RIM should concentrate on it's encrypted networks to boost profits


“RIM is doing well with it’s encrypted network services, that is the foundation of profits, to build and expand profits, once the profits return then you can invest in a proportion of the future income, it is not wise to move into markets which you have no expertise, you are putting everything in one basket where you risk losing everything. Your supply chain is not efficient, you cannot build according to Demand, but create an over Supply instead, how to compete in a very competitive environment where you do not have any advantage? Encrypted networks is a premium service where users are even willing to pay up to US$100/month for a full service package for added security. If you play your cards right, you could return as either the 3rd or 4th global handset makers where there is no competition.  – Contributed by Oogle.”

TORONTO/NEW YORK | Wed May 30, 2012 4:42pm EDT

(Reuters) – BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd may be running out of options as it struggles to turn around its slumping fortunes with the help of a coterie of investment bankers.
The bankers – including leading M&A specialists from Royal Bank of Canada and J.P. Morgan – will explore options as drastic as an outright sale, one of the alternatives that RIM seems determined to avoid.
But analysts and investors doubt that anyone is ready to buy the whole company at this time, despite a price that looks tantalizingly cheap on paper. Interest in RIM looks slim to nil, two sources close to the matter said.
RIM’s market capitalization is now $5.5 billion, down from $84 billion at the company’s peak in 2008. It has $2 billion in cash, no debt and patents that experts say could be worth $2.5 billion.
“You are not going to sell RIM whole,” said Charter Equity analyst Edward Snyder, who has covered RIM since its Nasdaq initial public offering in 1999. “The biggest problem RIM faces is that it’s a very illiquid market in suitors for its phone business.”
“There’s very few companies that could exploit RIM’s (hardware) assets to make a go of it. Those who can are already beating the pants off RIM.”
RIM virtually invented on-your-hip email with its first BlackBerry device in 1999 and enjoyed almost a decade as a market darling, with quarter after quarter of soaring sales.
But it has hemorrhaged market share in the last few years, fading almost to irrelevance in a market dominated by Apple Inc’s iPhone and devices from the likes of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd using Google Inc’s Android software.
RIM shares sank to a eight-year low of just over $10 on Wednesday after the company said the day before that it expected to report an operating loss this quarter, its first in seven years
The company also said “significant” job cuts were on the way. Two sources told Reuters last week that up to 6,000 of RIM’s 16,500 jobs could go by early next year.
LBO WOULD FACE OBSTACLES
Breaking up the company for a piecemeal sale is also a possibility, but an unlikely one given the complexity of such an action and management’s reluctance to contemplate such a move.
A leveraged buyout may be a more likely outcome, although it also faces a number of obstacles. Private equity firms have circled RIM over the past two years and have tried without success to figure out ways to buy the company.
Another option is to shut down the device business, admitting that the BlackBerry cannot compete with Apple and Android, to focus on RIM’s secure network operations and its patented technology.
But the sources said closing the device business would be a costly endeavor. “The device business is too volatile,” one of the sources said.
RIM management, backed by the board, is fixed on a path to recovery that keeps its services business exclusive to BlackBerry, pinning its hopes on next-generation BlackBerry 10 phones it says will come later this year.
That’s an apparent turnaround from the policy put forward by former co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who sought to offer RIM’s secure data-crunching network to others for a fee.
Balsillie left the company earlier this year after his plan to radically shift RIM’s strategy was rejected, sources with knowledge of his plan told Reuters last month.
RIM’S LARGEST CUSTOMER
RIM’s security-focused network remains one of its biggest assets. It reaches behind corporate firewalls and taps into mobile networks globally to provide a framework that is unique among handset makers.
The Pentagon, for example, is RIM’s largest single customer, with an estimated quarter-million of its 78 million subscribers.
“There is in my view still time to restructure around the services business as a going concern or sale, but time is running out” said Mike Abramsky, a former RBC analyst who left the bank several months ago and urged a split last year.
Another option the bankers might consider would be for RIM to create a separate company to house its patents. RIM could then arrange a licensing deal with this new company before selling it. Canaccord Genuity analysts value RIM’s patent portfolio at $2.5 billion.
Licensing of its operating system is seen as unlikely, at least until BlackBerry 10 proves itself in the marketplace, and that is far from a given.
Initial previews of the software show a fluid, touch-based interface, and developers like how it easy it is to build applications for new devices with the HTML5 web coding language.
But the likely October launch of an initial device will pit new BlackBerrys head-to-head with a likely iPhone 5. RIM’s PlayBook tablet computer, the first device to use its new operating system, bombed with consumers.
Meanwhile RIM’s inventory, the components and finished devices it still holds, ballooned above $1 billion in mid-2011 and only dipped below that mark in December as RIM wrote down the value of the goods by almost $500 million.
Inventory bounced up again in the last quarter despite further write-offs, and RIM is widely expected to book more costs as it cuts prices on its older stock to get it out the door.
(Editing by Janet Guttsman)
(This story has been corrected to add missing word in paragraph 1)

Uncertainty will fade after the Greece elections, Spain's has a confidence problem, there will be no fallout


By Michael Stott

MADRID | Wed May 30, 2012 4:37pm EDT

“Bankia’s problems came at the wrong timing that cause the markets to lose confidence in Spain, structurely there is no problem in Spain’s recovery, everything is a bit overboard, once the coast is clear after the Greece’s elections, everything will settle down, because there is no fallout from Greece, and Greece will not face bankruptcy, there is no need for me to say anything, until everything comes true later this month. – Contributed by Oogle.

(Reuters) – Crisis is the watchword in Madrid. Take your pick – liquidity crisis, debt crisis, banking crisis, economic crisis, confidence crisis, investor crisis, jobless crisis. Spain, the ailing euro zone’s latest problem child, has them all.
As the problems pile up, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s five-month-old conservative administration feels like a government under siege. Nervy top officials are reluctant to speak on the record for fear of slipping up. Policymakers contradict one another. Plans keep changing. Financial markets reel amid the uncertainty. The gloom in ministry corridors is palpable.
The latest gaffe: after weeks insisting that one of the country’s biggest banks, Bankia, did not need fresh funds, ministers dropped the bombshell last Friday that there was a 23-billion-euro hole in the accounts. They have yet to explain clearly how they will find the money when they are already struggling to finance a spiraling national debt.
The effect of the Bankia news on fragile financial markets was devastating. Spanish shares dived to 9-year lows, the euro sank and investors fled Spanish government debt, pushing the yield towards the 7 per cent level at which fellow eurozone members Ireland and Portugal were forced to seek national bailouts from Brussels.
To hear the government tell it, outsiders have got it all wrong: Spain has lived beyond its means for too long and is now going through a painful but necessary period of adjustment to shrink its state sector, cut spending and boost competitiveness. All the right things are being done. Rajoy’s government is serious, committed and enjoys a comfortable parliamentary majority.
Officials say foreigners don’t understand that Spain has boosted its exports more than any other European country in the past three years, that it has reformed its labor markets, cut its costs of production and come clean about the problems in its banks, which lent too enthusiastically to finance a huge property bubble that has now burst.
Now, ministers say, Madrid just needs time and some help and support from its European partners to get through the most acute phase of the crisis and give the reforms time to work.
RUNNING OUT OF TIME AND IDEAS
Unfortunately, time is running out.
Despite fresh proposals from Brussels on Wednesday that could go some way towards offering Rajoy what he wants – if they find their way through the Union’s tortuous decision-making process into law – Europe’s paymaster Germany has yet to fulfill Spain’s wish list.
Spanish depositors are jittery. Newspaper editors tell of calls from members of the public unsure what to do with their money, asking for advice. Anecdotes abound of the wealthy moving their money to the relative security of London, Germany or France. London property agents Savills and Knight Frank say the number of Spanish buyers grew 14-21 percent in April compared with the average of the preceding six months.
Official bank deposit figures are published with a big time lag: the latest numbers, for April, are due shortly.
Spanish bankers insist that there will be no bank runs. But ministers in private are clear about their wish to see European-wide bank deposit guarantee measures put in place quickly to avoid the risk of what could be a catastrophic event. There are signs the European Central Bank favors deposit guarantees.
Problems are mounting on other fronts. With the cost of borrowing heading rapidly towards 7 percent and most foreign investors already shunning Spanish debt, the government will find it increasingly difficult to refinance 98 billion euros of debt and find another 52 billion euros to fund its deficit this year.
Local banks are barely lending, or offering loans at prohibitively high rates, squeezing companies and increasing the risk of a chain of bankruptcies which could send the economy into a nosedive. The banking system’s total loans to the business sector were 44.6 billion euros at the end of March half of what they were at the end of the boom in 2007, and the contraction continues almost every month, according to Bank of Spain data.
Consumers are postponing big purchases and cutting back spending. Spain’s soaring borrowing costs have become a national obsession since the crisis. Taxi drivers opine knowledgeably about the “risk premium” Spain must pay to borrow and TV news bulletins open with the latest number for “la prima de riesgo”.
The government acknowledges that the situation is critical.
In private, officials say, Rajoy has been pressing Brussels and Berlin for the European Central Bank to guarantee all bank deposits in the eurozone to prevent bank runs, to buy Spanish sovereign debt to reduce yields and calm markets, for greater European fiscal integration and for allowing the European bailout fund to lend money directly to recapitalize Spain’s sickly banks. The ECB is resistant to bond purchases on a massive scale.
“Spain is going through a major crisis of confidence,” one diplomat said. “Markets are good at pricing risk but they hate uncertainty – and right now that uncertainty is killing Spain.”
COMMUNICATION
Bankers and local media say Rajoy’s own stumbles are making matters worse at a critical time. The 56-year-old, like many of his ministers, hails from provincial Spain, has no international experience, lacks deep knowledge of finance and speaks only limited English.
A hastily scheduled press conference by the premier on Monday ended with markets taking fright at his lack of clarity about how to fund the Bankia bailout and his insistence that Spanish banks did not need a European bailout. Government sources expressed frustration that the media had failed to understand the prime minister’s “clear message”.
“I was expecting that this government would do things better,” one senior banker here said. “Instead they are shooting from the hip. You can’t say to the market that you are going to do one thing and then do something else.”
“Where are the technocrats ?” another banker asked. “What this government needs is a really good technocrat who has the experience and the knowledge to cope with a situation as tough as this one.”
Analysts and foreign bankers here say the Madrid government is making a big gamble by assuming that the European Union’s paymaster Germany, together with the European Central Bank, will in the end “do the right thing” and come to Spain’s rescue.
Germany has led opposition to increasing the size of the EU’s bailout fund, to guaranteeing
all eurozone bank deposits, to allowing the use of common eurozone bonds to fund governments and to letting the ECB buy more government debt to push down yields.
Instead, Berlin preaches austerity, inviting the mainly southern European crisis countries to follow the same path it took last decade – structural reforms to improve economic competitiveness, tight discipline on spending and reductions in borrowing.
The resentment in Madrid is very apparent.
“Countries which are doing reforms need to find a way to be rewarded, rather than punished,” deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz said in a conversation with Reuters. “…it’s not possible to explain to citizens that what they save through austerity will then be spent on higher debt interest payments.”
Top officials mutter about how today’s European Union consists of a “German Union plus the rest” and local businessmen make unflattering comparisons with Berlin’s domination of Europe in World War Two.
A commonly heard view among top Spanish bankers, officials and diplomats is that Spain is “too big to fail”.
It is inconceivable, they say, to imagine the eurozone without its fourth biggest economy. Spain’s future is inextricably linked to Europe’s future. So Germany is bound to agree reluctantly to change course and allow the ECB and the bailout fund to support Spain.
“It may go down to the wire, it may get very bad,” one senior diplomat here said. “But Germany has to choose. With Greece it did not have to choose. It could allow Greece to fail. But if Spain fails, Europe fails. So in the end we have to believe that Merkel and the Taliban of the Bundesbank (German central bank) will change their minds and do what they need to do to save Europe.”
Deputy Prime Minister Saenz says it’s about nothing less than the future of Europe. “If the EU doesn’t reinforce the eurozone with some sort of mechanism, it’s not about who leaves, it’s about the EU itself. What is Europe without the euro?”
Whether that is true remains to be seen.
Reuters reported last November that France and Germany had secretly discussed plans for a smaller “core” eurozone consisting of strong nations intent on deeper economic integration.
“They think here that Spain is a very important country and a crucial part of Europe,” said one long-time Madrid bank adviser. “But they forget that for the Germans, Spain is a minor country next to Greece and Italy.”
(Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt in Berlin and Fiona Ortiz in Madrid, editing by Janet McBride)

Cover doctors with a lifetime Loss of Income plan to compensate, doctors should be more concern with saving a life, not go on strike


By Oliver Wright 31st May 2012
Patients have been warned to expect delays in treatment and disruption in hospitals as Britain’s doctors voted to go on strike for the first time in nearly 40 years.
The decision to take industrial action over pensions on 21 June was immediately condemned by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.
He said that, even after the changes, a new doctor joining the NHS could expect a pension of more than £53,000 at age 65 while if they worked three years longer they could expect a pension of about £68,000 a year. Doctors said this failed to take into account the increased contributions they would be expected to make under the new scheme.
Both sides insisted that patient safety would remain paramount but hospital managers warned the 24-hour strike would “impact on care and cause distress and disruption”. Some operations are expected to be cancelled along with routine GP appointments. This is expected to have a knock-on effect as consultations will have to be rescheduled. More stoppages are predicted later in the year with neither side predicting an early end to the dispute.
The decision to strike, announced by the British Medical Association (BMA), was taken after a ballot of members who are furious over the Government’s proposed pension reforms.
The BMA claims the reforms will result in doctors working longer, paying more in contributions and getting a smaller pension when they retire. They add that the reforms renege on an agreement reached with the Government on pensions four years ago and comes at a time when the overall NHS pension scheme is in surplus.
However the Government counters that doctors have one of the most generous pension schemes in the country, with many retiring on pensions of around £50,000 a year. It adds that other much less well-paid NHS workers – who will also lose out under the new scheme – have not chosen to strike and say the decision shows that doctors are putting their own interests ahead of patients.
Privately, ministers believe the BMA is on the wrong side of public opinion and say they are not prepared to negotiate. “This strike makes the BMA look awful and shows that they are no more than a trade union representing a part of the NHS which is already very well paid,” said a source close to Mr Lansley. “There is no chance of any negotiation at all because if we give way to the doctors then nurses and other far less well-paid staff who are not striking will rightly say you have got to reopen negotiations with us as well. That would bring the whole house of cards down.”
But Alan Robertson, chair of the BMA’s pension committee, said the decision to strike was based upon principles of fairness. “This is something we have been reluctantly pushed into because the Government is reneging on a pensions deal which was signed just four years ago,” he said. “We are also concerned it will force some doctors to stay on working longer and longer and that could potentially be a concern with regards patient care.”
In the ballot for industrial action, there was a 50 per cent turnout among the 104,544 doctors eligible to vote. They voted by two to one to take strike action. BMA leaders are to meet tomorrow to decide how the action will progress. However it is likely to see doctors providing all urgent and emergency care, but postponing non-urgent cases.
Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation, said regardless of BMA reassurances, patient care would suffer. “We are deeply disappointed with the announcement from the BMA about their decision to take industrial action,” he said. “Doctors know that any industrial action will impact on care and cause distress and disruption to patients and undermine trust and confidence in the medical profession. Industrial action could potentially mean delays to treatment. It would be particularly distressing for patients and extremely worrying for staff who are dedicated to putting patients first.”
Mr Lansley said the public would not “understand or sympathise” with the BMA. “People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer and to be fair in future for everyone. Every doctor within 10 years of retirement will receive the pension they expected, when they expected. Today’s newly qualified doctor who works to 65 will get the same pension as the average consultant retiring today would receive at 60 – the BMA have already accepted a pension age of 65. If doctors choose to work to 68 then they could expect to receive a larger pension of £68,000.”
Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said it was taking industrial action “very reluctantly and would far prefer to negotiate for a fairer solution”. “But this clear mandate for action – on a very high turnout – reflects just how let down doctors feel by the Government’s unwillingness to find a fairer approach to the latest pension changes and its refusal to acknowledge the major reforms of 2008 that made the NHS scheme sustainable in the long term.”

Myocarditis can only be treated with a bypass surgery and stem cell treatment, no physical activity

Myocarditis or inflammatory cardiomyopathy is inflammation of heart muscle (myocardium).
Myocarditis is most often due to infection by common viruses, such as parvovirus B19, less commonly nonviral pathogens such as Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) or Trypanosoma cruzi, or as a hypersensitivity response to drugs.[1]
The definition of myocarditis varies, but the central feature is an infection of the heart, with an inflammatory infiltrate, and damage to the heart muscle, without the blockage of coronary arteries that define a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or other common noninfectious causes.[2] Myocarditis may or may not include death (necrosis) of heart tissue. It may include dilated cardiomyopathy.[1]
Myocarditis is often an autoimmune reaction. Streptococcal M protein and coxsackievirus B have regions (epitopes) that are immunologically similar to cardiac myosin. After the virus is gone, the immune system may attack cardiac myosin.[1]
Because a definitive diagnosis requires a heart biopsy, which doctors are reluctant to do because they are invasive, statistics on the incidence of myocarditis vary widely.[1]
The consequences of myocarditis thus also vary widely. It can cause a mild disease without any symptoms that resolves itself, or it may cause chest pain, heart failure, or sudden death. An acute myocardial infarction-like syndrome with normal coronary arteries has a good prognosis. Heart failure, even with dilated left ventricle, may have a good prognosis. Ventricular arrhythmias and high-degree heart block have a poor prognosis. Loss of right ventricular function is a strong predictor of death.[1]
Coronary artery bypass surgery, also coronary artery bypass graft (CABG, pronounced “cabbage”) surgery, and colloquially heart bypass or bypass surgery is a surgical procedure performed to relieve angina and reduce the risk of death from coronary artery disease. Arteries or veins from elsewhere in the patient’s body are grafted to the coronary arteries to bypass atherosclerotic narrowings and improve the blood supply to the coronary circulation supplying the myocardium (heart muscle). This surgery is usually performed with the heart stopped, necessitating the usage of cardiopulmonary bypass; techniques are available to perform CABG on a beating heart, so-called “off-pump” surgery.
Stem cell treatments are a type of intervention strategy that introduces new cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury. Many medical researchers believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to change the face of human disease and alleviate suffering.[1] The ability of stem cells to self-renew and give rise to subsequent generations with variable degrees of differentiation capacities,[2] offers significant potential for generation of tissues that can potentially replace diseased and damaged areas in the body, with minimal risk of rejection and side effects.
See also: Cell therapy
A number of stem cell therapies exist, but most are at experimental stages or costly, with the notable exception of bone marrow transplantation.[citation needed] Medical researchers anticipate that adult and embryonic stem cells will soon be able to treat cancer, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Celiac Disease, cardiac failure, muscle damage and neurological disorders, and many others.[3] Nevertheless, befor
e stem cell therapeutics can be applied in the clinical setting, more research is necessary to understand stem cell behavior upon transplantation as well as the mechanisms of stem cell interaction with the diseased/injured microenvironment.[3]

———————————————————————————————————

 Four-year-old Adlea Ry’Kyla lies sleeping in a hospital bed too big for her, wrapped up in a bright pink Barbie blanket that covers the many tubes snaking from her wrist and the small needle puncture wounds that dot her skinny arms.
She looks peaceful while she rests, but for the little girl, every minute ticking past is time lost – she has only weeks to live if she does not receive a human heart transplant.
Adlea, affectionately called “Nor” by family and friends, is suffering from dilated cardiomyophaty, more commonly known as “swollen heart” syndrome, where her heart is too weak to pump blood around her body.
As a result, her body traps fluids – leaving her stomach grossly bloated to almost half her size.
“She can’t eat; she will vomit because of her foot infection,” said Nor’s mother, Norleen Osman, 33. “She is in agony, and every night she groans and cries.”
According to Norleen, Nor’s foot infection, a gaping wound the size of a large biscuit, developed when the doctors “ran out of veins to inject on her arms.”  A simple injection turned into a full-blown infection and Nur had to undergo another surgery to prevent the wound from growing.
“There’s no cure except for a heart transplant. And we can’t get that here.” said Norleen. She told Yahoo! Singapore that the only chance Nor has of surviving is to receive a paediatric heart transplant in either the United States or Europe, something their family cannot afford.
Norleen and her four children depend on her security supervisor husband’s monthly pay of about $2,200. The cost of such an operation would set the family back by at least $500,000, a sum that they will never be able to raise on their own.
“We try our best to cut down, we’ve applied for Medifund, but there’s not enough money.” said the housewife, whose family of six stays in a two-room rental flat in Ang Mo Kio. She added that they are already receiving financial assistance with Nor’s medical bills through the KKH Health Endowment Fund.
During the course of the interview, she broke down several times as she described her daughter’s ordeal.
“When she sees me crying, she will ask, what’s wrong, was daddy bad to you, why are you crying?” said Norleen, who has been by her daughters’ side 24/7 since her hospitalisation last week. “She’s so strong, we have to hold on and believe that she will live.”

 Nor has been in and out of the hospital since she was just five months old and diagnosed with myocarditis, or heart inflammation. She got better, but when she was nearly two years old, a high fever caused another heart infection.
Because of her weak health, she has never had a chance to go to school or make friends, but spends her days resting at home or singing and dancing to Bollywood movies and Barney videos. “She used to sing and dance and laugh all the time, but now she has stopped.” said Norleen.
 Nor’s doctor, Associate Professor and Senior Consultant at KKH’s Department of Paediatric Subspecialties Dr Wong Keng Yean confirmed that there is no heart transplant programme in Singapore for children as young as Adlea.
“Adlea suffers from .. an inflammation of the heart muscle commonly due to a viral infection of the heart,” said Dr Wong. “Patients are at risk of suffering severe heart failure and early death or developing chronic heart failure.”

Norleen has written in to several hospitals in the United States, including the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. She said the family is now just waiting for a positive response so they can get her the care she needs as soon as possible.
“My fear is that, when they reply saying yes, my daughter will be too weak to even travel over.” she said.
Norleen is appealing to the public for financial help for her daughter.
“If she can fight to live, I will also fight and be strong for her.” she said.
Currently, her close friend, photographer Rima McDonald, is handling all donations at her Little Nur’s Heart Fund site, through which they have raised $10,000 as of last Sunday, and hope to raise $200,000 by the 8th of June. 

The Brain and Developing Intelligence : I am the prototype

Intelligence, learning, and memory. At birth, the nervous system contains all the neurons you will ever have, but many of them are not connected to each other. As you grow and learn, messages travel from one neuron to another over and over, creating connections, or pathways, in the brain. It’s why driving seemed to take so much concentration when you first learned but now is second nature: The pathway became established.
In young children, the brain is highly adaptable; in fact, when one part of a young child’s brain is injured, another part can often learn to take over some of the lost function. But as we age, the brain has to work harder to make new neural pathways, making it more difficult to master new tasks or change established behavior patterns. That’s why many scientists believe it’s important to keep challenging your brain to learn new things and make new connections— it helps keeps the brain active over the course of a lifetime.
Memory is another complex function of the brain. The things we’ve done, learned, and seen are first processed in the cortex, and then, if we sense that this information is important enough to remember permanently, it’s passed inward to other regions of the brain (such as the hippocampus and amygdala) for long-term storage and retrieval. As these messages travel through the brain, they too create pathways that serve as the basis of our memory.
Therefore if you understand the above logic, it is therefore possible to create the pathway of the memory by creating connections, to shorten the learning curve but not the learning process, where it is possible to increase the capacity of the brain up to 1000 times, like the formating of the hard disk to create tighter space, to smoothen and pack data like the learning process, to shorten the learning curve. The human brain is adaptable against the environment, when it is pushed to the limit it will adapt, but if the process of “formating” is not completed, it will result in brain damage. What then is the process of “formating”? It is the unconscious process of sleep when you programme your brain to accept more information thru mind control, using sublimal messages, even the entire learning process. If my theories are correct, it might even be possible to “programme” a person to learn everything about a topic eg “economics” and be an expert over a period of time, if too much information is processed, there may be consequencies, so a balanced approach is needed. If you understand everything I have mentioned, I already have invented the method of developing intelligence for mankind, totally changing the landscape of learning.
– Contributed by Oogle.
“Copyright reserved for the UN” 

The DIY Automation

By ROBIN SIDEL

The old-fashioned bank-teller line is getting an overhaul.

Banks are installing a raft of new gizmos in hopes of reducing waiting time for customers and freeing up employees to sell products that boost the bottom line. Colin Barr has details on Lunch Break. Photo: Travis Dove for the Wall Street Journal.

Banks are installing a raft of new gizmos—touch screens, video-tellers and self-serve kiosks with more functions than traditional automated-teller machines—in hopes of reducing waiting time for customers and freeing up employees to sell products that boost the bottom line.
The devices are the latest technological advances designed to make banking more efficient for the declining number of consumers who still use brick-and-mortar branches, while cutting costs at the same time.
Just as airlines now encourage passengers to check themselves in for flights, bank customers are increasingly able to cash checks, buy money orders and get cash in unusual denominations on their own—rather than tellers “doing all the work for the consumer,” says Brian Bailey, vice president of branch transformation at NCR Corp., NCR -0.52% which makes ATMs and other equipment for the banking industry. It can even speed up transactions: Mr. Bailey estimates that antiquated computer systems require some tellers to make as many as 40 keystrokes for a simple deposit.
Starting this summer, Wells Fargo & Co. customers will be able to request an email receipt by tapping on a keypad at the teller window. Later in the year, they will be able to use the keypad to move funds between accounts.
“We continue to see a lot of relevance in our store-based transactions,” says Jonathan Velline, executive vice president at Wells Fargo. The San Francisco-based banking giant has the largest U.S. branch network, with more than 6,000.
The new branch technology was a key topic earlier this month when Todd Maclin, who runs the consumer-banking division of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., addressed investors at an industry conference. The big New York bank is testing machines in a handful of branches that conduct teller-type transactions that can’t be handled by an ATM. The bank says that check-cashing requests at the teller line dropped 40% after the self-service teller was introduced.
Mr. Maclin said that Chase is planning to expand the test to 100 branches later this year, and to 1,000 branches over the next 12 to 18 months. Such technology investments are expected to help it reduce branch operating costs by as much as $500 million a year.
The upgrades allow bank employees to focus on selling loans, mortgages and other products. Any increase in sales could be significant as banks search for new ways to boost profits during a period of low interest rates, anemic loan demand and rising costs from new regulations.
Coastal Federal Credit Union in North Carolina last year found a way to go high-tech without sacrificing the virtues of face-to-face contact.
At Coastal’s 15 branches, customers are directed to video screens that connect to 36 tellers in a room at the credit union’s Raleigh headquarters. The tellers remotely authorize transactions, review check images and dispense cash, just as they would in person.
Willard Ross, chief retail officer for the credit union, says the bank cut costs by 40% by eliminating its branch tellers. He says customers still get personal contact and the remote tellers can make judgment calls that an automated system can’t, such as deciding whether a check can be cashed immediately.
“Branch managers don’t have to worry about manning the teller operations anymore, so they can be totally focused on the members who walk in,” Mr. Ross says. As a result, he says, product sales have nearly doubled in the branches.
The video-teller machines also can reduce a bank’s real-estate costs because they take up far less room than a whole row of teller windows, NCR’s Mr. Bailey says. They are about 20% more expensive than the average ATM, which costs about $45,000, he said.
Bank of America Corp. BAC -2.96% also has tested video-tellers in four of its markets and is currently reviewing the results, a spokeswoman said.
It isn’t clear whether the industry’s new efforts will take off, given that other technology tests haven’t fared so well. Initial attempts to get people to bank from their home computers in the 1980s flopped, for example.
Indeed, some consultants say people who typically go into a branch do so because they want human contact. “Pushing people to a screen doesn’t necessarily meet the needs or desires of the consumer coming in,” says Tom Mataconis, vice president at Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a firm in Charlotte, N.C., that advises the banking industry on technology issues.
Write to Robin Sidel at robin.sidel@wsj.com

Rumours and Gossips; Nothing is true, someone is trying to sensationalised the news


In an update to the latest scandal to hit Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, the 33-year-old responded cryptically in a microblog message to allegations that she had been paid to have sex with disgraced former top official, Bo Xilai.
The actress, who is filming in Guangzhou, posted a comment on her microblog that described the “fraudulent” rain on the film set, along with a photo of a colleague on a ladder sprinkling “rain” – actually water from a hose – on the actors.
She wrote in Chinese that while it was a challenge to “defraud heaven”, it was nothing compared to thinking there is rain after “hearing the wind”, as that requires only one’s imagination, reported my paper.
Zhang is reportedly under investigation by the Chinese government and barred from leaving the country.
Hong Kong’s Apple daily and other Chinese media reported that the pair was first introduced by Bo’s associate, Xu Ming, 41, who is the founder and chairman of Dalian Shide Group.
Sources say Xu confessed to paying Zhang 6 million yuan (S$1.2 million) in 2007, to have sex with her for the first time.
He later negotiated a deal for Bo to have sex with Zhang, for 10 million yuan (S$2 million).
Reports say the 33-year-old actress slept with Bo at least 10 times between 2007 and 2011 in Beijing.
The Chinese media also estimated that Zhang’s sexual transactions with various rich and powerful figures have netted her 700 million yuan over the last 10 years.
This includes 180 million yuan in cash from Xu.
Her wealth from prostituting herself was not taxed, due to intervention from Xu and other government officials.
Xu reportedly pimped the Chinese actress out to two other high-level officials as well.
Media news outlets speculate that investigations into these allegations could explain why Zhang was absent from the recently concluded Cannes film festival.
Her film, Dangerous Liaisons, premiered at the festival, which her co-star, Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung, attended.
Zhang claimed she was busy shooting the film, “The Grandmasters”, and was unable to attend the festival.
According to Hong Kong and Taiwanese media reports, the actress has remained uncontactable for comment on the allegations.
Zhang was previously embroiled in other scandals.
In 2010, she was accused of exaggerating the funds raised for the Sichuan earthquake. Instead of the US$1million (S$1.34million) announced in 2008, the star only managed to raise US$400,000.
In 2009, Zhang was accused of cheating a married businessman of S$41.2 million, with whom she was alleged to be sexually involved with, while still engaged to Israeli billionaire Vivi Nevo.
Nevo and Zhang reportedly split up in 2010.
candicec@sph.com.sg

—————————————————————————

Sina Weibo users could be banned for posting sensitive political topics
04:45 AM May 30, 2012

BEIJING – A popular Chinese microblogging site is introducing new rules that could see users banned for posting about sensitive political topics.
Sina Weibo imposed “user contracts” on Monday that award each of its 300 million microbloggers a starting score of 80 points. Points can be deducted for online comments that are judged to be offensive and, at zero, a user’s account will be cancelled.
Users who suffer lesser penalties can restore their points by avoiding violations for two months.
Deductions will cover a wide range of wrongdoing, including spreading rumours, calling for protests, promoting cults or superstitions and impugning China’s honour, the service stated.
The contracts will also punish time-honoured tactics bloggers have used to avoid censorship, like disguising comments on censored topics by using homonyms (where two different Chinese characters have nearly identical sounds), puns and other dodges.
For instance, to evade censors, bloggers have referred to the dissident artist Ai Weiwei by using the Chinese characters for “love the future”, a rough homonym of his name.
It is unclear how many points a user would lose for a specific violation. But Sina’s officials said microbloggers could increase their score to 100 by supporting unspecified promotional activities and would receive “low credit” warnings below 60 points.
Government censors already control what appears on the Internet, and corporate minders at Sina Weibo and other sites have long complied with their orders, deleting offensive comments, sly homonyms and posts that rile the government’s sensibilities.
The point system, however, appears to be a muted effort to extend that control by warning users when they approach the boundaries of official tolerance. Internet companies like Sina that are privately operated tread a thin line between censorship that is too lax and might draw government punishment, and overly strict rules that would quash the lively debates that make the services popular.
The Chinese propaganda authorities have progressively clamped down on the freedoms of Internet users since last year, when a high-speed train wreck in Zhejiang province unleashed an online flood of angry anti-government comments. Agencies