By Neville Lahiru
Around the world, networking and telecommunications are constantly evolving as providers compete to claim the top spot in offering the best, most viable and affordable product, from facilitating a seamless networking experience, to ensuring easy accessibility with affordable pricing.
But to what extent do providers stick to this commitment of really giving the best of the best, especially in the prepaid industry?
A recent topic of discussion amongst prepaid users in Sri Lanka is the strategic segregation and pricing of reloads, with the revelation of deliberately leading customers into a vicious ‘reload trap’.
In a country that exceeds 29 million mobile connections and over 17 million broadband subscriptions (TRC Statistics, March 2021), mobile reloads are portrayed as offering so much more convenience to the average user, and many are convinced that they are getting the best deal out of their provider, through the plethora of data and voice bundles they can choose from.
Many local providers are offering monetary, data and other stipulated reload packages at attractive prices- but that’s all they really are, attractively priced. Looking closely at what’s going on, customers are essentially spending on average, 10-12 different prepaid packages to get access to different online applications and top-ups for voice which are available in smaller denominations (i.e. Rs.20, Rs.50, etc).
This trend of compartmentalising voice and data offerings is the prime cause for customers constantly topping up their accounts, as most customers’ purchasing behaviour is used to the current prepaid system. This trend has resulted in over three million reload cards being purchased a day, totalling a colossal 90 million a month.
Additionally, with the recent lockdowns around the country, it was clear that providers have also taken advantage by segregating their data offerings for work-from-home and online learning, another ‘best deal’ for customers to add to their monthly reload budget.
As well as the constant nag to check on their existing data and credit packages, and whether they need to get more reloads, the financial strain on customers through this pricing model is also irrefutably high to most, but instead of challenging the norms, they go with the flow in purchasing what is available to them in the current prepaid market. This clearly needs to change.
The basic notion of utilising a prepaid connection is to control and ease the financial and mental burden of customers by allowing them to purchase only what they need, when they need it. While the proposed freedom of choice is appealing, in reality, it is far from it. What needs to be understood by most is that the facility to stay connected and consume data is no longer a privilege or luxury- it is an essential.
Seeing the ‘essential’ aspect being incorporated as well as emphasis being placed on the need to facilitate users to stay connected with a solid network coverage for an affordable price, Airtel’s ‘4G Freedom Packs’ seem to be a step in the right direction for the sustainability of consumers, and the transparency of the telecommunications industry.
Airtel’s ‘4G Freedom Packs’ are designed from the ground up to offer four single market-disrupting rates which promise to cover the data, voice and SMS needs for an entire month, as per the user’s requirement.
With most of Sri Lanka’s prepaid customers who are used to the pre-existing reload offerings being unfamiliar with Airtel’s ‘4G Freedom Packs’, the perks of activating such a package far outweigh the concerns- if any. This refined product, while refreshing the prepaid industry, essentially cuts 10-12 recharges for one simple recharge which is valid for a whole month.
Customers can witness significant savings and a worry-free experience as well, with the elimination of the need for frequent and cumbersome reloads.
For example, the Rs.999 Freedom Pack, which is the largest package, offers customers 60GB of anytime data, which is divided among a 2GB/day quota to ensure that customers will have a substantial amount of daily data for the entire validity of the package.
Around the same price point, other providers offer only a fraction of the data and voice offerings, sometimes with a totally separate package which has to be purchased for talk time.
Airtel to Airtel calls are also unlimited throughout the validity of these packages and free minutes are allocated for Airtel to other networks, and if these minutes run out, customers will only be charged 50 cents per minute, the lowest rate in the industry, accounting only for the interconnect fee when connecting to another network.
Senior management at Airtel have also pro-actively expressed their interest to make the ‘voice’ call facility free-of-charge, with the idea that the basic need to stay connected through voice calls is essential for all people and it’s not something that they should be charged for. It’s an encouraging sight to see a telecom giant address this facility, with hopes of a definitive advantage to the end-consumer.
With the penetration of a newly structured and practically bundled package by Airtel to the local prepaid industry, we’re likely to see other providers follow suit eventually. Often, the influence of a never-before-experienced product in the telecom industry is felt by other providers who will compete to deliver a product with similar or better value. Thus, offering a customer-centric edge in telecommunication advancements.
The point is, it’s important that customers take a closer look at the services they pay for instead of taking it all at face value. Are you paying more for less data? Are there any speed or capacity limitations? Is your internet coverage even worth it? These are all questions worth asking before subscribing to any service.
Eravur Fabric Park could transform sustainable textile manufacture in Sri Lanka
Since the first announcement in June 2020, expectations have been high on the potential of the Eravur Fabric Processing Park to catalyze a new era for Sri Lankan textile and apparel manufacture.
Supported through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka, working in close collaboration with the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the apex body of the apparel industry in Sri Lanka, the vision for Eravur is beginning to take shape.
Of the allocated approx 300 acres of land, fifty have been allocated for the Park’s maiden investment of US$ 35 million to establish a state-of-the-art fabric mill. Negotiations are also underway with two international companies to infuse mega investments for the remainder. The Park is estimated to attract a cumulative investment of US$ 300 million. The zone is also seeking further investments towards Dyeing, Washing, Knitting, Weaving, and other associated and ancillary activities.
Cabinet approval for the Zone’s classification under the Strategic Development Projects Act was also secured, enabling the extension of tax and other relief and incentives to investors.
Rapid progress towards vertical integration
“We would like to see the first company commence commercial operations in the next 6 months to 1 year,” stated BOI Chairman Sanjaya Mohottala. “We have been very aggressive on timelines because of the clear consensus on the nationally significant value that the Park can generate. At present, all land has been demarcated, and water and electricity supply are being finalized. In excess of half the commercial land has been allocated or reserved, and we are seeing great demand. There is clear recognition locally and internationally as to the immediate potential. If necessary, we are able to expand the zone even further.”
Leveraged in support of Sri Lanka’s highly developed apparel manufacturing sector, which has steadily benchmarked itself on global standards for ethical, sustainable production and high levels of technical and technological expertise, Eravur’s promoters also see the project as an opportunity for Sri Lankan-made apparel to take global leadership on sustainability in its most holistic sense.
Mohottala explained further that the most immediate benefit from the Park’s establishment will be in the cost advantages and enhanced economies of scale gained through capacity expansion and vertical integration of domestic supply chains.
Currently, Sri Lanka has approximately 300 apparel manufacturing facilities across the country. By contrast, it has only 7 textile and raw material factories capable of producing fabric for export, and for conversion into garments for export. At its peak, Sri Lanka imported over 250,000 MT of fabric both for export-oriented apparel manufacturing and for local consumption in 2019, at a cost of US $ 2.2 billion.
In the context of unprecedented disruptions across global supply chains in particular and persistent commodity and currency volatility, increased availability of high quality raw materials will enable an immediate and drastic reduction in raw material costs, while also conserving foreign currency.
Increased domestic production of textiles also translates to a higher percentage of domestic value. If that threshold increases from its current 52% to 65%, it qualifies for a larger proportion of Sri Lankan exports for zero-duty benefits under GSP Plus1.
The culmination of a pioneering national journey in sustainability
The economic argument in favour of investing in Eravur is bolstered by its potential to also be the most sustainable venture of its kind in the entire Asian region, with local stakeholders having already committed to establishing extensive renewable energy facilities, water recycling facilities, science-based targets, and circular business models.
At a macro-level, increased local production capacity will contribute significantly to all these targets by reducing the end-to-end length of Sri Lanka’s apparel supply chains. This in turn enables tighter backward integration and lower carbon emissions.
Taking a cue from the Sri Lankan textile and apparel’s industry’s outstanding achievements on environmental sustainability to date, the Zone is being designed from the ground-up to facilitate and incentivize sustainability in every facet of its operations. In terms of fabric processing, the main focus is on wastewater treatment.
Mohottala continues: “Sri Lanka’s environmental standards for industries are quite stringent, especially compared with regional competitors. A key feature of the Zone will be its central wastewater treatment facility with a sea outfall, which will require a high standard of treatment. Fortunately, we already have strong expertise available locally, with many of Sri Lanka’s textile producers having established facilities on par with global best practices on wastewater treatment. We have used this to our advantage by calling in the local industry’s technical experts and drawing on their pioneering experiences to optimize wastewater treatment protocols at Eravur.”
Adding that this will be one of many positive attributes all stakeholders downstream of the textiles produced at the Zone can lay claim to, Mohottala says, “With the greater localization of production, we also gain improved oversight and control over environmental standards within the Zone. This also enables greater transparency, traceability, and accountability across the supply chain, which in turn will confer preferable competitive advantages to Sri Lankan apparel exporters. In addition, this will empower brands and retailers to make clear and credible claims to genuine sustainable sourcing.”
An end-to-end opportunity
Another significant advantage for Eravur is that it is purpose-built with the most advanced environmentally friendly technology available. This will also promote efficiency in energy and water consumption, as well as additional infrastructure for recycling and recovery of water used in production, for which the BOI aims to provide investors with additional incentives.
Notably, Eravur also enjoys a high level of solar irradiance and consistent high-wind conditions, making any manufacturing facility established in the area, ideally suited for solar and potentially, wind turbine power generation.
“Augmentation of the Zone’s energy requirements with plentiful renewable energy will enable cost savings on the energy-intensive aspects of wastewater recycling. Given the consistent annual reduction in the cost of solar and wind energy, the conditions at Eravur are another unique attraction for investment into the Zone, and potentially enables the entire supply chain to utilize global incentivizes around responsible and sustainable production,” Mohottala said.
In addition to the wastewater treatment protocols, the Zone will also include a sludge treatment facility, with further trials already underway for responsible disposal. These include tests using micro-algae to breakdown sludge, as well as utilizing sludge to fuel furnaces and as bricks with a bio-mat mask.
The final and potentially most vital contribution which the Eravur Fabric Processing Zone is the empowering impact it will have on the lives of Sri Lankans in Batticaloa. At present, the district has an estimated population of 621,887, of which, an estimated 60,912 individuals are below the poverty line. As at 2019 – prior to the pandemic – unemployment in the region stood at 6.4%
“With the development of the Zone, we will be able to create thousands of stable, well-paying direct and in-direct jobs. This could prove to be one of the most transformative developments to take place in the Eastern Province in recent history,” Mohottala concluded.
‘The insurance industry continues to drive the message of safety and optimism’
The Insurance Association of Sri Lanka has been working overtime to ensure the smooth operation of the insurance industry with the objective of spreading awareness and inculcating knowledge on the importance of insurance. Similar to multiple other industries, in global and local contexts, the insurance industry has experienced its share of fluctuations with the onset of the pandemic and displayed its resilience to the resultant challenges.
Dinesh Yogaratnam, the Chairman of the Marketing and Sales Forum (MSF) of the Insurance Association of Sri Lanka (IASL), shared his perspectives on the marketing of insurance during these tumultuous times. He expounded on the ways in which the MSF of the IASL adapted to overcome the hurdles of the circumstances that arose during 2021, while promoting insurance penetration.
“The Insurance Association of Sri Lanka (IASL) is the industry body comprised of all the Life and General Insurance companies that operate in the market. The Marketing and Sales Forum (MSF) is a subcommittee thereof and as the name implies, addresses matters pertaining to the sales and marketing of insurance products and services. Further, the MSF also carries out various initiatives to increase insurance penetration in the country via education and knowledge-sharing. One of the major efforts of the MSF this year is to help the public better appreciate what insurance is. In addition, helping them understand how, when, and why they should purchase a policy, so that they may provide themselves, their loved ones, their assets, as well as their enterprises with the financial protection required, are key objectives.
“The MSF has resorted to using mainly digital and print media for its insurance promotion activities. Employing a two-pronged approach, whereby, the MSF under the IASL banner is carrying various pieces of communications on social media channels and is working with the country’s print houses and their digital arms to disseminate information and educate the public, the individual companies too have been encouraged to promote their products and services, as well as to carry knowledge building pieces of communication on their own platforms. Through this, we are witnessing a heightened level of activity and dialogue across social media channels.”
Giving further insight into the current insurance marketing landscape prevalent in the country, Dinesh Yogaratnam stated, “The insurance industry has grown in 2021 by approximately 14% in terms of Gross Written Premium as of the end of the 1st quarter; while long term insurance has seen significant growth, general insurance has contacted very marginally. As an industry, we are confident that the growth trajectory we have witnessed in the first half will continue to the end of the year.
“With the pandemic impeding movement, insurers had to very quickly realign themselves to front the customer both for new business acquisition as well as for premium collection, equipping themselves with various digital assets and recalibrating their sales teams to embrace a new hybrid model of interacting with and engaging the customer. From a servicing perspective; industry players have infused many digital interventions as part of their customer touchpoint strategy so that customers are able to seamlessly interact with them and obtain whatever services they require, regarding their policies. On the customer’s side, the pandemic has made people appreciate the need for a meaningful health insurance plan and they have also begun to appreciate the need for long-term insurance. The Sri Lankan insurance industry has always stood by society not only during times of normalcy but more so during times of widespread calamity and dire need. In this respect, the industry has come forward to pay COVID-related claims, irrespective of the fact that pandemics are excluded as part of insurance contracts.”
SL’s Kithul-based treacle and jaggery for Gulf markets
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
A local company is now in the process of venturing into the lucrative export Gulf market through its flagship product, Kithul based treacle and jaggery. Initially, the company will target the UAE market and afterwards other Arab countries.
“Both our products were introduced to the local market as niche products one year ago and are already exporting to Australia and several other countries, chairman, C-lon Kitchen & Healthy Foods, Rohan Wijeweera told The Island Financial Review.
‘The Gulf region is a lucrative market and there is a big demand for pure Kithul treacle among Arabs, which could be harnessed if we supply quality products, he said.
Wijeweera adds: “Now we have secured an order from a Gulf online sales company to market these products under the tag, ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ under the “Deegayush” brand and initially two containers will be exported to Dubai most probably next month. After that we will be targeting Canada and the UK markets.
“Kithul treacle and jaggery are made from the sap harvested directly by tappers living in border areas of the Sinharaja forest in the Rathnapura district. We have come to a forward buying agreement with around 250 tappers in this region, whom we also support by paying a premium price and also by some other CSR initiatives.
“The sap is then brought to our processing plant in Piliyandala where we process it. Kithul treacle is known to contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants, organic acids which are bioactive, amino acids that have many functions, beta carotenes that produce vitamin A and ascorbic acid or vitamin C that improves immunity.
“Thus, it is known to yield as many health benefits as Kithul jaggery. It prevents arthritis, improves complexion, alleviates constipation, aids weight loss and combats blood sugar. For nearly the same reasons as Kithul jaggery, Kithul treacle or syrup is witnessing massive demand locally as well as internationally.
“Today the demand for pure and natural Kithul products far outstrips the supply and due to lack of sap many local manufactures add sugar and other artificial sweeteners to the products thereby diluting the health benefits of it. However, we ensure not to add artificial ingredients and due to this our products are sold at a premium price from leading super markets under the brand name, “Deegayush”.
“Behind the scarcity of Kithul products there are several reasons, such as the shortage of tappable jaggery palms, fewer people being engaged in this industry due to the inherent risks and the profession not being accepted among the youth.
“Also less numbers are involved in jaggery palm planting since the tree takes around 7 years to mature before being fit for tapping.
“I am also looking at making Kithul treacle and jaggery from sugarcane, once again, targeting the export market as well.
“We are also manufacturing several immune boosters from locally sourced material. We next plan to introduce a curd to the market. More details could be obtained from, email@example.com”
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