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Who is to blame for the hatred of banks in the UAE?

bank uae

Everyone loves to hate banks in the UAE—but what is at the root of the country-wide hatred for customer service?

December 6, 2012 4:22 by

Say what you will about the residents of the UAE being a cultureless fragmented society with little in common, but the one topic that never fails to inspire heart-felt camaraderie is hatred for the banking system. To say UAE residents love to hate the customer support provided by both international and local banks-is an underestimation. In fact, an article published almost two years ago on Kipp chastising a particular bank, still gets comments from upset customers.


Though the office water cooler used to be the preferred platform for venting, in the recent years social media have provided embittered customers a more comprehensive arena to rant. And while it isn’t rare to see Twitter splattered with bouts of #ihateUAEbanks every now and then, there has been little to no response from the banks themselves.  Which is why, a round table including representatives from the banking industry organised by proved to be a very interesting discussion.


Interestingly only two representatives from the banking world turned up. Frans Jan Burkens, Head of Customer Banking at Commerical Bank of Dubai and Sadia Noori, Brand Experience Manager from Mashreq bank provided insightful commentary to a room full of disillusioned UAE bank veterans including UAE blogger Alex McNabb and Mo Elzubeir, Managing Director of Mediastow.

Despite the massive chip on either party’s shoulders, the conversation that followed was civil and extremely thought provoking. Kipp for one, got to thinking about the source of this old animosity. Where does the frustration with UAE banks come from? Who is to take responsibility for the disillusionment and what is the best way forward. Here are some of the propositions brought forward through the discussion-let us know what you think.


-Customer Service representatives are not empowered: You can scream all you want until you are blue in the face, but if the customer service representative at the other end of the line is powerless to take the necessary actions required to resolve your issue there will be no progress. Without empowering the customer service representatives to take independent steps or to deter from their prescribed scripts, there is little support s/he will be able to provide a customer.


-Diversity and multiculturalism is a barrier: This one is a bit of a cliché, but does the ‘melting pot/salad bowl’ status of the UAE make it difficult for banks to provide a service which will cater to all? Are genuine attempts at problem-solving getting lost in translation? Are UAE banks stretching themselves too thin in an attempt to cater to their varied customers from the UAE, Philippines, India, Lebanon, Egypt, etc?


-Help me to help you? Do you customers need an attitude makeover? Do customers approach call centers with an attitude of weariness that gets in the way of quick and effective problem solving? Do UAE bank customers need to develop better understanding and empathy when dealing with bankers?

-Processes in place not equipped to handle: Are the processes in place out of date? Are there limitations in the systems preventing reps to accurately and quickly help clients? Do banks need a structural overhaul?

-You get what you pay for: Complaints heard by the masses aren’t likely to be shared by the Premium Premier Superduper Gold customer who gets everything but a complimentary cocktail when they approach their bank. Is this skewed perception of who deserves good competent service the reason why banks are unable to provide the everyday account holder with the stellar service their richer counterparts receive? And by that extension would it be a practical idea to offer customers a better support system for an additional charge?

-Inadequate customer service reps: Do customer service representatives lack the sophistication and competence of the customers they are trying to serve. If they say ‘you get what you pay for’ is it not surprising that the minimum wage rep is unable to provide their customers with adequate responses?

So what do you think? Who should bear the brunt of the blame and what is the best way forward?



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  1. Eva on December 6, 2012 7:49 pm

    So CBD had the nerve to show up, even with a chip on their shoulder? They have ruined my perception of UAE local banks until eternity. Staff was clueless, unwilling, chatting on personal mobile phones. Processes and “policies” are close to idiocity with standards so outdated that the rest of the banking world is laughing their behind off. The ultimate stupidity was the demand to sign a blank sheet of paper, because this is “policy” for closing a bank account.
    Similar experiences with ENBD, clueless staff, college graduates being pushed to branch manager position without a day of experience, just because daddy is connected, wrong information over and over again.

    such service in addition to low levels of banking convenience, extremely high fees for literally everything they do, intransparent legal frame works and the habit of freezing accounts without legal grounds – thank you very much, my credit card now is not from any bank, but from the biggest single issuer in the world, and the bulk of my money is overseas.

  2. Arti on December 10, 2012 8:08 am

    Interesting article Eva! Something for sure close to my heart. Banking is an interesting industry as customers feel that bank is using their money to make money and not even giving them good service. On the other side, banks struggle as all retail customers are not profitable.

    My two bits-

    1. KYC – Know your customer just does not mean that you have the correct contact details for your customers. It means proper segmentation and analysis to understand their behavior, financial needs and expectation from a bank. In UAE, this becomes much more difficult with the mix of expat population. Also, the integration of customer data is still a challenge with some banks. How often we get a call from a bank to buy a credit card when we already have a credit card from them? Or a call to get a personal loan for x amount when our current balance with them is maybe 10x.

    2. Powerful HR management – This starts from getting right people on the bus, enabling them by right training, empowering them and having a career path for them. Here one can see gaps in all these 4 areas. Recruitment mostly involves absorbing employees from competition and recruiting for “so called” current market knowledge and not “attitude”. The idea is for employee to churn from day one.

    3. Short term greediness – This is seen in all relationships…. Organization and employees as well as employees and customers. Little time is invested to develop relationships for long term partnership.

    4. Voice of Customer – There is need for a close ended VoC program. This means – When you get a complaint from a customer, you not only try to resolve it but also look if there have been similar complaints in the past. Objective is to look for a pattern and work on the source of that issue rather than closing a one-off case which has been escalated. One this has been done, customers need to be communicated to close the loop. Also, there needs to be a comprehensive system to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback from customers.

    5. Setting customer expectations – Under-commit and over-deliver rather than over-committing and under-delivering. While acquiring a new customer, expectations have to be set right as per the product/service in question. Most organizations fail to do so in the desire to acquire the customer. Being transparent in dealings is healthy for everyone. Educate customer and they would surely appreciate it.

    6. Confusing does not work any longer – It is an old saying…”Confuse the customer if you cannot convince him/her”. This does not work any longer. Customers want clear and upfront details of all charges/fees etc.

    With the regulations, there is very little that banks can do to differentiate. They realize that customer experience is the key. We do hope that customers would see some actions in line with the intent to deliver good service.


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