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.
Telephone banking in Dubai is about as frustrating as it gets
Ethics: UAE banks need to improve their customer service.
By Michael Jabri-Pickett
Sun 19 Mar 2017 08:36 AM

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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