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The Consumer

Be informed consumers this 2013

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I hope everybody survived the holidays without any minor or major injuries.

I am sure all of us are full of hope that the new year will be better than the one before. It may be a good time to remind ourselves that there is so much we can do to ensure that the year lives up to expectations.

Last month, the country hosted the Citi-FT Financial Education Summit 2012 (FT stands for Financial Times), which brought together some 200 representatives of about 30 countries. The conference could not have come at a better time. Before “Pablo” devastated a large area of Mindanao, hundreds of people in the south—many of them ordinary wage earners—had already experienced a catastrophe, this one human-made, as they lost money they were saving for their children’s education, for emergencies and for their old age to so-called pyramiding or Ponzi scams.

People who would not trust the formal banking sector to keep their money safe were entrusting thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of pesos, to glib con artists who promised dizzying rates of returns on investments (ROI). The victims were not exactly unlettered peasants easily conned by false prophets. They were teachers, policemen, soldiers, entrepreneurs, even local politicians.

Of course, as we know by now, the only people who enjoyed the dizzying ROI were the brains behind the scams, several of them now seemingly out of reach of the local justice system and no doubt enjoying their ill-gotten wealth.

Not so common sense

The two-day financial education summit, without directly referring to the recent events in the Philippines, discussed ways and shared best practices to educate people to act responsibly in relation to money matters.

As Sanjiv Vohra, Citi country officer, Philippines, pointed out, financial education aimed to “empower consumers with the right skills and information. The more informed consumers will make informed decisions…”

He said this was why the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) considered financial education important. As empowerment of the Filipino consumer was a major part of the government regulatory agency’s agenda, the BSP was making sure ordinary citizens knew and understood policies designed to protect them.

People have to be helped to make the right decisions, for as Michael Zink, Citi head of Asean and Singapore country officer, pointed out, common sense was really not so common.

Vohra reiterated the advice, repeated so often but ignored just as frequently: “If something is too good to be true, it usually is.” He said people should be wary if what was being offered was “the only game in town. If only one person was offering a 30-percent return on investment, (consumers) should ask themselves (how he/she could do that).”

Indeed. After all, if banks, even multinationals like Citi, with all their huge investments and assets, could not make the same offer, how could a one-person or even a family-run operation make good on its promise?

Vohra added, “If this is a product you are not familiar with, you should try to find out more about it.” He pointed out that, while banks like Citi might seem intimidating to most people, there are now institutions—microfinancing institutions, to be exact—that cater to the needs of small and medium enterprises and individuals with little, or even no, assets.

Zink pointed out bad guys who wanted to steal people’s money no longer needed weapons to commit the crime, so people had to be warned against them.

Send letters to The Consumer, Lifestyle Section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1098 Chino Roces Ave. cor. Mascardo and Yague Sts., 1204 Makati City; fax 8974793/94; or e-mail lbolido@inquirer.com.ph.


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