Speak Asia, the survey-driven website, in the news for taking a hefty entry fee from people with the promise of it being a very good investment, appears to be retreating under the scrutiny.
It charges Rs 11,000 as an enrollment fee, with a promise that this money can be more than recouped by responding to their surveys, each response getting you money.
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, their legal adviser said here on Friday.
“The main product of the company is the internet magazine. People paying money are buying the subscription of the magazine. I agree some people have been misguided. I will recommend the company to give these people an exit option,” Ashok M Saraogi, the adviser, said at a press conference.
“Even I don’t want people to lose money. If they are a genuine company, they will go by my advice. I am sure they will agree to my recommendations.”
He expected the company to come up with these announcements within a week. According to him, the fee-based surveys, which the company has been marketing as a lucrative work-from-home opportunity, are only additional benefits offered to the subscribers of the magazine. “There is nothing illegal. There is no restriction on an internet business from operating out of a foreign country,” he said.
Speak Asia is not registered with any regulatory authority of India. Critics say the company has been smartly structured to exploit the gaps in various financial sector regulations in the country. There are at least seven financial sector regulators in the country at the last count, but none of these appears to have any jurisdiction over subscriptions received by an online media company, which offers survey as an additional benefit, say legal experts.
What could put Speak Asia in trouble is the apparent intention. Said Saurabh Agarwal, director, Kennis Group, a financial consultancy. “If you are running an online survey business, there is no problem with that. But when you link it with payment of a fee, which is not small, the intention does not seem good”.
“Typically, in these schemes, they will stop paying on one pretext or the other. Having paid the money upfront, the subscriber is left with little choice,” he added.
Neither the company website nor its advertisement campaigns projects Speak Asia’s interests in online publishing. All along, it has marketed itself as an “earn from home” online survey company.
The company’s financial transactions involve a series of transfers through a complex web of holding companies and subsidiaries, according to experts. While money has been collected in the name of Speak Asia Singapore Pte Ltd, payments received by the company’s customers are from other group companies like Haren Ventures, etc.
The company’s website does not give any detail about its associate companies or subsidiaries. Saraogi said disclosures to this effect will be made on the website soon. “We would have made fund transfers to some associate companies. These cannot be termed as siphoning. These are transactions which every company does for accounting reasons,” he said.
Saraogi said the company operated through accounts with ICICI Bank and ING Vysya Bank in India.
Investor forums have asked agencies like Reserve Bank of India, Securities and Exchange Board of India and other regulatory agencies to inquire into the remittances made by the company, including the role of banks.