SMEs in UAE vent fury over HSBC closures

Small business community annoyed over bank's decision to cut back on SME business
By Daniel Shane
Sun 30 Jun 2013 09:24 AM

SMEs have vented their frustration over HSBC’s decision to cut back on some of its banking services in the UAE.

Following a two-year internal review, the lender said in a letter that some of its small business customers had 60 days to find a new bank as it sought to refocus its operations on larger, international businesses.

“International business remains a key competitive strength that lies at the heart of our strategy, and we now aim to devote more resources to those customers we are best placed to help,” the letter read.

The decision has been met with fury by some of HSBC’s customers, with many claiming that they will struggle to secure replacement banking services.

“The world's local bank feels more like the world's worst bank. Sad that after six years of banking with them, all they could was sent me a registered mail,” said one Arabian Business reader who is a customer of HSBC.

Another added: “Does it not occur to HSBC that any ongoing business has cheques in the market, letters of credit that are current, accounts with suppliers and clients for funds payment... none of which terminate in 60 days?”

One customer told Arabian Business that they had formally registered a complaint with the UAE’s Central Bank over the forced closure of their account.

In recent months HSBC has looked to shed less profitable segments of its business. In March the bank said it closed the accounts of some customers in the Middle East and North Africa with links to sanction-targeted nations including Syria and Iran, as it sought to reduce the heavy compliance costs associated with these accounts.

This in itself followed on from a $1.9bn fine in December after a report by US lawmakers accused HSBC of lax controls relating to cash coming from Mexican drug cartels and countries under US sanctions, such as Iran and Syria.

HSBC also announced an unspecified number of redundancies in the region last year, where it currently employs about 12,000 people.

A spokesperson for HSBC told Arabian Business that the bank remained committed to SMEs in the UAE. In 2012, the lender said it had almost fully deployed an AED1bn ($270m) fund for small businesses in the Gulf state. Eighty percent of this fund was awarded to SMEs that trade internationally, which is where the bank is increasingly seeking to refocus its operations in the UAE.

HSBC declined to give specifics on what criteria were being used in deciding on account closures, or how many customers were affected by the review.

"HSBC has been conducting a review of all its businesses since May 2011, to meet its goal of streamlining the business and improving the return on capital. As part of this, the bank is reviewing its portfolio of small business customers in the UAE," a statement from the bank read.

"The goal of the review is to identify SMEs that operate across borders, or intend to in the near future. Because international business is at the heart of HSBC's strategy, these are the customers whose needs it is best-placed to address," it said.

"By concentrating resources on this segment the Bank's aim is to give its customers greater support, including access to a relationship manager. Not only will they benefit from a personalised service and expertise in cross-border commerce, but it will help HSBC ensure that it meets its increasingly rigorous compliance and risk standards," it added.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.