Give credit its due but beware the costly slip-up

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 1994, 12:00am

HERE'S a scary thought: signing a charge card or credit card slip may not always be what it seems.

We know this from a hotel guest who noticed something very strange after staying at the Gold Coast Hotel, that weird place with palm trees on one side and container parks on the other.

He noticed by pure chance that his card had been billed for $640 more than the slip he signed.

When he rang the hotel he was told it had been subsequently ''discovered'' that he and his partner had made off with two Japanese kimonos from the hotel room and been billed $640.

He hotly denied the charge and eventually the hotel admitted a slip-up and promised to reimburse him.

It was only later that he started asking himself: ''Hey. How did they bill me for $640 more than I signed for?'' Well, here's news for you Amex holders. Amex said yesterday that hotels can bill you for more than you've signed for because of ''a special arrangement between card companies and hotels for the benefit of card members''.

And although hotels are ''advised and encouraged'' to tell the card holder of the new, bigger bill, they don't have to do so. And Gold Coast didn't.

Visa cards have the same facility, and the privilege is also extended to car hire companies who may allege you've stolen the engine or whatever.

We're sure there's no chance of anything going wrong with this arrangement because all card holders carefully check their bills every month. Don't they? A stinger SALLY Pemberton, senior manager at Banque Nationale de Paris, was entertaining some important clients at the Furama Grill, all of whom were male.

We'll leave aside the story about the $300 worth of exotically named cocktails that eventually appeared on the bill and which they had not drunk.

Instead we'll talk about the waitress who interrupted an important conversation about business in China to present Sally with a small box of chocolates ''in honour of Secretaries' Day''.

Sally, who runs BNP's international corporate desk, didn't take too kindly to the assumption that women only eat at the Furama Grill when they are getting a treat from their male bosses, and describes the incident as a ''public humiliation''.

She rang the management later to complain and point out that all the women in the room might not have been secretaries.

Unfortunately, the manager got a little confused. The reply was that there may well be such a thing as a male secretary but it was company policy that male secretaries didn't get free choccies.

No-hopers LOTS of the hotels in town, perhaps desperate for some gimmick to shift their overpriced food, have similar Secretaries' Day promotions.

If they all follow the Furama's discriminatory lead then it's bad news for Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who certainly won't qualify for the chocolates, roses and other handouts.

Perhaps well-known secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang fancies this generous gift. Maybe she should ask her boss Chris Patten to take her along. One thing's for certain. She's pretty unlikely to run into Sally from BNP.

Heads or tails IF THE Guinness Book of Records had an entry for the World's Least Sweeping Claim of Expertise, the certificate would soon be winging its way to brokers Barclays de Zoete Wedd.

Our cutting above shows the results of an epic bit of computer modelling about how money supply, bond prices and the like affect Hong Kong stocks.

The result, says BZW, is that ''our two models provide a better indication of market movements than a 50-50 coin toss''. Great work, folks.

Actually, to be fair, most investment managers use techniques that are less reliable than coin-tossing.

For instance, suppose the managers of Jardine Fleming's Hong Kong Trust had sold their stocks at the end of last year and then chose a new portfolio using a random process like throwing darts into the Business Post share pages.

They would have on average have seen their investment drop 21 per cent thanks to the falling market.

In fact, JF's team of experts (on gigantic bonuses) has lost more than that - 33 per cent of their clients' cash.

Maybe if their computer models had proved to be much worse than tossing a coin, BZW could have created a brilliant strategy by simply doing the opposite of everything it recommended.

Isle-nappers PAUL Frankland, the local manager of insurance firm Commercial Union, popped up yesterday promoting his new book on insurance, entitled Under Cover.

It sounds like a book about beds - appropriately enough for a sleep-inducing topic like this.

He made startling revelations about the airport project, saying that the Brits and the mainlanders could make all the financial deals they liked but the new airport would be useless if the insurers decided not to insure it.

We wondered why the airport needed insuring. Then we realised that because it is a large expensive object in Hong Kong waters it probably has to be insured against theft by officials from China's Public Security Bureau.