Our recent piece noting that Amex was doubling fees for holders of its Centurion card - aka the black card - to HK$38,000 prompted one of our readers, a card holder, to investigate the highly priced, rare and exclusive services he was paying for.
He called the Centurion number one evening recently and was directed to press a key for "travel services".
"I am appalled to report I waited on 'hold' in a 'queue' for 40 minutes and was still unable to have anyone attend to my enquiry as all their staff were busy!" he writes. He says that in desperation he called the main number 30 minutes later from another phone, "so as not to hang up and lose my precious place in the queue".
He advises the service centre was in "a shabby state of affairs".
A woman explained to him that the travel team sat some way from her and she could only take a message. "Finally, after much discussion, she agreed to try and indeed called me back [on my spare extension line] to explain there were only seven staff on duty and they were all busy on the phone."
After waiting 40 minutes, our reader gave up and hung up. "The Centurion appears to have insufficient soldiers under his command to manage even the simplest task … hardly worth the HK$19,800 fee let alone the outrageous HK$38,800 they are now extorting from cardholders," he remarked.
He will be returning his Centurion card and insisting on an old-fashioned green one. Given our reader's withering comments, we felt it only fair to let Amex have their say.
"American Express provides outstanding products and unsurpassed service that, together, deliver premium value to our customers and enhance customer satisfaction. We are committed to maintaining a high standard of customer service and ensure we service all our customers well. We take every feedback and comment from customers very seriously," the company wrote. Amex assured us the poor service was a one-off event and that it was anxious to discuss the matter with its soon-to-be-departing centurion.
Memories of Tiananmen Square
Mainland internet users attempted on Tuesday to keep alive the memories of Tiananmen Square crackdown with messages, pictures and emoticons. The mainland authorities maintained their long-standing policy of censorship of any mention of the event online. There were a number of ingenious attempts to dodge the censors.
Some netizens left messages in the knowledge that they would swiftly be removed. Several were particularly poignant. This example, by a journalist, was translated by the Tea Leaf Nation website:
"That night, my father and I did not sleep, and stayed in front of the television to watch the live broadcast. At some point, I found that my dad became really quiet behind me, and when I turn around, I saw tears streaming down his face. That was the first time I saw my father like that. Before that, I had never felt such a connection with my father, and never thought I would have such deep emotions about my country."
Nouveau wine lovers
We finally know which French vineyards Hong Kong-listed Goldin Financial Holdings bought last year. In December, Goldin said it had spent €6.69 million (HK$67.8 million) to buy a French company that owned and ran three Bordeaux plots that covered an area of 15 hectares. Goldin also took on responsibility for the firm's bank loans as part of the deal.
The sellers recently revealed that the vineyards were Le Bon Pasteur, Rolland-Maillet and Bertineau Saint-Vincent.
Goldin is one of a number of Chinese buyers that have acquired French vineyards, hoping to benefit from rising demand from increasingly rich mainland wine lovers.
Are banks still too big to fail?
Goldman Sachs recently published a report entitled "Measuring the TBTF effect on bond pricing".
It says, among other things, that the commonly held view that TBTF (too big to fail) banks can borrow cheaply because bond investors expect the government to step in with support in case of financial difficulty used to be correct. The assumption was obviously correct during the financial crisis. But the report says the view is now quite incorrect.
Lai See advises Goldman its assertion remains untested and is probably untrue despite the best efforts of regulators.