Archive for March, 2016

Remittances fall; just a blip or the new normal?

While the fall in global oil prices helped us almost halve the cost of fuel import costs in 2015 it has also been a key reason behind the slowdown in remittances growth. Workers’ remittances in 2015 contracted 0.5% compared to 2014; this is the first time we  saw a contraction in remittances inflows since 2001 (-0.4% YOY). The main culprit is weak oil prices.


It is a known fact that foreign remittances are a source of income for thousands of families in Sri Lanka. On top of that, remittances also have a significant macroeconomic value; it is the second largest source of inflows to the Current Account in our Balance of Payments (BoP) after export earnings (goods exports). While export earnings constitute 47% of the inflows to the Current Account, remittances inflows make up 29% of it. This means remittances play a big role in reducing the Current Account deficit (CAD) and a significant slowdown in remittances inflows can have adverse effects on our external balances.

More than 50% of our remittances inflows come from the Middle East (2014 – Middle East: 54%, European Union: 18%) and within the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Qatar accounts for more than half of our migrant workers (Qatar: 28%, Saudi Arabia: 27%). The economies of these countries depend a lot on revenue generated from oil exports. For instance, oil forms more than 80% of Saudi Arabia’s export revenues and about 90% of its government revenue comes from oil. Persistently low oil prices have put a lot of strain on economic activities of these countries. Saudi Arabia recorded a budget deficit for the first time in several years in 2014 (SAR 65bn) and Qatar is expected to record its first budget deficit this year in a decade (estimated at 4.8% of GDP).

According to the IMF, most migrant workers in countries of the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC – a political and economic union of six Middle Eastern countries consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) are employed in non-oil sectors such as construction, wholesale and retail trade and other services. As such non-oil sector performance is the key determinant of remittances outflows of these countries. However, as IMF highlights, the oil industry is a significant driver of the non-oil sector performance.

“In the GCC, non-oil GDP is a key determinant of remittance outflows, while oil GDP is a significant driver of non-oil GDP. Based on historical trends, a 1 percent decline in real non-oil GDP in the GCC is estimated to reduce remittance outflows by ½–¾ percent annually.” – How the Oil Price Decline Might Affect Remittances from GCC, IMF

This is apparent in Saudi Arabia’s case where non-oil GDP has been seeing a slowdown in growth in line with the fall in oil prices – in 3rd quarter of 2015 it slowed down to 3.3% YOY, compared to 6.1% YOY recorded in same period in 2014.

This has led to a general decrease in remittances outflows from oil-producing nations and in turn, countries like Philippines and India have also experienced a slowdown in their remittances inflows growth in recent times.

According to IMF estimates, many of the oil producing countries in the Middle East which are our main sources of remittances require oil prices to be at least above USD 50/barrel to keep their fiscal finances intact. Tightening fiscal finances and falling foreign reserves in these countries have even led to talks of a possible tax on remittances outflows (no confirmations on this as yet).

As such, it will be difficult to see a rebound in remittances inflows if oil prices continue to remain depressed. However, the upside is that according to historical trends remittances tend to rebound quickly in line with a rebound in oil prices. The short-term trajectory of inflows would largely depend on the direction of oil prices among other factors.

The Akrasia Effect: Why We Don’t Follow Through on What We Set Out to Do

Akrasia. If that sounds like Greek to you, well, that’s because it is.

In short, Akrasia is the act of procrastinating against your better judgement and this week, we’re going to show you why people procrastinate:


Human beings have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is so timeless, in fact, that ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behavior: Akrasia. Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control.

One explanation for why akrasia rules our lives and procrastination pulls us in has to do with a behavioral economics term called “time inconsistency.” Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

When you make plans for yourself — like setting a goal to lose weight or write a book or learn a language — you are actually making plans for your future self. When the time comes to make a decision, however, you are no longer making a choice for your future self. Now you are in the moment and your brain is thinking about the present self. And researchers have discovered that the present self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff.

Understanding how to resist the pull of instant gratification—at least occasionally, if not consistently—can help you bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.


Next week we’ll show you how you can beat procrastination and meet your goals!

We got this from the veritable productivity guru, James Clear, you can visit his webpage for more like this and beyond.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

The Rule to Guide all rules

Rules are generally accepted as a necessary evil, created to maintain order in the chaotic world we live in. This applies to the workplace, as much as anywhere else. However, in a workplace, these rules don’t always need to be written into a book that every employee simply must refer. At Frontier we don’t believe in setting up a rule book for two main reasons;

  1. You don’t need policies for everything. For example: at Netflix, a company whose culture deck gave us a lot of ideas says “there is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked”. Many rules are generally known and accepted; they don’t need re-stating.
  2. Simply because someone made a mistake years ago doesn’t mean we need a policy. We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.

Thus, we can reduce the number of rules to be published in an employee manual to the “golden rule” or the 3-word policy of Use Good Judgement. This can be considered the “rule to guide all rules”. It is expected that people working at Frontier would use their common sense and good judgement rather than having to refer to a list of rules every now and then.

In the event that someone does make some bad judgement, our response will depend on whether that mistake is “mission critical” or not;

  • If it is a mission critical issue or likely that many others might make the same mistake: We will talk about it so everyone understands and it could go into a process book (a small guide we use to support decision making in complex situations) to avoid any future confusion over the matter.
  • If not:
    • At times we will let it slide (to see if it repeats, in order to assess if it is bad judgement or carelessness)
    • At times it will be dealt with quickly, mostly individually.

Broadly, making “bad judgements” impacts perceptions towards one’s judgment/maturity. This is symmetric to Frontier’s relationships with its clients. What our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, says and does matters, in the context of how clients perceive Frontier. This is implicit in all firms; even those with big rule books still rely on judgment. It’s about demonstrating maturity and professionalism.

However, we do have one key “rule” at Frontier – No bullying and harassment. Which brings us to how we look at conduct at work.

Conduct at Work

Unacceptable behavior at Work is viewed in two main aspects:

First, discrimination based on stereotypes. Everybody has stereotypes, we agree, but we must not act on them, especially if it unfairly discriminates a few. What is important is that one must have the maturity to respect other people and accept them for what they are as individuals. Be it religious, sexual orientation, gender, other beliefs or lifestyle choices which can lead to people being categorized in a group (such as people who frequent night-clubs or even those that prefer to stay at home). Acts of discrimination or bullying must be avoided and are not judged by the perspectives of the majority but by that of the individual.

The other aspect is general nastiness, gossiping, backstabbing etc. Again, a lot of this also depends on context. Everything is subjective and a remark in a certain context may cause hurt, while in another context it could be joke that we can all laugh about. It could even have a different impact on different people.

The general idea is that if someone feels they are being harassed or treated badly by another team member (as outlined above), it is something that matters and should be dealt with in some way. This can be done either among the parties in question, with other peers intervening or by another senior member or Amal becoming involved. No one should feel that work is a place that they get bullied, harassed or discriminated against.

Moving beyond Productivity and Presence to be more Deliberate

Last week, we discussed moving beyond productivity to be more present. This week, we’ll show you how to move even beyond presence, to be more deliberate:


Instead of judging my days by either how productive or present I’ve been, I’ve started thinking in terms of something else: how deliberate I’ve been. By “deliberateness,” I mean feeling like I’m making very conscious decisions about how I spend my time.

I think that focusing on being deliberate actually helps resolve a lot of the tension between presence and productivity. Being deliberate about how we spend our time is essential for being productive in the meaningful sense: for effectively working towards things that are important to you.

But being deliberate doesn’t mean “getting things done” for the sake of it, or always being goal-focused. Sometimes being deliberate means consciously choosing to simply experience life without worrying about whether you’re “getting anywhere.” What does this mean doing in practice? A few things I’ve found particularly helpful for using my time deliberately:

  1. Making plans

A relatively simple thing that worked wonders for my productivity was sitting down at the beginning of each day, writing a list of tasks I wanted to achieve, and then actually planning at what time I was going to do each of those things.

  1. Asking the right questions when choosing how to spend your time

When I look back on the past hour, what would make me feel good about how I’ve spent it?

What would the very best version of myself do right now?

  1. Having regularly scheduled “check-in” points during the day

I use these check-in points to step back and ask: How am I feeling? Am I really motivated and engaged in what I’m doing, or am I getting distracted? Am I using my time and focus in the ways I’d like to be?


For a recap on looking beyond just being productive to also being present and deliberate you can visit

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

Productivity vs. Presence

Productivity. It’s a word we all know and something we all strive for, but at what cost?

Today, we’re going to show you how you can not only be more productive, but also gain a sense of presence in your life:


I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years thinking about how to be more productive. Even as I’ve found ways to be more focused and productive, I sometimes still feel this vague sense of dissatisfaction at the end of the day. Often when I’ve been most productive, I feel like the day has passed in a blur. I was productive, sure—but perhaps to the expense of other, equally, if not more important things.

When we care about productivity, we’re always aiming at some future goal, and judging our days by what we’ve managed to produce. Presence, on the other hand, means focusing on the present moment without aiming at anything, and judging our days more in terms of our internal experiences. If we focus too much on productivity at the expense of presence, we might find our lives slipping away in a blur.

I think it’s possible to get a good balance of productivity and presence, but it requires some careful thought about what productivity really means. The reason we really care about productivity—or the reason we should care—is that it allows us to do the things we care about as well and effectively as possible. Productivity isn’t a goal, but rather a tool for better achieving our goals.

To be productive in the most meaningful sense, we need to be able to step back and ask ourselves what goals we really care about, and why. But we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking all our time should be goal-focused—sometimes it’s good to be happy with simply enjoying the experience of whatever we’re doing without worrying about what we might achieve.


Next week we’ll show you how you can move beyond productivity and presence to achieve “deliberateness”!

We got this from the good folks at, you can visit them for more like this and beyond.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

The Global Economy in February

Uncertainty and fear reigned in global market during February, with many investors seeking the cover of safe haven assets. Gold was the main beneficiary, becoming the best performing major asset this year. Lower equity market returns, higher physical demand and lower expectations of further US rate hikes have driven the yellow metal higher. Bullions rally has seen many analysts revise their 2016 forecasts, predicting that gold could rise to as high as $1,400 an ounce. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are not so certain. They believe that as the US economy grows, the Federal Reserve (Fed) will raise rates at least three times, making gold unattractive.

Amid the global uncertainty, calls for a global recession are rising. This comes on the back of lower emerging market growth; even as developed markets continue to grow. Furthermore, some analysts argue that the causes of the equity market rout at the beginning of the year remain unresolved. They say that the current equity rally will not last if the renminbi comes under sustained pressure.

Concerns over the health of the Chinese economy remain, with economists warning that the nation is running out of reserves. Chinese equity markets remained volatile due to negative economic data and movements in the Yuan. However, analysts at Goldman Sachs say that Chinese policymakers have “ample scope” to support growth. Furthermore, in an effort to encourage capital inflows to funds its growing debt pile, policymakers opened up China’s domestic bond market to foreign investors. However, many question the pace at which capital will enter the Chinese market.

Oil prices saw some reprieve last month, as four producers – Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Qatar – agreed to freeze oil output. Many analysts are skeptical that the agreement will lead to significant changes in prices. However, they see the agreement as the beginning of a process that could see modest gains in prices, reaching $50 by the end of the year. Others, such as Citigroup Inc., warn of “Oilmageddon”. They cite a negative feedback loop in the economy, fueled by the resilient US dollar, lower commodity prices, weaker trade and capital flows and declining emerging market growth.


Over the last few weeks, we’ve shown you how some Top CEOs manage their email. Not inspired yet? Well, here are a few more tips you can use to manage your email:


  1. Use some copying etiquette. Unfortunately, there is little discretion used when considering whom to copy. State your intentions to others in the team.  Tell them to take you off the list if no longer interested or necessary.
  1. Use signatures to save time. I often get solicited with column ideas and opportunities. For many of these, I have standard responses. That way I don’t have to spend time retyping text or trying to remember what to say.
  1. Manage communication appropriately. Accept that email is probably your primary form of communication and it deserves focused time. That being said, it’s not always the appropriate choice. If a topic is complex, or tempers are high, a face-to-face or phone call may be the better choice.

Too much email is not the culprit for poor productivity; it’s a symptom of not delegating, poor communication, or trying unsuccessfully to multitask. Either integrate specific, focused emailing periods in your day, or set aside large blocks of time.


And with that, our email management series has come to a close. We hope these will help you come out from under that mountain of mail and become a master of efficiency!

For a recap of these tips, visit

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!