Playing Shares – A Traditional Thai Alternative to Credit Cards

We’re getting close to that end-of-year season where “buy before you think” is
the name of the game as we run the gauntlet with our credit cards to see who
will run out of steam first. It wasn’t that long ago in Thailand when credit
cards weren’t as abundant and those end-of-month cues at Aeon and Easy-buy
weren’t even a twinkling in the retailer’s eye. This month, I thought I’d talk
to you about a fun topic that could be affecting you without you even realising
it and probably involves many of the Thais that you know as we speak! It’s a
practise that many Thais would prefer you not know about (and could even be
considered as illegal in this great country), but has become an integral part
of Thai Culture. Understanding the art of ‘Playing Shares’ or การเล่นแชร์ (Kan
len chae) might really help some despairing Farang’s get some bearing on what’s
happened to their friends, employees, family, customers and most importantly….
their MONEY. This information is solely for educational purposes and getting
involved in any such share syndicates done so at the reader’s own risk.

What is Playing Shares (การเล่นแชร์)?

Playing Shares is something that is done throughout every level of society in
Thailand – Whether you’re a Starbucks sipping office worker looking to buy a
new sofa, puffy haired Hi-So mother needing the latest Louis Vuitton suitcase
collection or a sun-drenched farmer in need of a new mobile phone, there’s sure
to be a syndicate that suits you near you! Why do people play shares? The most
obvious reason is that it provides well needed cash-flow where many other
institutions wouldn’t dream of giving you credit. At the same time it offers an
opportunity to the capitalist in all of us of making a quick buck on the side.
The longer you resist, the more profit you stand to make. The group of people
playing within one share syndicate is called the วงแชร์ – or **
‘Wong Share’** (Share Circle). Who the members are is extremely
important. If our share syndicate was to run for 10 months, it
means that we need to have 10 people (ลูกแชร์ – Luuk Share).
Each of the people in the group should be from the same income bracket. That
means that a syndicate with 10 people all paying 2,000
a month will have a base kitty of 20,000 baht per month.
There are some share syndicates that play up to 20 players paying over 100,000
baht per month per person – that’s over 2 million baht in the kitty each month
for 20 months. The CEO of a certain company that I know of is running a 24
person 5,000 baht per share syndicate. That means 120,000 baht in the kitty
each month for 2 years. There needs to be a fairly equal amount of ‘risk’ and
‘need’ for the money pool to generate the excitement and participation in the
syndicate. Within the Wong Share, there will be one person nominated as the **
เท้าแชร์** (Thao Share – ‘foot’). This person is
responsible for keeping track of all the administration involved – collecting
the money from all the luuk share each month, dealing the money out to the
winner each month and receiving bids at the beginning of each month. The ‘Thao’
should have significant authority and preferably some degree of ‘fear
amongst the Luuk Share. The Thao should also be someone
who the other people in the group can trust with the money and know that they
are not going to run away with the money. Each month, the Thao of the group
will collect bids from each of the Luuk Share. This could be done as a communal
event – a good excuse to all go out to dinner together, it could be done via
email, post or hand delivery. What’s the bid? It’s how much interest (ดอกเบี้ย
– dok bia
) that the person is willing to pay each an every month (งวด
– nguat – instalment
) from now until the end of the last month
(inclusive) of the syndicate in return for taking the kitty for that month. The
kitty is made up of the ‘base’ share amount mandatory by each person each month

  • the interest of each person owing interest for that month. The act of making
    the winning bid and taking the kitty for that month is called เปียแชร์ –
    Pia Share
    . The person who can resist ‘Pia’ing’ the Share until the
    end will make the most in interest. I have included a sample share tracking
    sheet below. This is just one of many possible variations of a share syndicate. *

Sample Share Tracking Sheet

  **Monthly Share (Baht)** ฿ 2,000.00                    
  **Players** 10                    
  **Monthly Share Pool** ฿20,000.00                    
  ** ** **Months**  
  Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total Interest Owing
1 Piyada M (Foot เท้าแชร์) ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0 ฿0
2 Somchai R           ฿400 ฿400 ฿400 ฿400 ฿400 ฿2,000
3 Kittipong S   ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿520 ฿4,680
4 Darani W                   ฿100 ฿100
5 Waruni V                 ฿150 ฿150 ฿300
6 Kongkrit A       ฿410 ฿410 ฿410 ฿410 ฿410 ฿410 ฿410 ฿2,870
7 Sarinya P         ฿650 ฿650 ฿650 ฿650 ฿650 ฿650 ฿3,900
8 Cherdsak N               ฿390 ฿390 ฿390 ฿1,170
9 Charoon T     ฿480 ฿480 ฿480 ฿480 ฿480 ฿480 ฿480 ฿480 ฿3,840
10 Malee S             ฿1,000 ฿1,000 ฿1,000 ฿1,000 ฿4,000
  Total Interest ฿0 ฿520 ฿1,000 ฿1,410 ฿2,060 ฿2,460 ฿3,460 ฿3,850 ฿4,000 ฿4,100 ฿22,860
  Total Receivable ฿20,000 ฿20,520 ฿21,000 ฿21,410 ฿22,060 ฿22,460 ฿23,460 ฿23,850 ฿24,000 ฿24,100 ฿222,860
- Here you can see that Piyada is the ‘Thao’ or ‘foot’. She gets to take the kitty first. The upside – she doesn’t have to pay any interest. The downside – she won’t be collecting any interest from anyone. - Malee in Week 7 commits to an extraordinarily high interest payment. Perhaps someone has fallen ill and Malee had to pay the hospital bill, the kids school fees might have come due or even worse – debt collectors from some other scheme have come for their money and paying them with this money was her last way out before she loses a limb!

What’s all the fuss about?

After helping hundreds of organisations in Thailand resolve human serious
resources issues – arriving late, not arriving at all, resignations, mass
resignations, internal employee disputes and even losing customers, one
recurring culprit seems to be share syndicates that have gone awry. Sometimes
people have run a syndicate within the office, or have been part of a syndicate
run by a ‘friend of a friend’ of someone in the office. It is not uncommon for
the ‘foot’ to collect all the money the first month and run away with it –
going overseas, changing their name, never to be seen again. Sometimes it’s one
of the Luuk Share that realises that they can’t make the payments that they’ve
committed to in their desperation to get the kitty one month, so they cut off
contact with the known world, often change their name, mobile phone number and
sometimes even move house. Sometimes share disputes can even get violent
leading to severe injury and/or loss of life. It is because of this that I
would advise extreme caution before getting yourself into any share syndicate.
You need to know the players, know who the ‘foot’ is, look into their past
history, their attitude toward credit etc. In the past, if someone found
themselves in a difficult situation like this, they might have thought “It’s
ok, it’s not my money” – then decided to run away, change their name, trust
that their friends would have น้ำใจ nam jai and forgive the debt out of เกร็งใจ
(kreng jai). This attitude does not translate well across to our modern system
of banking and credit.

One particular friend, after maxing out 5 credit cards and having a court order
garnishing minimum payments from her monthly salary over the next 10 years,
received a call from a friend who worked at a reputable bank in Bangkok. Her
friend said “Hey P’Nok (not real name), all the computers have gone down where
they check your credit history. That means that if you apply for a credit card
this week, all they’ll do is look at your salary and pay slips – with your
salary, you should have no problem getting credit”. Within that week my friend
applied for 5 credit cards and was approved for all of them. Within 2 months,
they were all maxed out again and now she has had to return to court as the
creditors have caught up with her antics. Despite her relatively high salary,
she’s still left with nothing at the end of the month. Despite the
proliferation of easy credit from banks and other institutions AND being
illegal, playing shares is still alive and well in the land of smiles. If
you’re an employer, always keep this option in the back of your mind when you
notice strange behaviour happening in the office, if you’re looking at lending
money, understand the mindset of the person that you’re getting into a credit
agreement with and after reading all of this you’re still considering getting
into a share syndicate – GOOD LUCK!



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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj