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The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) may have an eye on becoming a world-class bank, but it certainly has some work to do on its media relations. We rang up the bank's media department and asked the lady who answered in Putonghua if she spoke English. She immediately put the phone down, so we will never know.
We then rang the bank's investor relations department where the English was perfect. So we asked a few questions along the lines of whether the bank was thinking about raising funds in the future on account of increasing bad loans.
Eventually the IR person interrupted to say: 'It is not my job to censor articles. If you want your article censored, you need to speak to the media department.'
But we have already been there, we replied. Down went the phone again. With censorship relations like that, no wonder there are misunderstandings.
One solution fits all
The competition in wealth management among banks in the region appears to be getting uncomfortably hot. Barclays recently announced its appointment of Anne Luke to head its wealth management arm in Asia, or what it calls 'client solutions'. In a statement, the bank says she will 'drive the origination, structuring and delivery of bespoke private investment banking solutions to ultra-high net-worth clients.'
In its statement Barclays was somewhat vague about her past saying only that she had 'spent a large part of her career with UBS.' That may be true but before joining Barclays she had spent a mere 31/2 months with Bank Sarasin heading the bank's new wealth management solutions team. Things don't seem to have worked out too well there or Barclays made her an offer she found hard to refuse.
The new Barclays appointment follows reshuffling of wealth management heads at Citi, BNP and Credit Suisse as the banks seek to get their wealth management acts together in time to reap a promising harvest. In 2015, private assets in Asia are expected to overtake those of the US and Europe combined.
But that agenda may have advanced somewhat in the light of the recent financial turmoil.
Keep a dry eye, a mile high
Sensitive types will be able to watch in-flight movies on Virgin Atlantic secure in the knowledge that potential tearjerkers will be flagged by an emotional health warning. The airline says that in a recent survey, more than half of the respondents agreed their emotions become heightened when on a flight and 41 per cent of men surveyed said they hid under blankets to hide their tears. Women were most likely to hide their tears by pretending they had something in their eye.
The airline enlisted the help of a psychologist, who said: 'It is not surprising high-flyers feel emotional at altitude as their defences are lower than usual, as they put themselves in someone else's safe hands. The space created by long-haul flying can allow for deep-seated feelings to surface, especially when triggered by tear-jerking films. Heightened feelings in the rarefied atmosphere of an aircraft should be welcomed, not feared.'
The first films to carry the warnings are Water for Elephants and Just Go with It! These will flash up before the start of the movies to advise passengers to have tissues at the ready and to press the call button for a shoulder to cry on. According to Virgin Atlantic's Facebook page, the top five tearjerkers are Toy Story 3, The Blind Side, Eat Pray Love, My Sister's Keeper and Seven Pounds.
Nothing too taxing
UBS has extended its range of iPhone apps with one that will be close to every professional's heart. The latest one - Prices and Earnings - tells you, for example, how long you have to work in New York, Kuala Lumpur or Sydney to be able to afford a Big Mac. It answers other key questions like: where is it worth making a short trip to shop cheaply for fashion, or what city has the most highly paid engineers? And, more importantly, where do employees work the most in a week?
The app uses research the bank publishes every three years on prices and earnings. It draws on detailed information from 73 cities and provides comparison data on prices of 122 goods and services along with rents, salaries, taxes, working hours and length of holidays for 14 professions. Presumably, it won't be giving us the benefit of its knowledge on the world's best tax havens.
In passing, we are grateful to the Financial Times for this variation on Kipling: 'If you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs, you are underestimating the severity of the situation.'