Monthly Archives: April 2014

In the spirit of transparency

Transparency has for a number of years been hailed as something good; but for the past few years transparency is being instrumentalized as the one and only result to be achieved. One could say, it has become a synonym for the measurement of a ‘good’ society – i.e. a society with little corruption, a high political (democratic) standard and a high education.

Consequently, government agencies have placed a high focus on transparency. Both, how the agency itself appears in public but also what it expects from the public, including business firms. And this, on the surface great development has led to a governmental activity, which is quite possibly based on a fundamental error. Continue reading

In the Spirit of Time (Swatch) and Money (UBS Bank)

 

Much has been written about the law suit between UBS (Money) and Swatch (Time). The reason? – Well, money of course. But also TIME. These underlying reasons don’t change, also if one party claims it is a matter of principle and the other states they did nothing wrong.

A court, in general, pronounces a verdict on a case based on the information it has or doesn’t have. Finally, it decides if and who, based on what facts is in the wrong and/or right. Hence, it really makes a statement on who is to blame and by how much, i.e. who is victim and who the perpetrator.

In Yoga-Philosophy no statement is made as to who the victim is or who the perpetrator. It doesn’t light the way on how and who to blame. On the contrary, in Yoga-philosophy one of the themes is the focus on how we can transcend our feelings of anger, fear, greed, etc. that really don’t make anybody happy and finally only result in suffering. In the way that scientists created rockets that enable us to fly to the moon, Yoga-Philosophy highlights various ways how we can discover our own being, offering – in a way – a rocket to the inner moon.

But getting back to the squabble between UBS (Money) and Swatch (Time): We have two major companies, both giants in their own field of competence – one a specialist in money and the other in time! As time is money, we could argue that they both ought to have much in common.

On the surface and according to the local papers the story is as follows: Upon recommendation of UBS Bank the Swatch Group invested about CHF 47 Mio in an Absolute Return Product in May 2007, which was supposed to be a low-risk investment. During the crisis of 2008, however, it lost 50% of its value. Not so low a risk after all. For Swatch it meant a loss of approx. CHF 26 Mio. Understandably, they were not amused.

Swatch claims that the name of the product implies a guarantee, a secure investment. UBS on the other hand claims that it made the client aware of a potential risk. The details of the story can be followed in numerous financial papers (e.g. http://www.ft.com ).

Anybody who is able to read could get the message. It was there, written in black and white in the factsheet. In other words, no investment is really secure. But then again: What else is new?

So does that make Swatch Group just plain negligent and UBS a bank, just out for its own profits? – Well, not entirely.

Various scenarios are possible:

  1. It may have been a matter of misplaced faith on the part of the investor.
  2. The investor may have fallen victim to his own weakness. That is, not to admit not understanding how the fund works.
  3. The investor may have just been plain old stupid.
  4. The Bank may have fallen prey to not wanting to check too closely on the motives of its employees involved in      setting up the fund. After all: the Fund was making money – for the Bank. So, no need to check whether all is in the green, right?

So was it just misplaced faith (Scenario 1)? I often find that people who have a high sense of integrity often automatically assume the same of others. They simply cannot imagine that the other party would do anything that would not imply a win-win situation for both. Also, being a professional in its own right, Swatch may – in good faith – have simply outplaced a task (financial investment) to a professional in the market.

Scenario 2 (combined with scenario 1) is also likely: i.e. the investor not wanting to admit or not wanting to be bothered with the seemingly complex ins and outs of these products. Often one just assumes or hopes against better judgement that the professional (the Bank) knows what they are doing. This can be observed especially when one has not entirely understood the complexity of the product.

Employees of big companies are often quite scared to voice their true opinion about anything and may, therefore, may be even more likely fall into the trap of not wanting to admit that something is unclear. It is human.

One mistake, I have also found myself doing again and again: When I pass something on to another professional, I assume, I don’t need to check whether it’s correct or not. Right? – Wrong! That is a major mistake we often make. Whenever I trip of this ‘assume-topic’ I am always reminded of a professor who told us precisely what he thought it: ASS U ME. In other words: NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING.

Still, the same mistake happens. Since I have taken the professor’s good advice to heart, I find though, that now I also have to do my own accounting, fill in my own tax return, deal with government bureaucracy (had to look up the spelling of this word), IT issues, repair my own car, etc. – Well, strike the last two.

It goes without saying, that the world has – on the surface – become a very complex and administrative place. Clearly, most of us don’t want to be or simply cannot be bothered with all the complexities that the world is throwing at us every day. Therefore, we outplace to the self-announced professionals that may or may not do a good job. They may also most of the time do a good job and sometimes fail. Like with a top Tennis player: it is consistency that makes them great. Not infallibility!

As to scenario 3: Let us assume, that stupidity did not reign the day.

Finally, scenario 4: It actually is hard to tell, whether the Bank acted in good faith when it placed the fund or whether they had the focus too much on a one-sided-win-situation and placing – at the same time – all the risk on the client. The fact sheet certainly showed a tendency of the fund being a moneymaking machine primarily for the Bank. After all: They are in the Money Business.

The upshot is: It seems very likely, that both companies did not really do their homework properly – i.e. in good faith. It is quite possible, that the best solution for both is to go out for a beer together and write off their losses that both in the meantime are sure to have incurred. And maybe UBS will do the right thing and take a close look at its motives and what its employees are doing. In other words: Maybe UBS and other banks will focus a little less on MONEY for themselves and a little more on a true and realistic ‘win-win’? – And maybe, companies such as Swatch will invest a little more TIME in checking what they are dealing with. It will certainly make everybody less greedy and hence happier. OM

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In the spirit of Backgammon

In the spirit of Backgammon

Backgammon is one of my favourite games. Why? – It encompasses both strategy and ‘luck’ or maybe you can also call it destiny. Hence, it incorporates much of how business and daily life also works. My mum, though, tends to think that Backgammon is just about luck – especially when she has just been beaten. Whereas I then retort that it is mainly about strategy.

Besides Backgammon being a game of strategy and luck it also offers various insights. Before I get into that though, let me briefly explain what the aim of Backgammon is  – for those of you, who are not familiar with the game.

Backgammon is a board game, played by 2 people. There are 4 sections of which one section is home base. Each player has 15 men that are placed at the beginning of the game in a specific, mirrored way on the board over the 4 sections. The aim is to bring all one’s men into the ‘home’ section after which the men can then be taken off the board. Men can be moved according to the throw of the 2 dice. This would be the part that one would consider luck or bad luck or destiny or karma or whatever you want to call it. The men are moved in accordance to the throw of the dice. Single men on the board are vulnerable. That is, they may be thrown into ‘prison’, from which they can start all over again given the respective throw of dice.

In short: How you place your men is strategy. What throw you get in order to place your men is – well – luck. Over time though, the player with better strategic capabilities will win the game, also if there may be games lost in between. This analysis though my mother would vehemently disagree with.

However, I mentioned that the game offers more than just being strategic with a little luck thrown in for good measure. That became abundantly clear the other day, when I had yet another game with my mum. I got to start the game. And what a start it happened to be: Double six. In Backgammon it just doesn’t get any better as an opening throw. The look on my mother’s face mirrored this fact very distinctly. Without going into details: she was NOT amused. And actually only confirmed her theory that Backgammon was purely a matter of luck.

Naturally, I placed my men and covered with this opening move the two important strategic points on the board. And then my mom threw her dice. Also double six! The look on her face changed within a short second from ‘oh great’ to ‘oh no’. What had happened? She couldn’t place her men anymore, because I had just placed them on the two neuralgic points. In fact she couldn’t move any of her men. Now she definitely was not amused.

Why is this situation so fascinating? In a flash the following 5 insights were made visible:

  1. The same result is not necessarily good for everybody. This goes also for business situations. If our competitor acts in a certain way, it may be detrimental if we do the same.
  2. We certainly don’t need to have the same as everybody else.
  3. At times we are forced to take a break.
  4. At times we can make huge jumps, other times we can only move at ant’s speed.
  5. We need to work with the resources we have. If luck throws us good dice we may be able to do something with it, depending on timing and how we are strategically placed. If we have not set up our men in the right places, even with good dice, nothing much can come of it. On the other hand, even if the dice are not great, we may still move along, if we are well set up.

From a yogic point of view the above insights have much to do with why we suffer. The great sage Patanjali (who compiled and explains the system of yoga in 196 aphorisms, the Yoga Sutra) mentions 5 reasons why we suffer. Here, I’ll just mention two of the reasons he gave:

  1. Ego
  2. Attachment

The Ego thinks that he/she is it. That he/she controls everything. That he/she is able to control everything. Well, we all know from our own experience that this is not the case, also if some of us at times try and force their will upon others. Sooner or later this leads to problems and therefore suffering.

The other aspect is attachment, be it towards people or objects. Whatever is pleasant to one, one desires and if one is not able to experience the expected pleasure attached to the person or object one suffers. ‘I too want to win. I too want a double six, never mind whether it is good for me or not’. Therefore, if we are able to let go of attachment, we are much better able to accept the situation as it is. We don’t work ourselves into a tizzy and send our brain onto the road of blaming everybody else for one’s own ‘bad luck’. When we are able to accept situations as they are, we have this inner feeling of peace and calm and we simply deal with the situation at hand. No need for blood pressure, pulse rate, hormones, etc. to break all records.

So, next time you think you have received a lousy throw of dice, remember: It is just a game. OM.