Let’s Talk Money with author and columnist Monika Halan
Who is the ideal reader of Let’s Talk Money? What was your motivation to write this book?
I believe that the middle class Indian who is looking for a way to build financial security is the reader of this book. All of us who live in urban India and live the urban mass affluent life are readers of this book. It is for those who know that they need better financial control but don’t know how to go about it. It is for those who are confused with the products, the push and choices out there in the financial markets. It is for those who are afraid of the financial sharks and toxic financial products and take the safe route to real assets. It is for those who are willing to spend the time in learning the basics of managing money. It is for those who want a hands-free system of money management rather than a one shot gamble at getting rich quick.
Why did I write this book? At every TV show I have done, every radio spot, public lecture or a chance meeting on the airport with a follower of my work, the message came to me – is there a book that has all that you keep saying in one place?
As I look around the book space, there are excellent books on investing or financial planning, but there is nothing that relates money to our everyday lives with all its complexities and then gives a system for hands-free money management. I believe that money issues are deeply linked to who we are. A sorted money life sometimes leads to a sorted overall life. At least that is my experience. I want to share this with others like me who are not aspiring to get rich tomorrow but are happy to build financial security one step at a time. I want people to have better control over their money. I want people to stop getting cheated by financial con artists. I want people to get their money to work as hard for them as they work to earn it.
I wanted some stuff and so dropped by the nearby mall a few weeks back. I like walking in a mall. It is clean, safe, there are loos unlike in most market places in India and you don’t really need to buy anything—the buzz of happy people all around is free. Buy guys, we need to grow at 8% GDP!
On this day, I’m surprised to see all the well-dressed women. Then I notice that many are wearing red. It takes ecstatic couples taking pictures around a Taj Mahal replica made fully of roses, and it clicks into place. Ah! Valentine’s’ day! So many happy people! While people have fun on this day, there is another day that I actually want to talk about.
For many reasons, it is good that life insurance firms are opting for initial public offerings (IPOs). Big IPOs lead to market depth—crucial now for India because household money is finally coming to equities through institutions. It is also good for those tracking this industry because listings will encourage more public scrutiny of insurance firms through analysts covering the sector, through institutional investors such as mutual funds and pension funds, and products from this industry itself such as the unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips). It will be interesting to see which equity Ulips buy into what life insurance company stocks. Then there is the public debate that takes place around an IPO and its merits.
This is the new inflation target for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), with a floor of 2% and a ceiling of 6%. Remember that one of the reasons for inflation, or a rise in the prices, is that governments borrow too much to fund expenses.
We fined Wells Fargo a historic $100 million for the illegal practice of secretly opening hundreds of thousands of unauthorised deposit and credit card accounts.”
Log in to the home page of the US watchdog Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)http://www.consumerfinance.gov/ , a government agency set up to ensure that consumers of financial products are treated fairly by banks and other lenders, and you see this as the top featured story.
What’s the Wells Fargo story and why is it relevant to us? Wells Fargo is one of the biggest banks in the US, and is known to be an aggressive cross-seller of financial products. Cross-selling is something we’re all familiar with—you have a savings account with a bank and it pushes other products at you: loans, funds, insurance, cards.
Imagine this. You need to pay your life insurance premium today. You’d like to check how much of your home loan is still left. You want to start one more systematic investment plan. You want to pay your credit card bill. You want to make a contribution to your Public Provident Fund (PPF) account. You want to check the balance in your Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) account. You want to check when your car insurance is due. To do all of these you may just call your financial planner (who you pay a nice hefty fee each year for these servicers), or you could log in to multiple sites, put in 10 different usernames, remember 10 passwords. Two of the 10 sites will make you change your password. Some may have an error message. Some transactions won’t go through. And 2 hours later, you will be frustrated and cursing this clunky financial world we inhabit.
When I began this column in March 2009, I remember writing my first piece on the macro mess India was in and how a spendthrift government, which took an 8% growth rate and a 26% rise in tax revenues in the previous years as the new normal, messed up big time. You can read that column here: http://bit.ly/2bynE0d . With elections around the corner, money was splurged on massive loan waivers and many other let’s-give-them-money-and get-their-votes schemes. It worked and the government came back to power. The next five years got the country closer to disaster, with bank books getting stuffed with questionable loans, policy paralysis and big corruption in the central government and bureaucracy.