It’s a Middleman’s World

Middlemen and women are everywhere!

You would think that a “developed” country would not require the services of such “agents” to transact any kind of business, due to total transparency and technological aids available to do so. But was I surprised!

Even Western countries make use of agents to sell aircraft, ships, and any kind of equipment. They also have brokers who operate at the consumer level, to sell houses to buyers in a knowledgeable manner. Agents bring localized knowledge and expertise to the sales process. Or, they know how things work in the buyer’s country when big ticket items are transacted. Generally, agents operate on behalf of sellers and favour them as their commission is paid by the sellers, not by the buyers. However, commission is paid on the final sale price, which the buyer agrees to pay the seller, so the agent derives his commission money ultimately from what the buyer pays the seller.

Commonsense, right?

Buyers need to understand and know well in advance that agents do not have their requirements and best interests in their hearts, and are focused on fulfilling the sale as quickly as they can so that they can earn a handsome return on the time and effort invested. Agents meet and / or exceed sellers’ criteria which may or may not meet the buyers’ needs.

Coming back to my original point on anticipated reduction in broking or agency fees in developed countries, unfortunately that is not the case. On the contrary, agency fees actually increase both in absolute terms and as percentage of sales revenues. If advancement in transparency and technology can eliminate middlemen and ensure fair market price discovery and fair competition, then sellers and buyers would be able to conclude sales transactions without the aid of sales agents, right?

The practical reality in the world today is that agents dominate big transactions – even those involving government purchases of military equipment. This is probably because there is some need for certain level of lack of transparency in such dealings.

Transparency decreases when agents are involved. When an agent is assigned the task of a messenger of sensitive price data on a critical transaction, he or she is bound to misquote or misinterpret such data to the detriment of the buyer.

I have interacted with agents in both a developed country and a developing country. I found smart people in the agency profession, most of them quite knowledgeable in their area of competency. If I am transacting a property sale, I found that my own online analysis of the market is inadequate to directly interact with the market and I would be better served by a dedicated agent at a specified fee. I found that he or she could do a much better job in price discovery and advising on the right kind of price at which I should sell my property. The difference between India and Singapore is not on competency or sales aids that a typical agent employs, but more on the emphasis on personalized relationships prevalent in India as compared to more officialized attitudes prevalent in Singapore.

So, what are my conclusions?

I do not support engagement or involvement of sales agents in business transactions, whether involving two businesses or two countries. As we have seen in multiple military procurement scandals, involvement of agents shields corrupt players. Violation of procurement rules is only possible if agents are misused to hide corruption.

However, when it comes to home or car sales, agents’ role is critical in ensuring the seller is not shortchanged due to inadequate market knowledge. Agents also become important to secure interest of qualified buyers, and I was surprised to note that online ads do not produce the same effect because of lack of qualification of potential buyers. Further, attracting potential buyers to online ads does not seem to be working out well anymore.

In a nutshell therefore, middlemen and women do have a place and role in the consumer society – whether it be in a developed or a developing country, though I believe in the not too distant future, robots will take over their role. However, for B2B transactions, it is best if the seller and buyer interact with each other directly, or via an electronic marketplace with safeguards. The dependence on middlemen in such situations will only exacerbate potential conflicts of interest and accentuate corrupt practices.

How is an agent different from a lobbyist?

That is for another blog post I guess!

Have a great weekend folks.


Vijay Srinivasan

2nd February 2019

Something mundane after a while………

The world is ever-changing. There are a number of things happening around the world about which I can blog (I usually do), but there comes a point when fatigue catches up with you and tells you to step away for a while. I am sure to come back to the global happenings scenario sooner than later, as it is simply irresistible.

So what am I going to blog about this Sunday morning (I shifted to the morning from my usual evening rendezvous with my blog as I have some engagement in the evening)? Nothing heavy, it is simply the experience of breaking my old iPhone 6 and replacing it with a new iPhone 8Plus.

Once someone gets locked into the Apple world, it is very difficult to get out. This is the way Apple (many examples come to mind from the past, like IBM) holds on to its client base, which is anyway enchanted with whatever Apple is doing all the time. There is of course, no question about the fabulous technology packaged in art form by Apple as compared to other bland competitors. Clearly, Apple does not have a direct competitor of similar stature. This is the primary reason why Apple is also able to charge higher prices to its customers who are ready to pay those prices, which sometimes appear atrocious.

Apple has had its missteps in the past like with the Mac line of computers. But with the iPhone, Apple hit the perennial jackpot, though it is not the top-selling mobile phone in the world. iPhone is something which you desire to own because of its elegant appearance, functions and features, and it kind of makes a fashion statement of sorts. Apple continues to innovate, though at a slightly slower pace.

Let me come to my iPhone 6, which I had owned for almost 2.5 years. It has had rough times during my possession (I still have it) as I am good in dropping the phone on office carpet (which is OK), on pavements (not OK at all), and in car parks (absolutely not at all OK). At one time, I had the entire screen cracked, and at another time, I had the bottom left completely cracked when it fell down with a swoop of the hand (mine of course) in the car park and went under a parked car. I did try to protect the iPhone with special screen which will allow me to drop without damaging the original display of the iPhone. However, one day I came to the sad conclusion that my nice handy iPhone6 has to make way for a newer and bigger phone.

Most of my friends and colleagues who are iPhone users had by now (over the past just 3 months!)  migrated to the iPhone X. I did not like the fact that the iPhone X does not have a home button, and everything needs to be done with a stylish wave of the hand, so to say. After some deliberation, I decided to get the somewhat unwieldy (though almost same in size as the iPhone X) iPhone 8Plus. I liked the display and the familiarity of the home button. The size of the screen also made it easy to read and play around, almost making the laptop redundant. While the battery capacity is higher than the iPhone 6, it still could not sustain more than 24 hours of usage, which was somewhat disappointing. It is necessary to keep charging the phone once the charge drops below 20% and build it up to 80% every day, or keep a battery bank handy all the time while on the move.

I know that Android phones have made huge progress, and in some cases cost almost as much as the iPhone 8 series. One has to look at the prices of the Samsung S9 and make a comparison. The display and battery performance are more brilliant than the iPhone for sure. The speed of operation is more or less the same. The whole hassle is that of the “familiarity” quotient – you like what you have been used to, and you like the fact that there is not much of a change in the way the phone functions.

I am getting used to my new iPhone 8Plus, and have kept the iPhone 6 for other uses (for example, I am going to use that old phone with the Jio SIM when I travel in India). Since I have kept both the old and new phones almost identical in terms of settings and apps, they feel the same. I do have an Android phone with an Airtel number for use in India, which I am thinking of jettisoning soon.

Well, well, that is my story of phone transitioning. There was not much of adjustments required while moving to iPhone 8Plus, except that the cloud restore was not possible due to the lack of space on the iCloud. So I went in the traditional way – connected my old iPhone to my laptop for a full backup using iTunes, and then restoring that backup on to my new phone. It took some tweaks and effort, but I managed to get everything restored on the new phone. It was a wonderful feeling when the new phone started behaving as though it was the old phone with a new clothing.

Apple makes these processes somewhat painless, though if you forget any Apple ID or password or passcode, you are in for a big touble. It happened twice to me in the past, but luckily it didn’t happen this time around.

So folks, that is my experience. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and avoid drinking alcohol,


Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2018


The terrible loss of privacy

Privacy is a funny aspect of life.

Most institutions and corporations we deal with in our lives demand that we sign off on dotted lines when it comes to providing them access to our very personal data. Most consumer companies do the same thing. Governments have always asked for our data. However, the phenomenon of giving away our total freedom and personal data to social media giants did not bother us for a long time. Until last week.

I am referring to the data breach on 50M Americans who have accounts with Facebook. Well, this is not the first instance, but in terms of scale it is the biggest ever. There have been hacks on Apple’s iCloud, releasing personal data of celebrities. There have been other hacks such as the bad one on Yahoo mail.

But, people forget and forgive, the reason being that they still need the services of the social media companies, cloud service providers and email operators. There is just no alternative to leading one’s life today – if an individual is not on Facebook, he does not exist – not just virtually, but physically as well! He or she is ignored for lack of digital savviness, or inability to be in sync with the rest of the world which seems to be rushing into Twitter, Instagram, Snap, WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, Google’s variety of offerings including of course Search, and so many such digital tools.

So, things will be back to normal after a few months for Facebook. They will undergo detailed investigation that is reserved for Russian hackers, questioned on Capitol Hill, excoriated in the “adult” networking circuit, and punished in some way, like being forced to implement tougher security measures. Facebook’s reputation currently is in the dumps, and they should not be trusted as they have traded their users’ data. But apart from all this, do you think that anything substantive will happen to them? There are more than 2B users who depend on Facebook for communication. Not me however – I never seriously used the consumer version of Facebook, though I have an account with very sparse data on myself (I however use a corporate version of Facebook behind my company’s firewall for internal teamwork and collaboration, along with other tools such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer).

So here I am – not a regular user of the consumer version of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al, but a serious blogger on this WordPress platform and LinkedIn user. I select what I wish to do, and cannot be led to use some tool that I do not wish to use. Further, I am careful not to accept terms and conditions of these tool makers and platform owners, and do not click to give access to all my data voluntarily. Neither do I agree for unsolicited marketing communications from these folks or their marketing collaborators, though sometimes it is made difficult not to agree.

The question is – what is more important: maintain privacy or lose it due to either the lack of security of the provider or his desire to sell off my data for money? In my case, the answer is crystal clear – I would rather forego the convenience of “checking into” Facebook and detailing what I am up to, or posting my photographs enjoying a vacation with my family, but safeguard whatever little privacy that I still have. It is not necessary for the entire world or my friends and relatives, or for any government, to know what I am doing at this moment (I am blogging now!). It is irrelevant to them, but it is critical for maintaining my sanity. It is not that I am anti-social – I am in multiple WhatsApp groups – but I wish to remain private. I do not respond to LinkedIn invites from people who I have not yet met. I should know the person through a referral or I should have met that person before I would even consider accepting the invite.

Nothing wrong with wanting to be a private individual. However, we know that most teenagers willingly give away their most personal data on the Facebook platform. The issue is that Facebook cannot be trusted to keep that data totally private and secure.  We do not know for sure that the data is safe and secure. We also do not know if they had traded our data for money. We never knew that Facebook gave away the data on 50M Americans to a U.K. Professor for some vague research, who in turn handed that out to the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.

It is more important to spend F2F (“Face to Face”) time with friends, relatives and family, like in the old times. It is more important not to be influenced by hate speech and lectures that are posted on all social media platforms. Did we live without a mobile phone or social media platforms in the past? Did we live a life without networking? We did live well, but I believe we did not learn to adopt technology well in the 21st Century. We just blindly jumped into all that is new without much analysis.

I am not against any of these innovative tools and platforms which have created enormous value to equity investors and users. I think we need to be extra careful in how and why we use these in our lives. Do we give our date of birth or place of birth to our neighbours or strangers? We don’t. We do not share any personal data in public. The same caution applies when we venture into digital space. We cannot ignore the fact that digital platforms are fast proliferating across our lives, and will come to dominate all facets of our existence. We may not be able to order ice cream without a social media account in future, or something as ridiculous as that.

Welcome to a world less private, more intrusive, less secure, and more dangerous as a result.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

I am happy to share the fact that I am now allowed one glass of wine, and I will soon be posting on the wine I had and the experience of de-addiction to wine.


Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2018

Food for Further Thoughts and Analysis

I have almost completely forgotten my Electronics & Communication Engineering.

I have forgotten all the equations that were necessary to understand how the theory of electro-magnetism works in practice, and how do electrons and neutrons struggle within an atom. Complex equations, stochastic processes, integration and differentiation, Fourier Transforms, linear differential equations, and what not?

I have not applied a single one of those equations in my engineering/business life, even in companies which depend on some of these theories to make and sell their stuff to customers. Of course, when you look at a boiler, a turbine, a rocket, a power generation plant, a refinery, or any other engineering driven plant or business, there is some recognition in my mind that I “used” to know something about all these at some earlier point in my life.

Did any of these matter to me in my life? The real answer is a clear NO.

Let me now come to my coveted MBA. I enjoyed working through my MBA Program, no doubt. I liked the intense discussions which went on in the class on various topics of importance to corporate life.

Did I enjoy my MBA? Ofcourse, it is a YES.

Did I get to use my MBA learning in my corporate life? Not really. May be a bit of Marketing, a bit of Finance, but I would say that I would have picked it up anyway during the course of my business life.

All these education focus, is it really necessary?

May not be required for the future of our children. Things are changing so rapidly as we navigate an already very complex life, and the skills that we learnt are no longer in use or needed in business life. Did we really keep up with what is transforming the world as at this moment? The answer is also a NO, as we have a wrong and incorrect belief system (in most of us) that persuades us all to take a rather casual approach to the emerging challenges, and that is rooted on our seniority and experiences over several decades.

We continue to operate on generalities and general knowledge which have seen us through till now in our lives.

But, these tools may not be adequate or even recognized by our employers any more.

Our education, experience, expertise, and insight may no longer be required in the new completely digital and Artificial Intelligence-driven life that is fast becoming a reality. Most of us can be replaced by machine learning and AI systems.

We are all lucky we got through most of our corporate lives unscathed (apart from the usual restructuring) till now.

Now, the challenge is not from within ourselves or our corporations. The challenge is from outside, and it may not even be related to your current business.

Think about it for a moment.

We are “used” cars. In a new world, we may easily be replaced by newer models, and faster cars. Our education is now totally irrelevant. I am no longer interacting with my elite MBA institution or its representatives in Singapore.

I am trying to meet folks with “new” and “radical” ideas to transform our business going forward. Most of the people we meet in our corporate life deserve no more than a “B” rating. Few people are a “B+”, and very few are a “A”.

As we course through our life, we see that the “B+” and “A” folks are much younger, sharper, incisive, intellectual, and operate entirely on data, not on qualitative stuff and not on perceptions. Relationships are no longer sacrosanct. The “B”s and “C”s are generally people whose profiles are similar to ours. Of course, there are exceptions.

So, in a nutshell, we need to mingle not just amongst ourselves or with our colleagues in our office or in other offices, but with young people who don’t give a damn about age, seniority, experience or old expertise. We need fresh thinking, and they will provide it all the time. Further, they will take risks which we cannot. So, they will go on to create new value, while we ruminate on “how great it was during our time”.

So, I took some actions –

  1. Subscribe to few digital courses at MIT Online Courses
  2. Visit Block 71 in Singapore and meet with young startup founders
  3. Invest in the stocks of few new companies that you believe in – can be in Technology, Bio-tech, or whatever you are interested in – the good outcome is you understand what is happening
  4. See CNBC every night – they talk about the markets and the new companies ringing the bell on listing
  5. Change your mind, your thinking, your interactions, your friends/acquaintances
  6. Do a business plan for a new company that you would like to start – I did this and it was not just informative, it was completely transformative. I even set up a website and validated the business plan
  7. List out options on what you would like to do after quitting your current corporate life – this will be tough if you are so used to the routine for a long time
  8. Offer your services as an unpaid mentor either to startup individuals or to startups themselves – they may or may not accept, but it is worth trying
  9. Read up on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, how these technologies which have been there for a long time have now taken on new avatars in combination with Big Data Analytics and Cloud technologies and platforms

I am dropping point #10, not all lists have to have ten points!

Don’t you think the above is interesting? May not work for everyone, or you might have your own approach depending on your area of specialization or the industry you are from.

I am already excited and feeling younger in mood, spirit and attitude. I am trying to drop all my old baggage that I have learnt or am carrying with me. It is time to completely “unlearn” everything we know.

The world is, and will, no longer be the same one that we had known all these years.

Time to learn new things and get going.


Vijay Srinivasan

22nd October 2017

Agents’ Psychology

Recently, I went through the process of finding an apartment for rent.

You would expect that living in an “advanced” country would facilitate a complete online experience almost till the very end. Things are all transparent, details are all available, people are straightforward, and negotiations are completely open.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. While I have gone through several cycles in the past, the most recent experience told me that housing agents actually control the market, notwithstanding all the transparency one gets on the property websites. Almost everything is just orchestrated, and prices are kept artificially high. Free market in theory, but controlled access, stratification, and manipulation might be better choice of phrases to describe the property market.

Since agents apparently control the housing market, and I live in a developed country, the tactics to entice the would-be buyer or renter are expectedly more advanced. Agents are obviously well-informed, but not well-trained to handle a variety of clients with a variety of expectations. For agents, the first question on their lips is “what is your budget”. If you do not give them a specific number, they either get confused or make some unwarranted assumptions. They never ask “what is your need”, which is the first step in marketing that we all learnt in our marketing classes. Second thing, the agents do not expect a broad knowledge of the property market from the buyers or renters. They are, in fact, very surprised if we show them that we are fully aware of the market dynamics and economic status of the country. This is simply because they do not want to drop the prices, for them all is hunky dory, irrespective of the status of the market. Third thing, they will market one specific unit in one specific property most of the time. If you ask them “are you covering the other properties around this one”, they will tend to give vague answers like the other properties are not doing well, they are very small, etc., etc., They just want to get rid of the one that they are currently aggressively pushing to you.

Some agents are super smart, they even position units with less square feet as something more valuable than the bigger units, and even ask for almost the same price. They provide some pretty good explanations for doing so, and average folks are more than susceptible to accept their points. Some other agents are rather pushy, and follow through with you after your first viewing very aggressively, sending text messages and giving “missed” calls. They don’t understand their annoyance factor, and more often than not, they put off their potential prospect. This happened to me just recently. Followups are very important in sales life, but sometimes giving a call at 10 PM on a Saturday evening is to be considered as crossing the line.

And, of course, there are agents who ask the right questions, who are patient enough to work through the client’s decision-making process (sometimes can be rather complicated), and provides some free consultation. Such agents also help to close the deal by representing some of the right feedback from the client to the landlord. Most times, the agents are on the right side of the landlord, as he or she is going to pay their commissions. Rarely would such agents go and push the landlord to accept a buyer or renter’s position. However, I witnessed such a situation playing out while I was making the decision over this current weekend.

In a nutshell, the psychological sales pressure applied by agents could sometimes turn counterproductive. Agents believe that such tactics are the right ones as they might have gotten good sales results in the past. But then, agents have to assess their prospect correctly. I think this is where there is an issue – wrong assessment on the intelligence of the buyer would undermine the deal. Plus, mishandling of questions to facilitate the decison-making process could backfire.

My experience ultimately ended positively with a closure  by an agent who I believed did the right things to represent my reasonable positions with the landlord. I continue to analyze the psychology of sales agents, as I am a sales professional myself. I think the learning today was that it is critical to change the sales philosophy from high-pressure selling to an enlightened, consultative and softly communicative selling, at least with educated, experienced and intelligent buyers.

Have a good weekend,


Vijay Srinivasan

31st January 2016

The Social Attack

It is difficult to imagine how we lived even a decade ago.

I mean, without social media like WhatsApp, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram and a variety of other networking platforms.

Today, one’s day starts with WhatsApp and probably ends with WhatsApp as well. There is a plethora of messages, pictures, videos of all sorts floating across WhatsApp groups. And, I do take pleasure in forwarding such “good” messages to different groups, thereby proliferating the circulation of messages across an exponentially expanding universe.

I am not so much a fan of FaceBook, though I occasionally see what’s going on in that world. But my children, like any other kids are big users of every conceivable, popular social media platform, and it is no wonder that most consumer companies are developing social media strategies to reach these young customers.

I sometimes think that the world was so much simpler a decade ago, with more physical social interactions. Now such interactions are on the decline and virtual interactions are increasing rapidly. The result is that we have a whole new generation of youngsters born after year 2000 who think and behave differently due to the impact of social media on their lives. They give less importance to physical interactions and consider deeper involvement with computers and mobile phones as a daily and in fact, an hourly necessity. Their attachment to electronic devices of all hues is not compatible with development of social skills. In fact, I wonder why social media is called by that name when the skills needed are anything but social. Virtual networking and social media connect are not the same as physical meetings and understanding achieved between human beings.

But then the world is surely moving in that direction – the way the youngsters want it.

This is going to be a significant challenge for parents, teachers, government, and other societal influencers. All future design of social systems have to take into account such behavioural patterns going forward.

Given the paucity of time in the corporate world, the social attack by social media presents both a huge challenge and a big market opportunity. Challenge in the sense that corporates have to devise strategies to deal with the social attack – it could be on customer service for example. Poor or inadequate response will lead to a public relations disaster, adversely affecting the company’s market position. Opportunity in the sense that, by properly tapping the social media, appropriate marketing strategies can be formulated for enhancing customer service and market share amongst the community which leverages social media extensively.

Time to think ! Many multinational corporations have already modified their marketing approach to the marketplace given the critical importance now attached to social media. What about you ?


Vijay Srinivasan

10th May 2015

Apple iPhone 5 ?!

I wanted to say that I became “a proud owner of iPhone 5”, but I am not going to state my ownership in that fashion.

Dissonance kicked in from day #2 of possession of a brand new iPhone 5. Which was surprising indeed, as I am familiar with Apple iOS, having used the iPAD and the iMAC earlier. And, my wife uses the iPhone 4S, so I have tried that as well a few times.

As I analyzed the reasons for my dissonance, two key factors emerged:

1. My intense use of the Android-based HTC Desire HD phone for nearly 2.5 years (till now), which made me a satisfied user having given me the flexibility to play around with what is essentially a customizable phone operating system and a world of free apps (though the HTC Desire HD is not upgradeable to Android 4.X.X) ;

2. The performance of the battery in the Apple iPhone 5 was simply pathetic – it does not even last a full 8 hours of use. Even worse than the Desire HD which has a larger screen than the iPhone 5. Even though the battery size of 1,400 mAH in the iPhone 5 is larger than the 1,100 mAH on the Desire HD.

Don’t get me completely wrong. The iPhone 5 is an excellent product otherwise. It is engineered well and manufactured well. There is no cheap “plasticky” quality in the iPhone 4, though it is thinner than the more solid-feeling iPhone 4S.

I am, of course, going to continue using the iPhone 5, and I have installed a number of new apps over the last few days. I will write about the apps I have selected in the near future. However, I have to state here that Apple has missed out on a great marketing opportunity presented by the market itself which was in love with Apple products and iPhone in particular, and grossly underestimated the power of the Android O.S. which the Apple executives pooh-poohed on several occasions. And, Apple also underestimated the juggernaut of Samsung.

Given all the above, it would have been better to wait for the Samsung Galaxy 4, which has just been launched. But then, there is always the next time around.


Vijay Srinivasan
16th Mar 2013