Mobility is such a basic requirement for the connected, networked executive today. I travel about half of my time promoting my book, BANK 2.0, and working with clients around the globe. When I land in any country I'm visiting, the first thing I generally have to do once I get on the ground is 'check-in', and I'm not talking about FourSquare. When I get off the plane from a 6 or 7 hour commute, the need to quickly check my emails is pretty critical these days because alot of stuff I deal with is increasingly time sensitive. But the experience of such a simple task is often frustrated.
For Blackberry customers there is some network interconnectivity for data and email, but for other users of mobile devices it is down to data roaming or local WiFi connectivity. For laptop owners, it comes down to WiFi. At this point it is all a bit hit and miss depending on where you are.
Last week I checked into the Hard Rock Hotel in Sentosa in Singapore's new resort district. The charge was S$35 per day (approximately US$25). This seems to be about the standard daily rate for internet connectivity in hotels - which is crazy given the connectivity costs likely means that the same hotel is paying around S$90 per month for 1Gbit line. That means a mark-up of around a Gazillion percent :) However, Singapore is generally pretty advanced as far as roaming/tourist connectivity.
Right now I'm blogging this entry from a cafe in Singapore using the community Wireless@SG service provided FREE by the Singapore government (iDa - Infocomm Development Authority). To get access I just simply dial a local number (*186) on my mobile and it sends me a password I can use to access WiFi pretty much anywhere in Singapore for free during my stay - outstanding really.
When I land in Hong Kong, I can get a similar access at airports, etc although as a resident I've chosen to go with the Wirless Next-G solution where I get 21Mbps connection speeds, unlimited downloads all for around US$50 per month. Japan and Korea, I have similar connection options, but even faster connectivity and cheaper rates. Asia is really the place to be mobile and connected. Once I step on a plane, however, things start to move backwards in time.
In Australia local WiFi connectivity in coffee shops is almost unheard of. Recently in Melbourne I walked into a Hudson Coffee and was told by the local barrista that they wouldn't provide wireless internet out of fear that University students might flood the coffee shop. Last week at Brisbane airport I couldn't get wireless connectivity even if I was willing to pay for it, let alone a free service. There was access in the Qantas club, but being a Cathay and Emirates frequent flyer that was not an option for me. There was a local internet kiosk - but you had to use a desktop for access - no WiFi. The solution? I had to buy a pre-paid SIM, put it in my iPhone and use tethering. Loco loco!!
In the US unless you are a US citizen with a social security number, you are doomed to purchase expensive day-passes to get continued access. The UK offers a similar story. Because you are from "out of town", your ability to get a cost-effective connectivity option is generally reduced. Anyone would think that we are living in a dial-up global economy with these kinds of crazy limitations in connectivity for mobile warriors.
I guess the thinking from local providers is that as a business traveller you can afford to pay a premium, but shouldn't governments be thinking about attracting foreign and local business people to their city and offering incentives to do business in these locations?
Then there is the issue of effective commerce on the move.
Today I walked into a local HSBC branch in Singapore to pay a credit card bill. I have a HSBC credit card issued from both Dubai and Hong Kong where I am in the bank's Premier segment. When I walked into the branch to make a credit to my card, however, I was told that because I didn't have a local account making a payment to my HK or DXB card was not possible. The suggestion - "try doing a money order from Western Union to your Hong Kong account..."
Amazing! This is why I hate going into branches!
In this day and age to have a major global bank not have the sort of basic connectivity and capability for global movers like myself is a major issue. The visit to the branch was because I figured there was no other way I was going to be able to deposit the cash that I had received in Singapore. In the end, I got the cash converted into USD currency and will have to carry it with me until I return to Hong Kong, pay a premium to have a remittance provider handle it, or deposit in a friend's local account and get him to transfer the cash.
A Philippine National working as a maid or domestic helper in Singapore can transfer money back home via her mobile phone, and yet me...a global, preferred status customer can't because I don't have a local account with the world's "local" bank. Maybe that's the problem - they are lots of local banks.
Once again I am stuck with finding a work around for outdated, outmoded processes that think like a bank stuck in the 20th Century. Don't get me wrong - HSBC is an excellent bank when you are in your home town of the UK or Hong Kong and need anything done locally. I know the same situation applies for Citibank, BofA and just about every major bank these days. You exist as a customer for a profit centre - when you walk outside that profit centre you no longer carry any status or privilege.
Today all this is simply inexcusable. About the only thing that is going to keep me in one place long enough to do my banking by the old paradigm these days is a volcano. Otherwise, banks better get moving...
Now if this was a post regarding my Dell computer, I bet I could expect someone from Dell to contact me within the next few hours to help me fix my problem, because they are constantly monitoring blog posts and twitter feeds for such issues. Let's see how long it takes HSBC shall we?
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