29 May 2012

From Safety to Comfort

They use to put airbags inside the steering wheel; now they are stuffing them with pillows.

28 May 2012

Dancing Girls with Big Jugs

The girls' jugs were on their heads, and each dancer only had one; nonetheless, it was a good show.

15 May 2012

My Bank Thinks “I” Means Idiot, not Interest

They also think that red is a good color in finance.

Alfa Bank (Альфа Банк) is my bank in Russia.  In case you are wondering, I have not misspelled “alpha.”  My bank choice is as unfortunate as the idiotic and intentional English misspelling of the bank’s name.

My bank account hit by what appears to have been a systematic fraud operation in Russia:  Somehow, my debit card information and PIN number were compromised and the result was a multi-thousand dollar theft loss.  The same appears to have been true for many other people, including a few acquaintances, at various banks.  To be fair, this could happen anywhere.

Alfa Bank was good enough to detect fraud after the seventh thousand dollar left my account but, per a branch manager, the bank could not guarantee the safety of my funds in the bank at any time.  In other words, the bank manager admitted that Alfa Bank is of the same safety grade as any random hole in the ground, except that because the word “bank” is in Alfa Bank’s name, it is a bigger target.  This is not OK and should not happen anywhere.  Let’s award “I1” to the bank manager for the insanely idiotic nature of her statement.

I2 is awarded to the same bank manager idiot for instructing me to file a police repot for a breach in a bank that she manages, so that the police can investigate the crime.  She then said to wait for 9 months to get the results back.  I am starting to wonder whether I should report her to the police for criminal negligence.

Welcome to the Alfa VIP Lounge

I3 is awarded to whichever idiot that designated me as a “VIP Client.”  Unsatisfied with the idiot in charge who got the I1 and I2 awards, I went to a separate branch to push my case.  The bank staff, having identified me as a VIP Client, put me in a private office and asked a pretty 19-year-old girl to tend to my needs.  I told the girl that she was very nice, but I needed someone competent and asked her to send the branch manager in.

At Alfa Bank, We Select Our Managers Carefully

Out walked the girl and in walked in a clown.  He deserves I4, I5, and I6.  

I4 is for his shirt:  This pudgy self-designated Romeo was wearing a very tight, multi-colored Tommy Hilfiger polo over his budging belly.  When I say multicolored, I mean that each sleeve had a different primary color, as did his collar.  And for some weird reason, his shirt was stitched together in the middle with yet fabric of different color.  It was like watching a TV color test screen.  Befittingly, he disseminated just as much useful content.

My Fashion, My Brain

I5 is for the clown’s necktie.  As if his shirt was not offensive enough, dumbbell the banker also sported a weirdly knotted tie that was just long enough to fit only an 11-year-old choirboy properly, with the tip just hovering above his protruding tummy.  And as difficult as it seems, none of the colors of his tacky tie matched any of the gazillion colors of his stupid shirt.  I mean:  Come on!

The clown noticed that I was agitated.  He heard my story and tried to console me.  This effort gets him an I6.  Without reviewing any documentation, he said to come back after 70 days to know where the bank investigation has led.  Bank investigation?  Really?  I thought I had to file a police so that they could analyze the bank’s failings.  Does the bank have any sort of process, or train any of its managers on process?

Here is a tidbit for others who find themselves in a similar situation as me:  By Russian law, a bank is obliged to answer to a consumer demand similar in nature to mine within 10 days.  If the bank refuses to compensate the consumer for fraudulent losses, the consumer has the option of suing the bank in a Russian court.  In most cases, the court sides with the consumer. 

How did I learn this?  A former Alfa Bank operations manager, who left the company for greener pastures, confirmed this information nugget.  Somehow, existing Alfa Bank managers seem to be oblivious to this.

Maybe the first bank manager was right, and my I1 award was undeserved:  Alfa Bank is about as good as a hole in the ground.  In any case, the bank deserves a new, more descriptive logo (luckily, it still preserves their red color scheme).

Alfa Bank: Operational Excellence

Alfa Bank, just FYI:  Red in financial parlance means “loss.”  At least, your color is accurately descriptive.

07 May 2012

Made in China, Almost Mexican

Here comes the TACOS steamroller.  Sorry, my error.  It is the TC4OS kind.

Thievery, Mastery, and Artistry

Approximately one year ago, I was walking in downtown Moscow, less than half a mile away from the Kremlin.  Three men, without any apparent connection, were walking towards me almost in a single file.  The first dropped something as he passed me.  The second picked up the dropped package, appearing to be a stack of $100 bills, and asked me, with an innocent smile and a bushy tail, whether this were my money.  As I was explaining that he package probably belonged to the first man, the third man approached the second man and me, showed a police badge, and started to interrogate me.  The expectation was that I pay a "bribe" to the police, bogus or real, to get out of the sticky trap.  I just walked away.  The thievery attempt was clumsy by common street crooks and cons trying to make a quick coin.
  • Category:  Thievery
  • Expected Loss:  Multiples of tens of dollars
  • Actual Loss:  $0

Approximately a month ago, I returned to Russia from abroad with two new, unopened iPads in my luggage.  The Russian customs at Domodedovo, a flagship airport in Russia, asked me to place my suitcase in the X-ray machine.  I complied.  A customs official ordered me to open my luggage and took intense interest in a single, white tube sock.  Puzzled, I asked why thy liked my sock so much.  The focused changed immediately to a handful of vitamin pills I had in the luggage.  Puzzled again, I explained that those were vitamins.  The customs official was then satisfied, quickly zipped up my bag, and allowed me to enter Russia.  I arrived home, opened my luggage, and found that the two iPads were missing.  The focus on the tube sock and vitamins, however brief, was a diversion.  This is more than common thievery by street hoodlums; this is mastery by government law-enforcment officials.  Hats off to Russian Customs.
  • Category:  Mastery
  • Expected Loss:  $0
  • Actual Loss:  Multiples of hundreds of dollars

Exactly yesterday, I received a call from my Russian bank asking if I had made multiple, large ATM withdraws in quick succession.  I answered "no" and asked for my account to be blocked.  As it turns out, someone had replicated both my ATM card and matched it to my PIN code, thereby getting unfettered access to my account.  The probable methods of getting both pieced of information are: (1) someone in the bank leaked the information; (2) someone hacked the bank's security and stole this information pair; or (3) someone hacked an ATM to get the card data as well as using surveillance of some sort to get my PIN code, and then went to town with it.  If (1) is true, then this is a case of bank fraud.  If (2) is true, then we have a case of negligence by my bank.  If (3) is true, and because I only use large, well-known bank's ATMs, there is a fundamental problem with the integrity the banking system here.  There is no good possibility. 

I presented the case to a bank manager yesterday shortly after the event.  Her response was:  "Sorry, the bank cannot guarantee the safety of your funds."  Her statement was tantamount to "one cannot reasonably expect that his money will be in his account tomorrow or the next day.  Caveat emptor, and good luck."  

This situation is so mind boggling and unsettling that it can only be explained as artistry.  This artistic presentation makes a clear impression that nothing can be taken for granted.
  • Category:  Artistry
  • Expected Loss:  Negative dollars; in actuality, one should earn interest.
  • Actual Loss:  Multiples of thousands of dollars


Category Expected Loss Actual Loss
Thievery Multiples of tens of dollars $0
Mastery $0 Multiples of hundreds of dollars
Artistry None; actually a gain is expected Multiples of thousands of dollars

What's the next growth echelon after artistry?  Whatever it is, I do not like where this is going.