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Where to Begin…Global Pandemic perhaps?

January 6, 2021

4.5 years of neglect later, it is nice to come back to still familiar territory of a blog that, for all practical purposes, has been well and truly dead. Is it that I have had nothing to say on anything these past few years, or that the quotidian business of working and parenting while keeping up with the cacophony of life left little room for rumination and, then, writing? I have to admit that the lure of ‘micro-blogging’ a la Twitter proved to be the easy way out. Why bother thinking and writing in long form when one can flippantly make a snarky observation and curate content on the go?

But, as I pondered upon the exceptional year that 2020 was, I felt, now here is something worth expounding in further detail on. After all, this blog does claim to be a log of all pandemonium within and without, and by God, was there pandemonium indeed. What an era-defining and life resetting year it was. Although many people go into 2021 with unbridled optimism, I am a bit more cautious about expecting 2021 to be significantly better than 2020. Let’s be honest, at least we had the benefit of ignorance at the start of 2020 – now I am simply exhausted, drained…and this shit ain’t over yet, baby!

Everyone has been through an exceptional year in 2020 but it’s foolish to think that all of us have been in the same boat as we navigated these choppy waters. It may have been the same storm but every demographic went through its own set of challenges – single person households, lonely retirees, the digitally disconnected, the economically disadvantaged and I cannot speak to their pains and experience but I can say, being dual career parents of little ones during this pandemic was a special kind of madness I do not romanticise for even a minute. I have legit pandemic rage towards anyone who sings paeans to the wonders of ‘slowing down’ in 2020, no such luck for parents of needy, clingy, diaper-clad kids cut off from their usual sources of socialising and fun!

Having to work from home on a seemingly permanent basis was already draining the joy out of life for a compulsively extroverted person like myself, but then came the school and nurseries closures from Mar 23rd. Gosh, I dreaded and panicked and planned and prepared, and yet, it was more intense than anything I have ever lived through. Juggling work (which obviously got busier in light of the pandemic), interminable housework with no help, homeschooling a 5year old who couldn’t read instructions on a screen yet, providing full time childcare for a clingy, noisy, unreasonable and fully dependent 2 year old, dealing with Covid @ home when spouse fell ill – it was the perfect storm indeed. My usual princess-level support system of full time nursery (at a pretty penny), full time school, live-in au pair for wraparound childcare, weekly Indian cook, fortnightly cleaner – all come to naught once our Spanish au pair fled back to her country in a tizzy and we paused all live-out help (paying them a retainer meanwhile) – oh and did I mention I was still breastfeeding my 2-yr old who adopted a new level of clinginess and was literally latched onto me through some of my work calls? Let’s just say I will never again take for granted the privilege of being sat upright at a desk, fully clothed, without another human being latched onto me for dear life, while I do my work. Perfect timing, but I also happen to be in a very intense, visible role so ‘dialling down’ at work just when digital payments space was absolutely exploding wasn’t exactly an option… I simply had to sometimes facilitate those 4hour Leadership Team calls while also multitasking at home, like changing the dirty diaper of a wrestling octopus, aka my toddler.

It was not that I did not try so desperately to rectify this situation, I scoured the interwebs for hours at night, looked for au pairs, bent over backwards for some of them, and one decided to fly back to their home country last minute before joining us, one realised after moving in that they don’t deal well with little kids (!!), one had to be quarantined in their own room due to my spouse feeling ill and, I shit you not dear reader, one’s mum passed away 2 days after she started working at our home. It beggars belief, the amount of drama our family and household went through during that period, all the while negotiating with little terrorists on the agenda for the day, driving around to put a stubborn 2yr old to sleep and cooking at midnight to be ready for the next day.

My 5 year old showed immense resilience and flexibility and really thrived in her own way – her reading came along leaps and bounds, she figured out multiplication on her own sitting on the toilet, she attended lessons in origami, British Sign Language, Ballet, Yoga, make-up, astronomy, self-driving cars, speedy mental mathematics (like a super power!), arts, crafts, pasta making, bagel making etc and did 1:1 lessons in Spanish, Hindi, Maths and so much more. My husband and I planned and plotted unto the n-th degree each night, comparing work diaries to ensure tag teaming to the extent possible and saving screen time for the periods of overlap. Despite planning for 5 meals (breakfast, mid morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner), the eternally grazing kids would need constant feeding in between and cleaning after. Our emotional rollercoaster went through the entire spectrum…we were so grateful for the little patch of garden space and, when weather allowed, let the kids run riot in swimsuits from 10am, splashing in paddling pool all day and munching on ice cream, we laughed and cried as the toddler painted the cream sofa pink and scribbled on the walls – heck, I even threw in the towel and bought blackboard paint and chalk for the walls and fences! Everything is game in the time of pandemic as all is fair in love and war.

In the end, we somehow survived that lockdown to live the tales but the scars will always remain. We certainly have some lockdown PTSD when I think of the constant stream of panicked moments and impossible decisions & tradeoffs we had to keep making on the fly to prioritise both kids and work everyday. I normally am pretty good at multi-tasking but this was spreading myself thin to the point of burnout. I truly do not want to go back to that again and looking back, I would advise myself to throw a lot more money at the problem and get a lot more help even if it meant ‘flex-ing’ the rules a bit. I am furious now when I hear of stay-at-home-mums (with grown up kids independently remote learning) who continued to get daily help from their housekeepers who lived 4 zones away because they couldn’t be bothered with the safety restrictions in place, while we went through this nonsense to comply with lockdown guidelines.

My proudest achievement is certainly that we did not turn my kids into screen zombies – even if it involved tantrums, headaches, frustration and exhaustion, we protected our kids from the temptation to just hand them to digital babysitters, aka, TV, iPad, mobile, Youtube et al, beyond 20mins a day and never beyond an hour a day even when I was single parenting due to my husband being ill (I exclude in this definition of screen time the duration spent in communicating with family, friends or teachers for online lessons, so actually it was a lot of screen time really). Second achievement – adopting and sticking to an exercise regimen, I was probably doing 4-5 workouts a week at one point which has literally never happened in my life before. And lastly, we cooked, we baked, we rolled, we kneaded and heck, we served up some excellent delicacies – handmade pasta, hand-rolled gnocchi, rainbow bagels, baklava, Turkish revani cake, banana bread by the kilos, homemade breads, fruit cakes, various new recipes from across the global spectrum. We literally did not order any takeout through the lockdown 1, I think? Oh, and we did not turn into complete alcoholics, which counts for something I guess!

I learnt to count our blessings many times over – we could safely do our jobs at home, we could keep our kids safe even if it drove us mad doing so, our house had plenty of space to accommodate every whim, what we considered the bane of our home – the multiple floors – turned out to be an unexpected boon when we needed to all live and work and play and scream simultaneously, our little garden was everything, (especially when for 5 weeks we did not even step out of our front door), I embraced all the clutter and mess and STUFF at home as suddenly, everything found purpose and use. All the arts and crafts supplies we had no time for, all the tinned foods I mysteriously felt the need to stock up on (war provisions, I used to call them), all the toys and games and books – we thanked our stars for not having adopted some idiotic minimalist trend or ‘Marie-Kondo’d’ our place.

Summer was a relief but we remained cautious, did not go anywhere at all for a holiday, opting for a very local staycation instead and felt grateful to be able to meet some folks in person even if in a very measured manner – we never met more than 1 family at a time and a lot of it was outdoors. As a family, we relished the experience of going back to restaurants during the holidays. And then the weather got cooler and the consequences of excesses of summer started catching up. Lockdown no. 2 came along but felt the right balance in that all the optional activities were put on hold but kids could continue in their routines at nursery and school and remain somewhat oblivious of the larger forces at play.

We are now into a stricter lockdown no. 3 with schools shut down again (but nurseries/daycare open, phew) and this is getting old, folks. We somehow managed to keep ourselves motivated and positive even through our recent bout no. 2 of Covid in our household when both husband and I fell ill. Having both kids at home with zero help felt so hard but all things considered, it was a mild version so we felt quite relieved really. We celebrated Christmas like never before – not just an elaborately decorated Christmas tree and constantly blasting carols, but streamers, stars, indoor and outdoor lights, gingerbread house made from scratch, batches upon batches of iced cookies, turkey meal with gazillion sides; husband’s birthday was celebrated with Fortnum & Mason hamper and Paul baked goodies, and NYE celebration with a fancy takeout…gosh, we kept ourselves busy and well-fed. But now, increasingly it feels like our enthusiasm has run dry, real fatigue has set in and yet, the end is still far despite the vaccine’s arrival. I hope we can hold onto some positivity and hope but I worry about the impact on kids’ mental health as this thing goes on and on. We have suffered the triple whammy of

1) complying to the rules and avoiding socialising and travel to the significant detriment of our quality of life – we didn’t even leave London through 2020! With literally all our family in India or the US, we truly felt the immense distance from everyone. The kids really missed out on time with extended family, especially paternal grandparents who would normally spend a few months with them every summer.

2) Falling sick anyway – my husband fell quite severely ill in Mar/Apr and then both of us fell ill in Dec just before Xmas – the time we had been looking forward longingly to finally recharge after a tough year, good Lord! No respite for the weary, it would seem.

3) And then dealing with the consequences of Cov-idiots refusing to comply to rules – my next door neighbours partied unto the wee hours of NY eve with squealing crowds, our acquaintances jetsetted and globetrotted as if there’s no pandemic and then my daughter has to deal with the isolation and loneliness of homeschooling now – so furious about the asymmetry of this equation!

I am fuming and ranting and raging at the sheer incompetence of our leadership at such a time, but here I am, wondrous at how we have somehow managed to retain some sense of sanity through this. I am also unsure if we will succeed to survive with our wits still intact by the end of this. I wondered if I was being pessimistic when I entered 2021 as I wasn’t gushing about this being the excellent year everyone expected to be, but 6 days into it, I feel like I was probably just being realistic! I wait with bated breath to be proven wrong.


Happy Now?

June 28, 2016

What she said

Katyboo1's Weblog

It is day four in the Big Brexit house.

I had hoped after Friday’s absolute catastrophe of a day that the country might somehow magically rally over the weekend. I mean, when you plunge your country into possible ruin on the promise of a golden future that will allow it to rise like a phoenix from the flames, you have a plan, right?

As it turns out, you don’t. The only person that seems to have any plan at all, and be acting on it rather than just spouting meaningless Churchillian rhetoric is Nicola Sturgeon, and I can’t even vote for her.

I was distraught and angry on Friday. I had hoped to feel better by today. Instead I am running on barely controlled rage and getting more enraged by the moment.

Here are a few things I am furious about:

Firstly, leave voters telling me to calm down. I’m sorry…

View original post 1,627 more words


April 21, 2016

At the best of times, this is a complicated topic to think, write or talk about. And currently, I am enmeshed in a peculiar situation with religion, albeit more intellectually stimulating than spiritually engaging.

I was born and raised in a fairly devout Catholic family, regular Sunday masses topped off with Sunday school, catechism classes, prayer at home, socialising with church folks, spending time with extended family on both sides dealing with excessive levels of praying and preaching and even having an aunt on each side who’s a nun. That said, mind that growing up Catholic in India still means having a healthy dose of pluralistic upbringing, given the sheer plethora of gods that abound in daily Indian life. My mother was always the more blindly faithful while my father maintained a healthy dose of skepticism of the institution of church while still believing in a greater force, i.e., God.

Then I left home for Singapore, and amazingly kept up with Sunday masses at church despite occasional bouts of laziness, in all honestly also because I found some company for these outings. In university, as part of my political leanings to the left of the centre, I started seriously questioning the virtue of the institution of the Church, especially in the context of exclusion of LGBTs, the various controversies relating to sexual abuse by clergy, etc, but, somewhat ironically, thanks to a close gay friend who’s Catholic, I kept up with church on Sundays. In many ways, it was the ‘community’ aspect that kept me hooked to my Christian/Catholic identity more than any faith in the religious institution itself.

Then I moved to London where I found myself very alone as a Catholic, living with non-Christians / non-religious housemates, in a Christian country which followed unfamiliar rituals (Anglican denomination), with Catholic churches located far and few in between in a large city. The community aspect of religion seemed well and truly over for me unless I could be bothered to make significant investments into finding ‘social capital’ within the church community which had zero intersections with the rest of my life. In any case, through my 20s, I found myself getting increasingly individualistic (which, I can now retrospectively connect to being less religious) and then outright atheistic with the increasing conservatism of the Church under the leadership of Pope Benedict. In the post-9/11 world, religion also proved itself to be an effective vehicle for radicalisation, further reason to reject it if one is so inclined already.

Through much of my 20s, my liberal and scientific self aspired towards rationalism, occasionally dabbling in bouts of empiricism, relativism and even nihilism. I remained wary of religion, religiosity, pious folks and their blind faith. Being atheist also conveniently comes with a not insignificant sense of superiority for having escaped the trap of  the ‘opium of the people‘. My analytical mindset and, perhaps, my career in business encouraged more of utilitarian view of ethics and morality in any case – organised religion seemed so inefficient in comparison.

But over time, the appeal of atheism waned, especially with the increasing cacophony from the ‘New Atheists‘, the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose books and belief systems seemed to be just as dogmatic as institutionalised religion. As I travelled more around the world, I came to appreciate at least the legacy of religion – music, architecture, legends, stories, cultural heritage – even if not the religions themselves. I started considering myself less atheistic and more agnostic, or as I called it, spiritual but not religious. I cherry-picked some concepts / values to live by (for e.g., karma) and still vehemently rejected rituals.

Being in a relationship and then in a marriage with a Hindu Brahmin, it eventually became a matter of convenience to be irreligious so we never actively followed any rituals. When with our respective families, both of us silently suffer through whatever ceremonies we may be expected to attend with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Both of us enjoy the shock value of being irreverent and cracking jokes on the caricatures of various religions. But I also continued to view myself culturally rooted in the Syrian Catholic community in Kerala, even if I shared NONE of their orthodoxy or conservatism.

I just finished reading a fantastic book – The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, an author whose talk I had the pleasure of attending during my exchange term at The Wharton School. The book is on moral psychology and why religion and politics divide people and although it looks at the topic with an American lens, the themes are universal. The multidisciplinary take on the topic uses a broad range of logical arguments and evidence to demonstrate how religion has several evolutionary purposes – a conclusion that squares up nicely with my rational mind and puts at rest my unease with completely rejecting religion and my need to be rational. This does not, by any measure, make me religious. It just also happens to be that we recently, as a family, went to mass at church (for various reasons) AND I have been invited by a friend to join her discussion group on Nichiren Buddhism a couple of times and I have gone and chanted. I do not know what this will lead do, and I cannot say I am at this point particularly moved spiritually by any of these recent experiences, but what an interesting journey – worthy of a post on this neglected blog, if nothing else!

Feminism vs. Cultural Identity

August 31, 2015

Decisions, decisions – do I or do I not get my baby girl’s ears pierced? My understanding of feminism dictates that I not impose beauty standards to alter the body of a child with no agency – with no medical requirement, this would be an act purely for vanity of her parents. I do not own her body but she has no say in this. It is the same reason I was not comfortable dressing her up ridiculously for cute photoshoots, although I do love well-done themed baby photos of my friends 🙂

On the other hand, I am notoriously bad in terms of maintaining links with my Indian heritage – I am not good at being part of ‘desi’ networks overseas, I speak to her in English and worry about what identity my child will adopt as she grows up. Ear piercings are very much an Indian girl thing, and while I am averse doing something purely for the sake of tradition (FGM is also part of some traditions, after all!), I would rather she inherit the piercings as part of her Indian identity, than adopt it in a few years’ time due to brainwashing by media on how girls must appear. And at what age is a person deemed to have a proper sense of agency anyway? Five? Fifteen? Eighteen? The logic most older Indians will offer for getting the piercing done early – the child will not remember the pain, it gets harder once they’re older and have phobias of needles and such.

Furthermore, I love my earrings and cannot fathom giving them up to be a role model to her, should I choose not to get her ears pierced. I am aware of the ongoing discussion in the UK on banning ear piercings for babies, but I also do not like getting overly caught up in symbols. Not getting her ears pierced today and having her obsess over it and go crazy over them tomorrow (what I call the ‘forbidden fruit effect’) – not ideal. Getting her ears pierced but having her achieve whatever she wants in life, irrespective of her sex – excellent!

An example of such an outcome would be my favourite image in recent times – the awesomeness of Indian women, in all their traditional garb, celebrating their success in the mission to Mars. This certainly beats a politically-correct image of a woman locked out of typically ‘male domains’ such as science, tech or finance.

Dilemma. Feminists and/or Indian women (not that they are mutually exclusive!), please discuss.

Note to non-Indian readers: Beware of pooh-poohing this as a non-issue. I would consider circumcision an act of violence to my baby boy, if I had one, because I do not place any cultural weight on the act, like people of other faiths do. But I do not judge other people who consider it important for their sense of identity. So please do not reduce this to simply an act of violence. Also, I am aware of the medical risks of piercing at jewellers with “gunshot” (cannot be sterilised), so I am looking into medical facilities offering this with use of topical anaesthetic.

MH17 & Gaza

July 20, 2014

Less than a month before MH17 and just a few months after MH370, my husband took long haul return flights on Malaysian Airlines – we recall seeing Donetsk on the flight map and admiring Tehran as we flew over it in a very clear sky.

We had some real annoyances with the airline – complete inability to check in online, leading us to be checked in to separate sections of the aircraft (upstairs and downstairs!), friendly but somewhat clueless customer service over the phone etc. So we would grumble to each other – geez, what an airline, no wonder they lost an airplane (wrt MH370). It felt OK to whinge about the airline and even make jokes like ‘haha, I hope they don’t lose our plane’. I guess it felt fine to say it because statistically speaking, the odds of the same airline having two major incidents within the space of a few months are very low indeed. Guess I should have paid more attend to that Black Swan book a few years ago when I read it.

The bombing of a civilian aircraft (minding its own business at 30,000 feet) as collateral damage to a pointless conflict is chilling, to say the least. The stories of a 100 AIDS researchers/campaigners etc, the 80 children, the mangled bodies…nothing is comforting.

To add to the misery of the aircrash story, there is the relentless violence in Gaza in a conflict that seems as old as time itself. I refuse to expound on my views on the topic here but that the world is willing to look away while innocent children get caught in the crossfire makes me mad. What is everyone waiting for, where’s the intervention that is happily deployed when convenience strikes?

It has been a grim week in the world recently, hope the universe is planning on tilting the balance towards a bit of positivity.

Work & working hard

May 14, 2014

I have been thinking a lot about work and its place in our lives. As an older Millennial/GenY person, I subscribe to views that resonate and conflict somewhat with both those of the younger Millennial lot and those of the older Gen X lot. At various points, I have switched and straddled between traditional, conservative, white-collar professions and more entrepreneurial, informal, ‘cool’ roles. I have been attracted by and developed aversions for different types of jobs at various points in my brief career thus far. After some 6 years of working and a 2-year MBA in between, I am hardly an authority on all matters relating to work, but one thing I have figured out for sure is that there is no such thing as a perfect job. This conviction in our generation about the existence of a perfect job for each one (like a perfect mate) is surely one of the reasons why we are inevitably set up for unhappiness, apart from the many other reasons for unhappiness articulated well here. Even before I hit ‘Publish’ on this post, I can already hear the clamouring dissent to my claim above – ‘yes, there is a perfect job, if you follow your passion’, etc etc.

Back in the day, most people who could chose the safe option (corporate careers, long tenures until retirement etc) while the truly brave and different picked the road less travelled, truly ‘following their passion’ if you may. Now, there is a mainstream of people who are ‘off-the-beaten-path’, which begs the question on what it means to be on a ‘beaten path’. Never before have there as many articles, blogs, podcasts, private and public exhortations on self-actualising by taking a risk, placing a bet, taking a blind leap of faith, finding yourself, investing in yourself. To do anything less than something deeply in-tune with one’s calling is to ‘sell out’, or deal in ‘wage slavery’ even. Of course, this discourse on ‘Do What You Love’ is inherently elitist, because not all people can afford to take on unpaid internships and most people simply have to work to get by. But let’s be honest, even if you truly, madly, deeply believe in your work and identify with it strongly, reality can still bite, after all, especially as there is little distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’ in such cases.

This conviction about life = work and work = life is probably to blame for the unprecedented trend of work taking centre-stage in our lives. The rich, educated who work hard for a ‘good life’ now have a reward of still more work and less leisure – in direct contrast to what it meant to be rich in previous generations. So many Millennials place such an undue weight on their jobs that it often takes something like a serious health issue or death in the family to serve as a wake-up call about the other equally, if not more important, aspects of life. I am guilty of this – I tend to define success in very narrow terms, almost completely tied to professional success and tend to hold as role-models men and women who have astounding careers, even if at the cost of their personal lives, happiness, health, etc. But it may have something to do with me getting older, wiser, less fit/healthy and more time-starved but I am starting to evaluate the trade-offs of having it all. I am going through some serious thinking on whether it is better to lean in or recline. On some days, I am guilty of being a downright entitled Muppie (embarrassing to admit, but true story).

This discussion is complicated still further if you have a complex relationship with money. For instance, for someone in the kind of profession I am in, my lifestyle has a super low burn rate…I don’t hanker after ‘stuff’, and even with experiences, I have low-maintenance tastes. However, I see monetary compensation as an important barometer of success, especially in relative terms within the same career. So if money, beyond a point, is not a strong motivator, what do I work hard for? Learning, curiosity, interest? If I got those things in a different career which paid half as much, would I consider myself less successful? Hmm.

Oh well. I am sure I will figure it out. Knowing myself, I am likely to be more guilty of leaning too far in, and trying to take on the world – this thread of thoughts is good for me to temper my natural tendencies… Meanwhile, let me ruminate on the complex relationship between identity, the work we do and the life we aspire to.

Accessibility & Inclusion

April 30, 2014

Due to a recent ski injury on my left knee, I have had limited mobility for a few weeks now. I spent the first two weeks (which coincided with my birthday too) working from home, travelling by taxis if necessary and generally moping about my situation – I am embarrassed to admit that I whinged about having to cancel a couple of weekend getaways (talk about a first world problem).

Recently, I decided to stop cancelling trips and just go for some planned trips to Amsterdam and Vienna. I learnt to appreciate the wonderful infrastructure in the various airports and the Eurostar for wheelchair provision, ramps and faster processing of queues. I had never paid very much attention to these facilities until now, and I am very impressed.

I grew up in India where, it’s safe to generalise, accessibility and inclusion are NOT top of mind for the public or for planners. Broadly speaking, the culture allows people with disabilities to be marginalised; often, pity is the best reaction they can hope for, rather than respect. The infrastructure is not planned keeping in mind enablers for people with limited mobility, vision or hearing – good luck finding ramps in public spaces or beeping traffic lights in India. It is perhaps of this cultural context that I am always pleasantly stunned at the relative level of independence disabled people enjoy in this part of the world (I realise this may be a controversial statement to make, so I brace myself). For instance, before moving out of India, I would never thought possible for a blind person to navigate public transport independently, but TfL has a support system for this. While there is no denying that there is a long way to go, even in this part of the world, to fully include people with physical or other limitations, I just wanted to express appreciation for what I have experienced in these past few days in my temporary situation of limited mobility.

On the other hand, I have also seen the harsher side of living in a city always on the fast-track; as someone who always enjoyed the fast pace, I never fully understood the downside for those who cannot keep up. I got nearly mobbed by the rush hour crowd at Euston station because of my slow pace when I foolishly took a train to client offices before I was more healed. Shockingly, I also did not have anyone offer me a seat during the only tube ride I took in the last 6 weeks despite my very obvious and visible knee brace; it was only two stops so I did not bother creating a fuss either. At least this has taught me a lesson on being more empathetic in the future and to look up from my book/iPad/nap to notice someone who may need a seat more than I do.


April 25, 2014

I was never a serious blogger. I maintained a personal blog during university years for private ruminations and consumption only by close friends. I started this blog intending it to be a portal for more considered and thoughtful writing, but between such high expectations of myself and the lack of a made-up moniker, I soon got too self-conscious to ‘put myself out there’ so much with my writing – for that is exactly what writing is. Over the past few years, I became more and more a consumer of content, rather than a creator, only occasionally making my presence felt on Twitter. And it recently occurred to me that this truly bothers me – tweeting is not exercising my writing muscle, and 140 characters are not enough for my verbose self. So, even if at the risk of putting very mediocre writing out there, I shall write. Wish me luck.

LBS Global Leadership Summit

May 10, 2013

I am currently in the midst of reading Prof Raghuram Rajan’s Fault Lines, an incisive analysis on the various forces that combined to create the perfect storm that was (and still is) the Global Financial Crisis. This happens to be a timely read as I contemplate the upcoming Global Leadership Summit, which will discuss the Future of Leadership: Beyond Villians, Heroes and Scapegoats. I am particularly looking forward to the panel discussion on ‘The Future of Financial Leadership’ – speakers include senior banking executives such as Tim Breedon and Alessandro Profumo, bigwigs in the regulatory space including Martin Wheatley and ex-central bankers such as Lucrezia Reichlin. I hope some of the following themes are brought up and discussed during the Summit:

The Role of Politics & Ideology in Economic Policy: In developing countries, it is explicitly acknowledged that politics play a major role in economic policy. This might be in the form of nationalised firms, particularly in infrastructure and utility sectors, or trade tariffs, subsidies or duty. These countries and their industries accordingly face an additional cost of capital in the form of ‘country risk premium’. However, the financial crisis was an example of how the economic policies in the West too are deeply entrenched in the politics of the respective countries. In the run up to the crisis, central banks and regulators made policies which synced with, rather than checked, the political agenda of the day, whether it was easy credit to ease the pains of unemployment or premium grading of sub-prime loan portfolios. The role of politics in ALL economics, irrespective of the stage of economic development of the countries, needs to be understood and discussed thoroughly.

Consumer Financial Literacy: Not to let the banking sector, regulators or the government off the hook, but there needs to be a discussion on addressing consumer behaviour, which is driven off some basic financial literacy. While central bankers expect that low interest rates stimulate increased consumption and decreased savings, nobody probably foresaw the circumstance which the mortgage crisis illuminated – not only were retail borrowers not saving enough, they were often borrowing over and over again against the same asset, based on the belief that property values would continue to appreciate as they always did. It is striking that five years into the crisis, there still is not a private or public body (of scale) looking into addressing the asymmetry of knowledge between the industry and the average consumer.

Incentives for the Financial Sector: It has become fashionable these days to focus on the top 1% of the finance sector and blame them for the woes of the wider public. Particularly in Europe, the lynching of bankers and their bonuses has been a relentless spectacle over the past few years, resulting in frankly impossible-to-implement policies such as caps on banker bonuses. However, it is time to investigate the broader context in which these actors played out their lives and ask whether anybody else in their situation would have done any better. Bankers, traders, hedge fund managers, everyone acted as per the theory of self-interest so well-espoused in economic theories, the broader result of which is supposed to be efficient markets and correct prices. For all the upside that professionals in this sector are exposed to, perhaps incentives and disincentives could be set so they feel the pain of the shareholders too. Such measures need to come not just in the form of increased regulation and reporting requirements (Basel III, ICBC etc), but also a fundamental shift in the industry’s culture and values, as reflected in its recruitment, training and progression.


January 25, 2013

I was recently travelling in Southern Africa. I was primarily there to attend a component of our MBA programme, called the Global Business Experiences. My article on this week in Johannesburg is published here on The Independent’s MBA Blog – the word limit gave me little room to gush over the whole experience but I hope to come back to the blog to elaborate further on the trip and my experience in the region!