Telephone banking in Dubai is about as frustrating as it gets

Comment: Financial institutions say they are investing in customer service, but they don’t act like it.

Ethics: UAE banks need to improve their customer service.

Ethics: UAE banks need to improve their customer service.

I am a confident person who is pretty good at reading a situation and knowing when to speak up or shut up. But I lose all self control and I resort to an immature stereotype of the worst kind when I am forced to deal with a UAE bank’s customer service department over the phone.

All of my financial commitments are tied to a local bank: automatic debit for Apple, Kindle and Netflix; credit card; savings account; overseas transactions.

So when I read my caller ID moments after the barista returned my card for the AED15 triple shot ice shaken espresso from Starbucks (something I am pretty sure I have ordered for the past 4,800 days I have lived in the UAE), my better self begins to recede.

I answer the call (because I know if I don’t I will lose all spending privileges until I give in and call the bank back) with as much tentative politeness as I can muster. It is a chore at this moment to be nice. I know it, and I’m sure the person on the other end can hear it in my voice.

I am then walked through five security confirmation questions, and I can think of nothing except this quote from (which looks specifically at internet banking, but could, in this instance, apply to telephone banking): “In reality, there are few if any good security questions”.

It starts with the caller asking me for my phone number (simple, but the level of frustration begins to escalate because 1. how can this be a legitimate security question and 2. this isn’t a legitimate security question); next is my PO Box number (fair enough); then my name (when I say “it’s a hyphenated surname” things start to get a little dicey). This is as far as I get. Three questions. I went in to have a coffee and relax. Instead, I am trying – and so badly failing – to remain polite.

In the US, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council has issued guidelines for internet banking authentication. It would be nice if the UAE could develop a similar document for telephone banking.

There should be greater care on the part of banks to make customers believe the bank’s telephone representative is not just reading a script. Banks should not pay lip service to what all financial institutions promise.

A 2013 survey carried out by iProspect and Arabian Business found that more than half of the UAE population wants to switch to a better bank after suffering poor customer service. The research also highlighted that in UAE retail banking, there is a distinct disparity between what is promised and what is delivered.

According to, a financial comparison site in the UAE, 60 percent of customers would not recommend their bank; while less than 50 percent of UAE banks have customer service as a principal focus, according to an Ethos Consultancy’s Annual Bank Benchmarking Index survey.

Let’s face it: we all need a bank. The problem is the banks know we need them – and they act like it.


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Posted by: Diya Pardasani

Yes right, banking services here are not up to levels of developed countries let alone telephone services, but great deal of effort is visible in improving over all customer experience by many banks, especially local. It's a competition driven market. There are certain concerns of account hacking (happened with me in 2010 with one of the local banks) and I understand that its not possible to eliminate those issues entirely. However, with continuous customer and tele-staff education the impact can be minimized.
Moreover, we all know we cannot survive without banking services. Our constant feedback will only make them aware of their scope for improvement and help us get better services.

Posted by: Sal

Customer services in GCC and India is non existent. I have accounts in India in two leading banks and I am suffering from not being able to bank for last six months! Some services are worst than that in Saudi. Demand supply ratio is so wide in India they don't care about a customer in any industry, be it telecom, bank or retail. In GCC and places like UAE customer services are manned by Asians, mostly south Asian who are used to this type of behavior. Unless management commitment is strong every customer is taken for ride. I don't think this is going to change in the near future. My two cents.

Posted by: Telcoguy

Just today. We requested a change in signatories in 3 linked bank accounts, it has taken more than 6 weeks but ok.
Today we receive the letters confirming the change plus one letter claiming that they have closed on of the accounts effective Feb 28th... an account where we were paid 48 hours ago (March 20th)

Oh well.

Posted by: MT3

I previously worked in the banking industry in a large number of countries (albeit in capital markets not retail but I was familiar with the retail operations wherever I went). I have also obviously been a customer in those places too. Service standards in this region are among the worst I have experienced. The single biggest issue is that everywhere else I worked staff understood it was a privilege to have customers whereas here most staff genuinely believe that the customer is privileged to be allowed to bank with them; that in some way customers are lucky that this greatly esteemed organization has lowered itself to bother with their meagre affairs. Change that attitude and you'll see an overnight improvement but good luck because it is really heavily engrained.

Posted by: WHJ

Let me see if I get this straight. The whole telephone banking industry in Dubai is frustrating because a single staff member in one bank asked too many security questions?! about painting with a broad brush.

Posted by: Brucy Bonus

serves him right for using a card for a AED 15 payment.

Posted by: Telcoguy

what an insightful thought.
The whole point of the card is avoiding to get cash. It makes my life simpler, it makes the merchant life simpler, and it makes my PA life much simper when she need to reimburse expenses.

Maybe this region has the banking services it deserves after all.

Posted by: One Guy

So hang on, the last article posted by this Author went to great lengths to tell us how good everything is here in Dubai, he in fact calls anyone out that says otherwise, if I remember correctly.

Now we come to find that local telephone banking is about as frustrating as it gets, oh the surprise of it all!

Credibility rapidly diminishing.

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