ATM cards change
Some 60 million magnetic-stripe ATM and debit cards issued by Thai banks and circulating in the market are being upgraded to chip-embedded cards, a process already underway and lasting until 2019 as cards expire. However, the vast majority of cards are already embedded, but the withdrawal machines will still support the magnetic stripe variety for another three years provided they are not lost or expire. Thailand is actually the third country in the ASEAN region to have mandatory chip-embedment after Malaysia and Singapore. It is argued that the new type will be less open to skimming and other types of fraud.
But a further reason for the change, according to bankers, is the slow migration from a cash-based society under the central bank’s e-payment policy. Facilitating the move to a cashless era would help reduce operating costs when managing cash. Actually the number of banknotes printed by the Bank of Thailand fell to 2 billion last year from around 3 billion in 2014. This move illustrates how the cashless society is beginning slowly to take root. Even though the banks have spent a great deal of money updating their machines to chip-embedded, they say that current fee rates will remain unchanged. Most Thai banks have around 10 million ATM and debit cards in circulation.
The robots are coming
Automation, which can mean fewer errors and higher quality in producing goods and services, is a great thing. But the downside is that the process can reduce labour. Technology has already done away with many jobs as instanced by robots operating trucks in some mines and corporate litigation software which can replace workers who used to sift and categorize thousands of documents. Big banks have slashed thousands of jobs in recent years as businesses such as bond trading have become less profitable. Under pressure to boost profits, banks are increasingly turning to technology to help them shed labour costs.
And there are lots more to come. There is currently the prospect of driverless cars to name but one example, the consequences of which are still being debated for those who currently earn their living sitting behind a wheel. One of the biggest causes of the stagnation of middle class wages, a bone of contention in the UK and the US in particular, is essentially because of clever computer programs. However, the optimists say that the real revolution in computers and jobs is some decades away. In the meantime, computer savvy individuals can boost their income by operating freelance sites or by teaching novices on the internet. In order words, don’t villainise technology too soon as it also creates a whole load of opportunities out there.
North Korean paradox
It’s something of a paradox that, whilst North Korea has at last moved against smoking by discouraging it in advertisements and restricting it in the workplace, dictator Kim Jong-un is still seen in state media puffing away merrily. Mind you, he has probably found out the secret of how to avoid catching lung cancer but will keep the information to himself so as not to influence public opinion. Nothing is impossible for the Kim family. After all, the current dictator’s father allegedly once sacked his spokesman for claiming that Kim Jong-il had three holes in one on his very first trip to a golf club. The number of holes in one was actually eight. But no visual record of this particular triumph has survived.
Thai families are increasingly having to bear the costs of caring for elderly relatives who can no longer look after themselves as the Thai population ages faster than any other ASEAN country. The country’s working-age population is expected to shrink by 11 percent over the next 20 years. The rising cost of care is an additional burden to households struggling with record levels of debt that is a drag on consumption and is stunting the economy. A culture of filial piety, in which families feel obliged to care for the elderly, means more often than not absorbing the expense of looking after parents and grandparents. A poor savings culture has left many people ill-prepared to help themselves financially in old age. The only bright spot is that the cost of looking after a relative with, say, dementia and diabetes is a lot lower in rural areas than in urban sprawls such as Bangkok or Pattaya.
Readers have submitted a number of queries on embassies. The British embassy does not now publish a local Pattaya contact number and you have to contact officials at the main Bangkok number 02 305 8333… So far as we know, Pattaya does not have an authorized translation service from Swedish to English or to Thai and the local Swedish consulate refers enquirers to Bangkok… Neither embassies nor the Thai authorities publish a record of the total of farang deaths in Pattaya (or any other city) but it’s much higher than the cases mentioned in the local press as most foreigners die an unpublicized death in hospital… Increasingly, embassies in Bangkok do not provide a walk-in service and you have to book an appointment online well in advance.