Tag Archives: Stock market

HSBC “Rgerts to Onform”

I’m always amazed at how much money companies sink into sparkling advertising and PR, but so little into ensuring the emails their staff send and receive reflect the same sheen.

Especially when they call themselves the “world’s local bank”.

Take this recent email exchange with HSBC. I’m a customer, and sometimes use their Premier lounge at Jakarta airport. I’m one of those annoying people who make a point of submitting comments to companies about my experience, even if they’re not solicited.

A few months back I was impressed enough with the Jakarta lounge to send an email to a generic customer relations email address I found here on HSBC’s global site where the page says:  HSBC customers are invited to email customerrelations@hsbc.com.

I can’t remember now what I wrote, but it was complimentary about the initiative of one of the staff, a guy called Musli. I got this back a few days later:

Thank you for your recent e-message.
I have forwarded your email to Jakarta, Indonesia so that your positive comments can be feedback to Musli and their manager.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Great. Just what I wanted. A slap on the back for the little guy.

But a few months later—last week–I had a quite different experience, so I fired off another email to the same address:

Hi, I thought I’d follow up my earlier message about HSBC lounge in Jakarta. Since my last email I feel standards have slipped a bit and the place could do with some attention.

I then went on to detail the slippage: my Premier card, it turned out, wasn’t in itself good enough for Premier lounge, and the staff seemed keener on getting rid of me than seeing whether I carried the magic card. The lounge felt more like a lower tier massage parlor, with four females sitting around the front desk, chatting, giggling, singing karaoke and exchanging backchat with male staff. It got so raucous I and some other travelers went to another lounge to get a bit of peace and quiet.

Anyway, I fired off what I felt was a constructively critical message. I got this back today:

Thank you for your further e-message. I am sorry you have had to contact us under such circumstances.
I rgert to onform you that I am unable to assist you with your complaint.
As you have contacted HSBC UK, we are only able to access accounts held within the UK.
Therefore may I suggest that you contact HSBC Jakarta for them to investigate the issues you have and provide you with a full response.
I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you.

I wrote back:

Thanks for this, it cheered me up no end. The first time I send complimentary remarks to this email address, and they’re passed on right down to the staff, but when I send criticism you “rgert to onform” that you are unable to assist me.
Lovely stuff. Couldn’t make it up if I tried.

I’m a bit flabbergasted, actually, but I shouldn’t be. It’s pretty amazing that the global email address for customer relations for what is now one of the world’s biggest banks can spew out ungrammatical and misspelled dross like that, but more important, but that the staff member feels able to shunt responsibility back to the customer is shockingly shoddy.

Repeat after me: Every email sent and received by a member of your staff is an ambassador at large for the organization. Mess it up like this one and your whole brand suffers.

(Also being sent to HSBC PR for their comments.)

Poffertjes and Power

Continuing my search for a place to plug in and work at airports, I was pleasantly surprised to find that HSBC has laid out the red carpet for its Premier account holders, at least at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport. If you have one of their fancy accounts, anywhere in the world, you and your partner can partake of their lounge services.

It’s all a bit new, and, dare I say it, charmingly Indonesian: More people (three men watching one female doing the work) were involved in making my poffertjes (a Dutch batter treat popular in the former colony) than there were actual poffertjes:

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HSBC’s Poffertje-Making Team (4)

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HSBC Poffertjes (3)

But that’s not to say I wasn’t pathetically grateful. Food is never good at these kinds of places, so that the HSBC PMT (Poffertje-Making Team) took such care with my poffertjes was in itself a cause for celebration.

What impressed me, though, was that there was ample room there to work — several little cubicles, a couple of actual offices, and, blow me backwards, lots of power outlets — either in the walls, or in the floor. Like these, which pop up at the flick of a little switch. No Wi-Fi or anything, but you can’t have everything. Well done, HSBC.

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Pumping Stock, Spam and the Criminal Underworld

If you ever feel the urge to trade on a spam stock tip, I offer this unsolved whodunnit as a cautionary tale.

If you’ve been getting an extra dumpster of spam in your inbox lately, it’s probably because of a little known company called Cana Petroleum. If you open the email in question (and I’ve counted nearly 300 in my spam dumps in the past three days alone) you’ll find it’s a pretty straightforward pump and dump scam, where the sender tries to raise buying interest in the stock (the pumping bit) to push up the price so he can make a killing selling his stock (the dumping bit.)

It worked: according to Don Mecoy of The Daily Oklahoman:

Cana Petroleum shares, which trade on the unregulated Pink Sheets via the over-the-counter market, lost 32 percent on Friday to close at $4. On Thursday, the stock traded as high as $10 a share. Seven months ago, it traded for about a dime.

But is this just a case of some day trader making a quick killing? Or is there something more sinister afoot? The company involved has been in trouble before for promoting its stock. Don says that “Information regarding the company is difficult to find. Internet searches reveal no Web site, and telephone listings for Cana Petroleum led to disconnected or wrong numbers:

The company changed its name, ticker symbol and business model in August. Previously called Global DataTel, the company sold personal computers, mainly in Latin America.

Securities regulators filed a complaint against Global DataTel in 2001, and obtained a judgment against a stock promoter hired by the company. He was accused of spreading groundless price projections and strong “buy” recommendations even as he sold his own shares of the company’s stock. The promoter and two Global DataTel executives were fined.

Global DataTel shut down operations in the spring of 2001, “due to the big financials problems,” according to a regulatory filing.

That’s pretty much where the trail ends. As Don points out, a lot of companies don’t like their stock being manipulated for obvious reasons. The promoter involved in the 2001 case, Stuart Bockler, seems to have kept a low profile since. The SEC complaint describes him as a “corporate public relations consultant who controlled and operated, as the sole employee, three public relations-related companies — International Market Advisors Inc., International Market Call Inc., and Imcadvisors, Inc. — and a related Internet website www.imcadvisors.com.” The website itself is under construction although it does offer an address in Columbus, Indiana and an email address under the name Don Michael. The WHOIS information is the same.

Archived copies of the site indicate it’s been pretty dormant since 2001, when its homepage touted a mailing list of “hot news” for $100 a year. (You can see the buy recommendations IMC put out on Global Data Tel at this archived page: In less than five months it put out six ‘breakout buy’ reports on the company, out of a total of nine. A copy of one of the reports is here.) According to the SEC complaint, Bockler sent out 30,000 emails drawing attention to the reports. The stock rose, according to the SEC, from $7.19 a share on Jan 12 1999 to reach a high of $18.84  in April. Within a month of Bockler’s last report the price had fallen to $2.875.

From there the trail goes cold. Or does it? In 2004 a Beverly Hills lawyer called Allen Barry Witz pleaded guilty in a Newark District Court to manipulating the same stock with the help of four other men. (Bockler was also indicted, but I can find no record of the case having gone to trial.) But more intriguing is the link to a murder case that has not been solved: One of Witz’s unindicted co-conspirators, Joe. T. Logan Jnr, was, according to the Asbury Park Press, closely connected to two pump and dump stock dealers, Albert Alain Chalem and Maier Lehmann, who were murdered execution-style in October 1999, the same time the Global Datatel pump fraud ended. The two men’s stock website, StockInvestor.com, was heavily promoting the stock in the last recorded snapshot of the site before their deaths, about two weeks before they were killed. The most recent news article on the unsolved killings, by AP’s David Porter on October 30, quotes one of the dead man’s attorneys as saying:

“It sounded like an extremely professional hit,” he said. “It sounded like the perpetrators were on a plane back to Eastern Europe before they even found the bodies.”

It all may be a coincidence, of course. But the killings, the indictments and the fraud in the Global Datatel case might help to remind us that the links between stock scams, spam and criminal organisations with access to ruthless killers are not the stuff of fiction.

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Forward Looking or Tired and Reactionary? Welcome to the Faux Community Site

You’re familiar with the faux blog — a blog launched by a marketing company to look like a grassroots blog to promote a product, but actually maintained by PR drones. Naff is probably the word that springs to mind. But how about the faux community site? What word springs to mind when you visit YourPointofView.com, a website set up by marketing company JWT on behalf of HSBC? Despite all the flash (and there’s lots of it), it seems to be community-oriented, interested in your point of view on gorillas, organic food, sports fans and the like.

Your point of view is sought, sort of. Click on a window and another window pops up, letting you select from a drop down list of choices (no, you can’t type anything in) and then you’re taken to another window where you have to register and then offer some personal information (approach to life? realist/optimist/surrealist/pessimist) and then it goes on. Call it a survey pretending to be interested in you, so long as your choices are listed among their choices. So what’s the point?

“We’re sort of teasing out differences,” said JWT worldwide creative director Craig Davis. “The bank has always considered itself a sensitive organization, kind of a guest in different countries.” Davis added: “This is about the HSBC brand and its point of view. It’s living proof of the values of the brand.”

I have no idea about what ‘teasing out differences’ means. But if Davis is being quoted correctly, it sounds like the site has less to do with your point of view, and more to do with HSBC’s. I suppose it’s an attempt to show how sensitive HSBC is to everyone’s point of view, so long as you’ve got a high speed connection, and your views aren’t so extreme they loosely match with HSBC’s choices. You can’t help wondering whether these guys have looked at the Internet since 2000. We’ve moved on, fellas.

Especially when you find out the cost. This is part of a $300 million advertising campaign by JWT and 30 sister agencies, and while the TV ads are award-winning, imaginative and genuinely thought-provoking — looking at things like wind farms, an elderly Asian woman, adding descriptions that are polar opposites, but could be apposite — it’s scary to see how dated the web site itself looks. Blogs have long since made such attempts to woo customers and custom look ham-fisted and, well, phony. Even if they spent only 10% of that $300 million on the website, it’s still a ridiculous amount of money. Set up a blog, guys, and listen to the people. I’m pretty sure that if you asked them, they’d have plenty to say about HSBC, and banking in general. You might not like what they say, but it might help you build a better product.

HSBC aren’t alone in these kind of faux outreach programs. Chevron has also had a marketing blitz around its website WillYouJoinUs.com, which at least looks and feels, when you get past the graphics, to be a place where people can leave their opinions on the future of energy. I’m sure there are more. Welcome to the future, or is it the past?

News: Cambodia’s Boiler Room Scammers

Cambodia has repatriated 20 foreigners arrested last week for their involvement in the country’s first telecom scam, CNET reports. They comprised 14 Britons, two Americans and several Australian, New Zealand, Thai and Philippine nationals. Operating out of Cambodia, the group had cold-called people all over the world using cheap Internet phone connections to lure them into investing in the London and Hong Kong stock markets. Cambodian officials said their passport records show they had also worked from neighboring Laos and Thailand.

This confidence trick has since been named “The Boiler Room scam” after a movie of the same name. The show, depicted “fly-by-night stockbrokers involved in shady dealings to rip off investors”, the report said. In the movie, after buyers would be convinced to buy into shakey firms on inflated or made-up claims. Given the number of Brits who call me suggesting I invest in some offshore fund, I’m kinda glad I politely decline them.