Let’s be fair
Or: The story they begged me to write, Part Two. Are all retail banks in the UAE as bad as each other?
March 15, 2011 2:08 by Samuel Potter
A couple of stories this week have provoked a big reaction. One was the Kipp blog pointing out A A Gill’s shamefully lazy article about Dubai for Vanity Fair. Many expats are apparently upset at being called “white mercenary workers who come here for tax-free salaries to do managerial and entrepreneurial jobs, parasites and sycophants for cash.” And who can blame them, especially when it occurs in such a pathetic effort at journalism?
The second story was about HSBC customers, who have complained to me by the bus load about the bank’s levels of service. The comments, tweets, retweets (and everything else I don’t understand) have completely caught me by surprise. It seems there are a lot of unhappy HSBC customers out there, desperate to vent their frustrations. I’m glad that Kipp has provided that outlet, but at the same time I’m concerned that we’re singling out one bank amongst many bad ones.
The first thing to say is that we are of course talking about retail banking – Kipp is in no position to comment on corporate banking. The second thing is to admit that we have indeed singled out HSBC, when it could almost as easily have been a number of other institutions. Don’t believe me? A quick Google search turns up this Facebook group, in which Citi Bank, Abn Amro, Emirates Bank, National Bank of Dubai, Emirates Islamic Bank are all suggested as the worst bank in the country. In fact, a couple of those banks get more mentions than HSBC does.
Back in October, we featured a guest article from Cashy.me, a personal finance website that had sponsored some research into retail banking in the UAE. According to the findings, a fifth of customers in the country are considering terminating their relationship with their main bank. The site said a litany of customer service disappointments lay behind the decision to shift, including a lack of importance given to customers (said 42 percent or respondents), poor response to customer complaints (40 percent) and a lot of hidden charges and fees (37 percent).
Nima Abu-Wardeh, founder of cashy, said at the time: “Banks in the UAE are failing consumers. There is a catalogue of complaints against the companies that provide our current accounts, credit cards and savings products. Consumers are becoming more financially astute and more demanding in what they expect.”
This is, frankly, a staggering level of dissatisfaction. But the interesting thing is that it’s so great, that if you move to another bank at random there’s a not inconsiderable chance you’ll be just as unhappy with the new bank, too. The fact is, barely anyone in this country seems to have a good word to say about their bank. It could simply be that HSBC is bigger than the others, making it more likely I’ll meet a disgruntled customer, hence yesterday’s piece.
There is clearly a big problem with the whole local retail banking industry – not just one or two operators. Something is very wrong – the question is: what can be done to fix it?