How would you rate your experience with your bank?

The perception of customer service at UAE retail lenders appears to be getting worse, not better, says Ed Attwood

It will come as a surprise to precisely no-one to find that residents in the UAE don’t, as a whole, have  a very high opinion of their banks. Last week, new research from Capgemini and Efma showed that only 29 percent of those questioned in a Customer Experience Index (CEI) survey had anything positive to say about their dealings with local lenders. The country was sixth from bottom in a ranking of 32 countries, a list that was propped up by Hong Kong and Singapore. Saudi Arabia, the only other Gulf country on the list, fared marginally better, with 32 percent having a favourable opinion of their banks.

The real problem, however, is that customer perception of banks in the UAE appears to be getting worse, not better. Of the 80 ‘touchpoints’ used to make up the rankings, the research suggested that customer experience in the country declined in “nearly all…leading to an overall decrease of 27.5 percent in the share of customers with positive experiences”.  The UAE was second only to Norway in terms of that decline, year on year.

So what’s wrong with the UAE’s retail banks? Quite a lot, if you read the comments section on the Arabian Business website. The gist of them seem to indicate that users are stuck with the banks they have, simply because they don’t believe the competition is any better. According to a survey we ran last year, in conjunction with iProspect, 53 percent of customers in the UAE have considered switching banks, but 36 percent said they have not switched due to a lengthy paperwork process.

Another 24 percent of those interviewed said they believed there was no better option among UAE banks. The study also showed 48 percent of banking consumers quoted poor customer service and high transaction fees as the main catalysts that would make them switch banks.

All this seems to indicate that there is clearly a hefty mismatch between what customers expect from their banks, and what banks think is appropriate customer service.

I’ve never had a problem with my own bank, but then again I’ve never really had a major problem that the bank has had to help me resolve. But earlier this year, I approached the bank to request a small personal loan with a tenor of one year. This was politely refused – not on the basis of my credit history, but due to the bank’s policy of refusing all personal loan requests from employees of the company I work for. I have to say I found this a bit bizarre. Why do I still get cold calls from my own bank offering me new loans and credit card advances? How many companies and individuals are affected in this way? And finally, surely there must be a better way of gauging whether someone is creditworthy?

Well, there is, of course. The Al Etihad Credit Bureau, which is being launched this year, will finally enable lenders to make accurate decisions based on credit scores. There’s only one snag. Just one of the UAE’s banks – the National Bank of Fujairah – has bothered to submit customer credit data in time for the bureau to actually start operations.

While the UAE Banks Federation rushed out a press release late last week to reiterate its members’ support for the concept, it’s still the case that the country’s lenders have known about the credit bureau for roughly four years. This is hardly good PR for the industry. Sadly, the banks’ lack of action just confirms what most UAE customers already know; that lenders in this country have a long, long way to go to win consumer trust.

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Posted by: leo50

after over 30 years in the region, I have yet to find a bank worth speaking to. The last straw for me, was having to advise a well known banking entity, in response to their demands as to where I received the funds I wishes to transfer to another bank, that I was a shareholder of theirs and wished to move the profits I made on their deals with various cartels and human traffickers.
I haven't heard from them since.

Posted by: Anon

My bank ADCB sole financed a project I bought into off plan 4 years ago. The developer stopped building and over the past 4 years they have squeezed me for over 350,000 in interest alone. They won't mediate, they won't understand, they just kept taking. They should never have been allowed to continue holding investors to payment plans on stalled projects, they should have accepted market conditions and at least made it easier for investors not to default, clear legislation in Abu Dhabi is still non existent even investors who have court judgments against this developer still haven't been compensated 2 years later. I have my property at last however many still don't and are still trapped paying this bank.

Posted by: Anon

@telcoguy - Due diligence - Do you mean the wonders of seeing the property crash before it happened, do you charge for your crystal ball by the hour or day?. We all signed contracts we all knew what we were getting into, my point (again) is that banks HERE are allowed to get away with murder and often as was the case with our group would rather cut their noses of to spite their own faces rather than offer terms that would see investors through to a point of consolidation or otherwise. The result was simply that many dropped the ball and left leaving piles of bad debt everywhere. I can't help but think some of you work for banks here given your judgemental stance. The fact that many investors took legal action AND WON should stand for something in this case but perhaps you all know better. I failed ref due diligence because I should have purchased in the UK where this off plan scenario would never of happened...laws you see. But that's my error.

Posted by: Anon

@Mctwaddle(like that as well?) I am fully aware of my contract dear chap, that is not the point here, if you care to read my post again you might just understand that. The bank could have mediated with investors given the harsh reality of the developer continually defaulting on hand over, instead they chose to ignore us and profit from the situation, this led many into default. Losing all of that money is an annoyance, but then luckily I was able to underwrite that risk. As for the meaning of contrite, I understand it only to well to label your first response the very definition, oh let's add smug to your second. As for arguments I need a challenge to best enjoy those, I don't see one here. TTFN.

Posted by: MT TWEE (Like It!)

I'm sorry dear boy but I simply must draw the line at descending into an argument with an individual who doesn't appear to understand the meaning of the word contrite - simply not sporting of me. To atone perhaps I can advise you to hunt down the small print in your mortgage documentation that said the bank guaranteed delivery of the property and assumed all risk relating to your contract with the developer - it might be there, you never know.

Posted by: Anon

@MTtwee.- I wasn't a speculator, I took a mortgage from the outset ok. It always amazes me how self righteous contrite people like you pop up to issue your ever so clever sound bites. There have been investors on this project who have been, are being financially ruined because of this rogue developer a developer that is even immune to court judgement. These investors and myself included were not playing poker, we all put down hard earned money for a property, infact millions, that's money for a property, you know, it's a big thing called a house,which people eventually,....l.i.v.e. in!

If I sign a contract that stipulates my paying for a product by X then I expect after having paid in full to get that property instead I just get charged huge interest on my disbursement for 4 long incredibly stressful years, stress that some are still going through as they will likely never see their properties built. YOU put the 'selective' into ignorant pal.

Posted by: Tim W

There is a bigger issue here that pervades all utility/service providers here just as much as banks. Most people interact with such entities by phone (as HSBC for example seem unable to open a branch more local to most people in Dubai than Jebel Ali). But if you call their 'helplines', you merely get through to a 'Customer Service' person who has no capacity or ability to make any decisions on anything.

The first bank that could put employees on the end of a phone with sufficient delegated authority to resolve issues there and then, rather than being able to do nothing more than route their issue (by email!) to some other department that the aggrieved customer is not permitted to speak to directly, would immediately have a massive USP. I fail to understand why banks cannot put more trust in their employees to be able to think like people, rather than acting like robots.

Posted by: twistedtory

Customer service as a whole is not focused on finding solutions in this part of the world, which is only compounded in banking by your astute observation of no authority or empowerment, not even in the call center supervisors or managers.

Posted by: Ulevpri

The strange part on this is that the Chairman of the UAE Banks Federation is a well known Chairman of another Bank and his own Bank did not yet submitted the customer database and credit history, while he is telling to the newspaper that all banks working close with this newly founded credit bureau? This alone says it all. From my point of view it can't be good to have a Chairman of a Bank being the Chairman of a Bank Federation as well... this is not happening in a country with decent banks laws and this would not be accepted in bulletproof banking system, where Banks can't create their own rules and overturning the rules of a country and their central bank.

Posted by: who2

Only 3 comments.
In the past, any discussion on UAE banks engendered a lot more.

I think it is a classic case of nothing will ever change, so why bother commenting.
Sad, but true.

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