soliciting clients through email there are probably many others who are quietly organising frontmen and fall guys to short-circuit Sebi’s attempt to track unaccounted funds and benami operators. The next scam would be in the issue of fake PAN numbers altogether—nobody will check until there is a real problem.
Citi falls in line
Citibank has finally decided to listen to outraged customers and end the controversy that blew up over its decision to unilaterally deduct an insurance premium (the Suraksha controversy). A reader tells us that after its initial defiance, Citibank has changed track. The October credit card statement has three little paragraphs in small print at the bottom. The last sentence reads ‘Citibank Card members who have acquired their Card after June 1, 2001 are not automatically enrolled for Citibank Suraksha. If you wish to subscribe to the Citibank Suraksha Program, please call CitiPhone’. Better late than never—but wouldn’t it have been far better if Citibank had acted quickly and with far more grace?
A couple of years ago, HDFC bank had frightened depositors by getting their accounts all jumbled up—some had their checks bounced and even found fixed deposits from their accounts missing. The bank had then cleaned up its act, focussed on its housekeeping and presumably fixed its problems. It even went on to win awards for performance. But such is the power of e-age banking that depositors sometimes receive a bad jolt. For instance the letter that it sent out to customers last week. First they received a monthly statement for the September 1 to 28. This was followed by another for just three days—from September 29 to October 1, 2001. Just as they were wondering whether to marvel at the efficiency of our best emerging company, comes another letter announcing that customers should ignore the three-day statement. It had been erroneously sent, they said, and depositors ‘should not be guided by the details’ in it about their transactions and balances. In fact, startled customers are now poring over their transactions to ensure that their deposits are still intact.
ICICI is history
Everything that ICICI does is invariably bigger and flashier than everybody else. The latest, we hear is its decision to commission international management consultant Mckinsey & Company to write its 50 year corporate history. Now that ICICI has decided to convert into a Universal bank by merging with ICICI Bank, the development bank will itself be history. It now seems that in writing ICICI’s story—Mckinsey may actually be writing the epitaph of India’s experiment with development banking.