Archive for June, 2008

Driving the Away Blues – Online Friendships

The unknown also excites human beings. Yes, we all need adventure and excitement and the internet has provided just that for us. How? Well, as the online friendship enthusiasts and they will tell you how much more fun has been added to their lives, along with the seriousness of learning and sharing… But they also insist on being careful. We find out more about online friendships – the highs and lows…

Ever since the internet has taken the world by a storm, it has brought happiness and joy to innumerable lives. And what’s more, it’s actually shrunken the world. Making friends for life is matter of minutes, and that to with those living in some distant corner of the globe. Someone, whose true identity you may never know, or then whose true identity is provided to you; very, very, very honestly. The bonds are based on instincts and feelings; and there is no urge for a physical proximity. There is trust with loyalty. The heart strings pull you hard, reminding you its time to log on because you got someone out there waiting for you…

All this and more is what online friendships provide you!

According to the internet experts the number of people stepping into chat rooms to find friends is increasing by the day. There are people of all ages, for their own reasons looking towards a friend in the distant lands, whom they can share the deepest secrets and actually offload the emotional load they carry. They feel they can trust the online friend far more than anyone else.

But is this a healthy trend? According to Sushma, a psychologist and psychotherapist, “I consider online friendships healthy, as long as one is in awareness that the person they are befriending may not really be the person they trust so much. See the thing is that we may honestly give our identity, but we can never know whether the person on the other side is being truthful. But then, I feel as long as one feels comfortable with the online companion it is fine. And one of the biggest advantages of such friendships is that people tend to vent out all their emotions, negative and positive, keeping away all inhibitions.”

What makes it easier for people to trust an online friend more than those who exist in flesh and blood? Sushma explains, “When you want to share your darkest secrets with some in flesh and blood in front of you, you tend to look towards them for their reactions. Or rather you fear their reactions. You are aware that as you speak the person across you is judging you. And then you start weighing your words. And there instead of pouring your heart out, it is still as heavy as ever. But when it comes to the online friendships, there is no one sitting in front of you listening with facial expressions and gestures. The net friend is a faceless sounding board that makes people very comfortable, without them actually realizing this.”

Sushma speaks about a case she handled where an online chat room helped a depressed thirty-year-old working woman to come out of her state of depression. “I had this client, who was very depressed and did not know what to do with her life. Nothing at all made her happy. She felt as if her entire world was falling apart. All her friends were settled and married. Her parents lived in a distant place and so she was living alone. Her relationships were not working out. I counseled her for long hours, but she did not seem to get out of her depression. I told her that the best thing for her was to begin networking with people and establishing an active social life. After this she disappeared. I met her two months later at a multiplex, and she was going alone for a movie. She was looking so happy. When I asked her how she was doing now she replied: ‘Great! And it is all thanks to the advice you gave me. I went back home and logged onto some friendship chat rooms and within a week I made friends with six to seven people around the world. It is so much of fun. We learn about each other’s cultures and I also got myself a great job, as suggested by a person I met online’. And she was looking very happy.”

Sushma further explains, “I feel that the entire concept of online friendship is therapeutic and exciting. And also, you never know when you make important contacts to forward your career.”

While all this seems so positive there are words of caution that the wise internet savvy and cyber crime watchers, would like to bring out to those into online communications. Vilas, a professional working in internet security, warns, “No doubt, internet friendships are exciting and a lot of fun. But one needs to be careful also. While making friends with anyone on the internet, do not reveal your personal identity in terms of your real name and contact information. Also do not forward your photograph to anyone. These encourage cyber crimes, and are the most difficult type of offence to solve. Sometimes people get so carried away by their newfound friendship that before they know it they have stalker or then their bank account is empty or credit card is busted.” Vilas continues, “As long as one plays it safe and by the rules, there is nothing to worry about. However, though there are chat rooms for children and teenagers, their interaction should be supervised by parents.”

But then, children and teenagers also want their privacy. Vilas explains, “We do not ask parents to invade into their children’s privacy. However, by supervision we mean they should be aware of whom their children are interacting with via the online friendship facilities. They should encourage their children to speak about the online friend. And keep reminding them about the need to avoid giving any contact information. There have been incidents of adults luring kids into giving their information and then kidnapping them, or calling them to secret places and sexually abusing them. These are few cases, but they do happen all the same. And safety precautions should be taken.” Scary, but point noted!

But then, if safety measures are kept in mind, then needless to say, but the World Wide Web has definitely made the social internet social scene a vibrant one!


Exploring the extras in the Travel Insurance

With rising disposable incomes, Indians are spending more and exploring new boundaries.

Travelling has is a favourite with Indians and now with less restrictions all around the world is their oyster. While travelling abroad one of the requirements of the paperwork is health insurance. Unlike the usual health insurance policies, travel health insurance polices cover a lot more than just medical care.

Some of the features covered under health plan are inbuilt and have become a part of the basic health cover offered whereas, there are also premium policies which are offered additional cover in terms of amount of cover as well as number of events for which the traveller is insured.

The basic needs

Every travel insurance polices offers some essential covers under its basic travel plans. They cover health and other travel related covers. The most common covers under a basic policies are:

· Overseas Health Cover

· Emergency Dental Care

· Repatriation of Mortal Remains

· Accidental Death and Dismemberment

· Loss of checked in baggage

· Baggage delay allowance

· Loss of Passport and Visa

Beyond the basics

The travel insurance market is abound with premium policies that offer more than the basic ones. Some companies, like Bajaj Allianz, ICICI Lombard and Reliance General Insurance, offer a host of added compensations-such as hijack distress allowance, compassionate visit (a two-way ticket for a relative or friend to visit you if you are hospitalised overseas), daily allowance in case of hospitalisation, personal liability, personal accident, and missed connection. Another great value-add is the benefit of protecting your assets against burglary back home in India (a variation of the home insurance policy), while you are away travelling.

There also multi-trip insurance available for those who are frequent fliers and travel abroad several times a year.

Tips for buying the best policy for you.

  1. Choose a policy for the exact number of days you wish to travel if your departure and arrival dates are fixed. This will bring down your cost
  2. If you are a frequent flyer then a multi-trip policy will work out cheaper and give you several added benefits.
  3. If you have insurance polices which cover you for accidental death and dismemberment (many credit cards provide it free along with the card) or home insurance, then it will make sense to try and take a policy without these covers since you will be paying additional for them when you do not need them.
  4. While comparing products do take into account all the additional services offered and weather you actually need them.

The most important factor to be examined while buying a home insurance policy is the Third Party Insurance tie ups they have in the country that you are planning to travel to.

The Moneyless Walk

BBC reports equipped with only a few T-shirts, a bandage and spare sandals, former dotcom businessman Mark Boyle is set to cross Europe and the Middle East.

On his 9,000-mile trek to Gandhi’s birthplace, he will have to pick his way through war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Mr Boyle, 28, said: “I will be offering my skills to people. If I get food in return, it’s a bonus”

He says he is part of the freeconomy movement – a group which began in the US and aims to bring about a moneyless society.

He plans not to touch any money and is taking no credit cards or travellers’ cheques.

Barter was the first form of money exchange and it is still prevalent in many rural societies to some extend or the other.

Mr Boyle’s experiment might just show inspite of modern money so deeply entrenched, barter may still be an acceptable form of money.

Traditions win hands down in financial services

Banks in India may be sitting on 144-million odd customer base, but it seems they have a way to go in order to catch up with the country’s age old traditional and informal lending sources. Out of the 71-million individuals, across urban & rural India, who took any loan in the last two years (yes, including big ticket one for buying a house) one in three tapped their friends & relatives, another third opted for moneylenders, with the banks being a poor third choice, with under a fifth (19.3%) banking on it for loans. In other words, the bulk of lending still takes place outside the formal financial sector.
Also bypassing the banking system are increasing popular social lending sites like Zopa and Prosper. The basic idea with social lending is that when you need money, others will pool their funds together and lend them to you at x% interest rate. Prosper uses your credit score to determine your risk rate and then based on that risk rate you bid for the loan with your terms. What makes Zopa and Prosper popular is the “social” aspect; that is you can post your story about why you need the money. has an interesting post on Social Lending voted as the future of finance by the banking industry

Only 105-million odd individual earners in the country (32.8% of the total paid workforce) own at least one life insurance policy. The total number of active insurance policies by this segment is round 139-million. There’s still good news for the insurance companies: a fifth of existing life insurance policy holders feel under-assured, and another 20.56-million people intend to go in for their first or additional life policy in the next one year. But there’s a catch: a majority of these would-be insurance seekers, 14.4-million, are spread out across rural India.
For what’s interesting, and disappointing for individual banks, is the high number of customers using multiple banks. As many as 14 million individuals use two banks, and over two million customers have relationship with three or more banks. And what’s most worrying, as far as banks are concerned, is that as many as 26-million customers continue channeling a large part of their savings into post office schemes, ostensibly more out of sheer habit than any real benefit. So much for the sales, marketing and brand prowess of our state-led banking mammoths and their much-celebrated private sector rivals.
The findings are a peek into an exhaustive survey conducted by the Economic Times…More to come yet

Will the real Internet User stand up!

The Indian Internet user numbers have been under review for some time. With varying usership figures confusing the advertsiser, Emarketer has come up with a bird’s eye view and added its own opinion of the number of Internet users in India.

The Indian government declared 2007 the “Year of Broadband,” setting a goal of 20 million broadband users in 2010.

However, according to the new India Online Overview report, eMarketer expects India to reach 10.5 million broadband households, or just over one-half the target, by 2011.

Broadband Households and Penetration in India, by Access Technology, 2005-2011 (thousands and % of total households)

To be fair they have presented the views of other estimates…. which one is right only time will tell.

As one can see the current figures also differ vastly as do the estimates.

Are we Islamic compliant?

Islamic Banking has been a hot favourite topic in newspapers and blogs. There are Islamic banking forums being organised infact there are special management courses for Islamic banking. Hyderabad-based Institute of Islamic Banking and Finance is churning out students eyeing lucrative jobs in the Gulf region. The institute, which offers web-based courses on Islamic finance, has enrollments from about 200 students some of whom are from countries like Guyana, Tunisia and the Gulf.

Economic Times went on to say Islamic banking is a distant dream in India

Members of a committee constituted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to examine the issue has viewed that Islamic banking cannot be offered by banks in India as well as the overseas branches of local banks under the present legal framework. Except a basic offering like current account, almost no other banking product in India can be modified to meet the conditions of Islamic banking.

Yet the debate continues…

Here are the reasons why Islamic banking can become a strong product suite.

· Islamic banking makes Muslim customers feel good. So banks could adopt it as a differentiating strategy.

· India’s poor Muslims face a real problem in accessing organised financial services, and this is the same problem that the rest of India’s poor face. Greater financial inclusion, such as no-frills-banking accounts, and higher banking outreach will fix this. The fastest way to do this is enhancing competition.

· Tweaking financial products to make them Shariah-compliant is not difficult. It however needs RBI to step in and loosen the laws.

· Besides personal finance products, there are a host of corporate products which will gain popularity.

· Islam in India is the second-most practiced religion after Hinduism. There are approximately 174 million Muslims in India (according to government census 2001), i.e 16.4% of the population.. India has the second largest population of Muslims in the world (the largest being Indonesia).

HSBC has an a special site for Islamic banking called “Amanah HSBC”

In India Parsoli finance has been offering Islamic brokering services and has an Islamic Equity fund. They are also on a branch expansion spree which perhaps reinforces the market for Islamic Banking in India.