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Why I don’t trust banks in the UAE anymore…

Why I don’t trust banks in the UAE anymore…

After years of procrastination, this weekend I closed my first ever bank account. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined. In fact it was just a little too easy: I wasn’t asked for identification, a PIN or any special secret questions. My experience has made me forever distrust financial institutions and here’s why.

April 9, 2012 5:04 by

When I was young and foolish I made the mistake of opening a bank account with a relatively unknown local financial institution. At the time I was in university and only used the bank account to receive my measly monthly student worker salary. And though I had no complaints, I knew it was a terribly basic account from a bank with terribly basic services.

Once I got my first real job, opening a new account was high on my list—but the long lines, strange bank timings (8 to 1, really?) and my sheer laziness made switching very difficult. Every year that passed, I’d tell myself I had to make the move into the ‘future’. All of my friends, by this time, were well enjoying the age of internet banking and mobile banking. With a flick of a finger they could pay their DEWA and Salik bills; with no more than a tap, they were able to send each other money and check their bank balance.  As far as I knew, my basic bank didn’t even have a functioning website.

So after years of whining, this weekend I trooped over to the bank to close my account. My experience has made me forever distrust financial institutions and here’s why.

I walked into the bank, produced my ATM card to the customer representative.

“I want to close my account,” I said.

Instead of asking me for ID, my PIN or a series of ‘secret’ questions, she blinked at me. When I repeated myself, the lady behind the desk pouted: “But, why do you want to leave us? You are not happy here?”

I nervously smiled and muttered something about ‘changing needs’. I hadn’t expected a guilt trip and to change the topic, I told her I just opened an account with another local bank-would it be possible to transfer my cash to this new account. “You should just withdraw. Why do you want to transfer? There is a lot of paper work with transfer and there is a charge of Dh50.” I said it was OK, but she insisted I withdraw all my cash. She was pretty serious about it, so she filled in a form for me and instructed me to take it to the teller.

As I walked to the teller, I felt certain I was finally going to be asked to produce some ID-I mean, I am withdrawing all my funds after all. I hastened to take out my ID from my wallet—but there was no need to. As I reached the teller, she looked down at my form and reproached me: “Account closure? Why? You don’t like us?” Feeling just a little uncomfortable, I just shook my head, my face stretched into a big sheepish grin. She returned my stupid expression and proceeded with processing my request.

With all my savings in a paper envelope, I walked back to ask the customer representative for my bank statements.  She had me sign a series of more forms, and then beckoned for the floor manager to take the records to be stamped. Within three minutes, the floor manager was back—without the statements. He gave me a furtive glance and muttered ‘signature’ to the lady at the desk.

And even though the floor manager was trying his best to be discreet, I thought I knew what the problem was. You see, when I was younger I used to sign my name with three dots for decoration. I have since, dropped the silly dots. I was expecting the lady to throw me an accusatory glance, wave her finger at me and yell “the jig is up, you thieving thief! Show me your ID or I am calling the police right now.”

But instead of that, she begins punching away at her keyboard. Turns out she retrieved my account details on her computer and found a virtual copy of the first form I ever signed with the bank. She shows me this signature and says, “Eva, can you please make your signature look exactly like this one?”

My shock probably was visible, because she repeated herself. “You can look as long as you want to, just make sure it is exactly like this signature,” she very sweetly chirped.
I signed, got my statements and cash in something of a daze. I couldn’t quite believe that all I had to do to close an account was just produce an ATM card. If I was interested in less moral ways of ‘getting some cash on the side’ from an account, all I had to do was snatch an ATM card—I wouldn’t need to have any ID, nor would I have to know the answer to secret questions or a PIN.

I didn’t even have to know what my signature should be like. After all even if I missed a dot or two, I could always rely on the helpful teller to show me exactly what I should sign like. Of course, the only thing I would have to be OK with would be the sadness I’d be causing the teller and customer representative who seem to take account closures too personally. And quite frankly, if I was thus inclined, that would be the least of my worries.

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