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Sat 3 May 2014 12:05 PM

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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

How would you rate your experience with your bank?

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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Mark X 5 years ago

Banks are worst than Thieves. A Thief at least makes his intentions known. Banks are deceptive, like Foxes and Snakes, and steal from you.

twistedtory 5 years ago

Retail banking is notorious for treating customers like hostages, but I have experienced nothing worse than here in Dubai. Out of fear of legal reprisal I will not name the four-lettered global bank that was so awful I got to the point where I understood how someone could go postal. Really. Three years after closing my accounts, they STILL refuse to correct their errors, and these were not complicated products. I am a responsible high-income earner and saver, the kind of customer they should want, yet was treated like garbage.
I switched to EmiratesNBD and have, for the most part, been extremely happy. Have heard good reviews of RAKBank, too. To those scared to change, I would highly recommend it: the bad actors rely on wearing you down so that you don't think you can do any better. Trust me, you can - and should.

turk971 5 years ago

I was treated badly by my previous bank and when I had the chance to switch banks, I did in a hurry. But as pointed out in the article, there was no sense in switching banks as definitely my new bank does fare better than my previous one. Both have practically very pathetic service level and robs you in broad daylight with their unscrupulous charges. Well, I decided to stay put since as correctly pointed out not one bank in UAE can fare better than the other. It is not worth the hassle at all. I just stayed with my bank for my salary and the rest I am sending back home to my bank there who literally had to fight with other banks for my account.

who2 5 years ago

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.

Ulevpri 5 years ago

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.

Tim W 5 years ago

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.

Mikee 5 years ago

Excellent observation...

Anon 5 years ago

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.

MT3 5 years ago

Expecting people speculating on the real estate market to service their debts - whatever next!

Anon 5 years ago

@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.