Speak Asia Online fights back against its critics
Hot on the heels of investigation launched by no less than four government regulators, Speak Asia Online have hit back issuing a press release they believe addresses concerns about the company, and have held a legal conference attempting to distance themselves as being a survey company.
Despite these latest reassurances that Speak Asia is legitimate, the last twenty four hours has seen a flurry of activity against the company, with yet another fifth regulator now throwing their hat into the ring instigating action against Speak Asia.
Shortly after Headlines Today ran their televised expose on Speak Asia, the company held a press conference headed by newly appointed CEO Manoj Kumar.
One of the things to come out of this press conference was a press release outlining the main arguments put forward in defense of Speak Asia at the conference.
Unfortunately for Speak Asia, the press release raises more questions than it answers.
1. Speak Asia clarifies that Speak Asia Online is not a Market Research company, but they are basically Panel Service Providers
This in my opinion is a frank admission as to the true nature of the Speak Asia business model. If Speak Asia aren’t a market research company then all they are really relying on is their members to go out and recruit more panelists, and paying them commissions for doing so.
This is not multi-level marketing and is nothing more than a pyramid scheme.
2. Speak Asia will be… establishing (a) corporate office latest by August 2011.
Yeah, with the way things are going I’ll believe this when I see it.
3. To join Speak Asia it is not necessary to pay. To become a part of this big family all you need to do is give two exams… and if you pass those exams then you can be the (sic) panelist.
This is a flat out lie. Taken from Speak Asia’s ‘register’ page;
Apply for a test and interview for selection as a panelist.
You will be called for a two hour written test on English language, comprehension and general knowledge followed by a personal interview.
If selected, you will be given a subscription code for registration, without any cost. The current test centers are in Mumbai (India) and Singapore.
The examination fee is $60.
You cannot join Speak Asia without sitting these exams and the cost for taking the exam is $60. Ergo you cannot join Speak Asia for free.
5. Certificate of compliance by Singapore Govt. ACRA has been shown on the projector screen to the Media.
Not so much a certification of compliance as a ‘certification of good standing’, the ACRA document does exist and has been published by Speak Asia.
For reference purposes I’ve included a copy below (apologies for the quality, I couldn’t find a higher resolution copy).
Whilst the document does apply to ‘Speak Asia Online’, you’ll note that ACRA only provide the certificate for Speak Asia operating as a ‘web portal‘ and ‘Infocomm Market Research‘.
Market research? Hang on a second… Speak Asia just categorically denied being a market research company in point number one above. So basically Speak Asia are conducting business X whilst claiming compliance and certification for business Y.
You can’t not claim to be a market research company and at the same time brandy about certification for the company being a market research company and claiming it legitimises the entire business.
What a crock!
As for the other points raised in the press release, I haven’t commented on them as they’re either irrelevant or I’ve got no way of confirming or denying them. You can read the entire Speak Asia press release below (click to enlarge);
Following on from the issued press release, Speak Asia have also put up two notices on their website attacking the media and Indian regulators closing in on them.
The first notice is directed squarely at Star News Channel and asserts that their continued coverage and investigation into Speak Asia is nothing more than ‘business rivalry’;
Dear Speak Asians,
I am sure that just like the team and management of Speak Asia you too must have viewed the motivated, misconceived and baseless news item relating to Speak Asia on Star News channel.
We are shocked to see the extremely malicious, derogatory and defamatory allegations levelled therein. The entire story appears to be planted by them due to a business rivalry with Speak Asia.
We would like to reassure all of you that there is no truth or substance in these unfounded allegations and necessary instructions have already been issued to take all possible legal actions against the channel.
Please be assured that we will not allow any organization or individual to impede and hamper the well-earned image, trust and respect of Speakasia and thereby attempt to impede its progress and growth. Such attempts will be met with the most stringent legal action.
As always we stand committed to our objectives, ideals and commitments and assure you of our continuous support.
Apart from the threats of legal action, the communication is extremely light on facts and just throws a whole lot of emotional language around. It’s clear that Speak Asia are attempting to wedge their community into isolation and create an ‘us vs. them’ environment.
Note that none of the concerns raised by Star News Channel (nor myself) have been addressed. Speak Asia simply claim everything is not true (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) and expect their members to swallow it.
The second notice published by Speak Asia relates to the summons by the Bombay High Court of Speak Asia CEO Manoj Kumar and four other officials in relation to ‘public interest litigation‘.
In an attempt to distort what has happened, Speak Asia are now claiming that rather than being summoned by the court, the company instead ‘have ourselves approached the concerned authorities for an audience to clarify our business model and dispel their doubts‘.
This they might have very well indeed done, but as far as I know you don’t approach the courts unless someone has laid down an accusation against you.
Are we seriously expected to believe Speak Asia rocked up to court to just clear the air without and preceding court case against them?
Interestingly enough the first notice is signed off by a ‘Haren (Harendar Kaur)‘ (photo right). Publicly I’d never heard of this name before but she is reported (along with her husband) to own a majority stake in Speak Asia.
This is a departure from the widely held belief that Speak Asia’s Singapore operations are merely a shill front for ‘Podium Ring International’ operating out of the British Virgin Islands.
Whether the Singapore government intends to take any action against Speak Asia remains to be seen.
Meanwhile back in India Speak Asia’s legal counsel held a press conference just yesterday (at which no Speak Asia officials were present), further causing confusion as to how exactly the company sees itself.
In the press release analysed above, Speak Asia claim that they are not a market research company but rather just provide panelists. Speaking yesterday however, Speak Asia lawyer Ashok Saraogi stated that
Speak Asia is selling its magazine over the Internet, which is allowed under the existing law in India and the company is in the publication business.
Publication business? In just a week Speak Asia have gone from calling themselves ‘Asia’s largest survey group‘ to ‘a supplier of panelists‘ to now a ‘publication business‘.
So which one is it?
The answer of course is none of the above. Speak Asia operates on the principle of rewarding members for recruiting others, thus the reality of their model is that it’s nothing more than a recruitment game.
Additionally, as a potential sign of Speak Asia buckling under regulatory and public pressure, Saraogi also announced yesterday that
People who have put in money under the impression that they are paying to participate in lucrative surveys may be allowed an exit option to redeem their investment.
This is in stark contrast to the previous Speak Asia press release which asserted that
The company is taking joining fee as for the subscription of of the e-magazines which is for the period of 52 weeks and co. is not entitled to pay back anything.
No doubt now with a claimed 2 million strong membership the sheer new recruits required to keep Speak Asia afloat is staggering and many
suckers investors aren’t going to be able to find enough people to sign up under them.
Saraogi expects Speak Asia to ‘come up with these announcements within a week‘, on the bulletproof assumption that he is ‘sure they will agree to (his) recommendations‘.
I imagine any such announcement would open the floodgates of anyone wanting out of Speak Asia and would cause massive financial turmoil. You can’t offer instant refunds to two million members and not expect there to be any massive financial fallout.
Finally, as if all the above wasn’t enough drama in a twenty four hour period for the company, India’s Income Tax Department have also launched their own investigation into Speak Asia;
According to highly placed sources in the Income Tax department, India has officially sought details of the company from the Singapore government.
One can only hope that Speak Asia’s books are in order as this latest investigation.
If not, along with all the other investigations, media coverage and analytical scrutiny the company is currently facing, something tells me that a massive shitstorm is about to rain down on Speak Asia and it’s two million strong membership.
God help whoever’s left standing at the end.