Dubai: From intimidation, foul language and aggressive collection to cold calls and refusing reasonable requests, banks keep playing dirty with customers. They behave as if they are doing a favour on people by allowing them to keep their money with the bank, when it should be the other way around, given that banks earn their daily bread from those very customers’ money.
In the past the UAE monetary authorities had clamped down on unreasonably high fees and service charges. Last month, the UAE Banks Federation said that it is working out a ‘code of conduct’ for the UAE’s banking sector to “build a professional and transparent environment to serve customers’ interests and rights”.
XPRESS went around listening to complaints to draw up a laundry list of common gripes, which could help forge a well-rounded code. The dirty dozen tactics banks indulge in…
1. NO NO-LIABILITY LETTER
On June 30, Asian expat Fely visited the branch of her bank at a mall to apply for a no-liability letter. A staff flatly denied her request. “He [staff] did not offer an explanation. I told him it is my right… if it is their way of stopping me from moving to another bank, it’s a serious breach of my rights.” A week later she got a call informing her that no no-liability letter will be issued. Instead, they offered her another loan.
2. SUDDEN ACCOUNT CLOSURE
Karl, a British CEO, was shocked after receiving 60-day grace period to close his business account with a bank. The closure notice came despite his company’s annual turnover of about Dh4 million. A bank official confirmed the closure notice. “We have never done anything to warrant our account cancelled. We have been told out of the blue that we are no longer qualified to be one of their customers. When I called them I was told: ‘Don’t worry, you are not the only company to get this letter’.”
Many are familiar with such calls: a bank staff or someone from an outsourced telemarketer (sometimes from outside the UAE) calls up customers of other banks with fantastic credit card/loan offers. They get contacts through a reference from unnamed ‘friends’ or ‘databases’. The UAE has banned cold calls.
Hari, an Indian, said he received two credit cards from the same bank when one card expired. He cut up one, leaving the other active for online or emergency purchases, but forgot to deactivate the cut-up card. Unknown to him, the bank raised his credit limit. Though his credit standing is good, his record shows he’s got bigger liabilities than he originally thought, owing to higher limits on his two cards.
Some banks have taken to naming and shaming loan defaulters. Maneesh said agents sent by a bank came to his office four times and even called his manager. Samir, an Asian expatriate, pleaded with a recovery agent who came to his office and threatened to rat on him to his HR manager. “He wore a dish-dasha (traditional Emirati dress) though he wasn’t Emirati. Gourav said he was harassed, blackmailed and threatened by his bank. “Apart from rude and threatening calls to me, my mother, colleagues and employer were made aware of my liability and a criminal case filed against me over a bounced cheque,” he said.
Firaz borrowed Dh20,000 in 2010, but took less since insurance and processing charges were deducted upfront. His monthly payments brought the principal down to Dh16,000, but he stopped paying due to financial difficulties. Initially, a collection agent demanded an upfront settlement of Dh16,000. As Firaz was unable to pay immediately, the lender demanded Dh60,000 in 2011. Recently, Firaz offered to pay Dh16,000, the original amount demanded by the agent, but the bank demanded Dh31,000.
Mounir, an Indian executive, owes Dh25,000 on his credit card when he lost his job in 2009. He went home to India and came back to the UAE in 2011 after landing a new job. But for two months, his bank has been calling him saying he owes Dh150,000. Mounir had agreed with a collection officer to pay the default amount (Dh25,000) but the bank is now forcing him to pay Dh60,000 as the last negotiated amount. “They are using an unsigned cheque I used as security deposit against me.”
Impersonating a police officer when talking to a delinquent customer to effect collection is common. Some credit recovery people also resort to foul language. “A bank collection staff threatened to send or bring a CID officer to collect money from me,” said Mohammad, an Indian, who had outstanding debts of Dh75,000 on five credit cards. “Her (collector’s) words made me feel like a criminal. I told her I’m not running away, though I’m broke and jobless. This just made her go ballistic. She said it’s not her problem that I’m broke.”
9. COLLECTING WHAT’S BEEN PAID
Cecil, a Filipina, had settled her liabilities with a bank in August 2009, amounting to Dh45,000. She was forced to pay when the bank deposited her security cheque in August 2009 even though it was due in January 2010. To clear her name, she settled the full amount. A year later, she received calls from the bank demanding payment for the same. The calls regarding ‘unsettled liabilities’, continued through 2011 till July 2013, despite her faxing a copy of clearance letters in Arabic issued by the bank from as early as 2010. She had to send the same documents and account of calls all over again. She demanded an apology from the bank, but so far she hadn’t got one.
Joshua had never missed payment on a Dh90,000 loan taken five years ago. Due to a family tragedy this year, he needed to borrow Dh40,000, less than half the amount he borrowed in 2008. “I’ve been a customer of the same bank since 2001,” A bank agent took a fresh security cheque for the new loan, but the application was rejected. The reason: his company was “de-listed”. “My spotless credit history is of no value whatsoever today.”
11. UNSOLICITED CREDIT CARD
Jun recently received a call from a courier service about the delivery of a credit card in his name. He had not applied for a fresh one and had paid off the outstanding on the old card, which he already cut up. “But I’m afraid someone might get hold of my card and I may end up getting sued for purchases I did not make.”
12. NON-CLOSURE OF ACCOUNT
Sandy, 33, was running around since 2010 to close his debit card with a bank, as it kept on accumulating maintenance fee of Dh175 a month. The Asian said he first asked for closure in September 2010, when he lost his job. An staff told him it would be closed automatically. He has since found another job, but his salary is credited to another account. Despite writing to the bank twice, his account remained open and charges ballooned to Dh4,800 as of June 2013.