Saturday, March 12, 2011

don't bank on it

Such was the rage induced in the normally mild mannered Sand Warlock by the recent conduct of his bank, I felt I ought to give an insight into what it's like having our generous Emirati benefactors looking after your cash.

Earlier this week, he received a call from his bank stating that the security of his account had been compromised so they would be sending him a new bank card.  "Really, how did that happen?" he asked, knowing he is not the sort of 10watt bulb who would willingly present his bank details to a bloke wearing a stripy jumper, mask and carrying a bag marked "SWAG".

"You were in Sri Lanka," came the reply.

"Well, yes, that was two months ago."  That seemed to be reason enough for the bank to assume someone had been or was about to start stealing money from him.  We had heard previously that credit card fraud was rife in Sri Lanka so having ascertained no actual money had gone missing, he resigned himself to playing the delightful courier tag team game, first experienced when the Sand Warlock arrived in Dubai, in which the bank calls with 25 minutes notice to say they are delivering your card to your home address and when you state you are not going to be there because you are at work, they tell you that therefore you will have to wait another six weeks.  And no, they can't give you any advance warning as to when they'll be coming.

The next day, he received another call saying his "current account was over its limit".

"That's a bit odd," he mused, "I checked the account last night and there was several thousand dirhams in it."

So, we abandoned our flat hunting attempts concerned that thievery was indeed afoot and trotted down to the Dubai Mall branch of his bank.  Bless him he has tried with all his might to set up internet banking but it seems for some reason that you can only do so here should you have the answer to the life, universe and everything.  Therefore, the only way to get anything done involving a bank is to get face to face with a teller, put your sweaty hands round their neck and shake them until they agree to do something rather than sit and quietly utter the word "Hlas"  (no English equivalent but if they were French they would be saying "boff").

To the customer service counter we wended our way.  Oh and by the way, most UAE banks, mobile phone shops etc operate the old fashioned ticketing system where you take a ticket with a number on it and sit patiently until your number comes up.  This seems to be because the Emiratis and many other nationalities in this fine country have seemingly never heard the word "queue" or even the phrase "waiting your turn". 

No cigar, it's to do with credit, so you have to join a different queue.  "No, it's not," I said naively.  "I know it's not, it's to do with potential  bank fraud." 

"I know," quoth he, "but that's what they said so I have to join another queue.  Trust me, it's what I have to do."

"Rightio," I said, and busied myself buying bottles of cooled Evian with which to wet flannels to sooth the Warlock's already steaming brow. 

So, we waited, and we waited, while the bloke the Warlock needed to speak to chatted amiably on the phone for a good half an hour ignoring my best beloved who had taken to standing three feet away from said bank worker fixing him with a ferocious stare. 

And we waited a bit more.  Then finally, after various other customers tried to push in front of the Warlock while he was talking to the bank worker, we found out the message was wrong, it was not the current account, the credit card.  Yes, the credit card.  They want you to pay off a chunk now.

This is something you may have ascertained already regarding credit in the UAE.  Such is the suspicion of debt here, particularly since the economy went Bristols up, that even if you have already paid the minimum payment on your card, they require you to pay another chunk on top of that.  The amount they want you to pay seems to be entirely random and the penalties for not doing so are harsh.

So, the Warlock cheerfully puttered (well, angrily stormed) off to the queue for the bank teller to make a payment on his account.  He took his third ticket and began to queue and of course, when he got to the front of the queue various people tried to push in front of him once again. 

The logic of the trying to push in defeats me even though it is something I've experienced myself at the post office.  Thankfully both post office clerks and bank tellers are made of stern stuff and they state: "I am dealing with this person first," while the pusher states: "But the queue's really long and I'm in a hurry," which the tellers and clerks imperiously ignore.  I think it must be some kind of Dubai ritual of which I have failed to grasp the significance.  Presumably the pushers in assume that people like the Sand Warlock and I sit in half-hour queues several times over purely for our enjoyment and amusement.  I suppose queueing is one of those uniquely British things that we all excel at and complain that other nations are incapable of doing.  So perhaps they spot an English person and assume they are doing us a favour by helping to give us lots more lovely waiting in line time.

Having handed over some Dirhams, we left for a restorative lunch and returned to our flat hunting after a hefty one hour, 45 minutes in the bank.

Then that evening another telephone call informed us that the Warlock needed to pay another 500AED to his account.  "Could someone not have mentioned the actual amount you needed to pay?" questioned I, again, somewhat naively. 

"No," he fumed, "it doesn't really work like that."   

Despite the fact that banks here are open until 9 or 10pm, we concluded it was best not to go back the same day as there was a strong possibility of the Warlock committing murder should we return for more delightful sitting and watching our hair turn grey.

The little trooper went back the next day to pay the money and despite this still received calls stating his account was in deficit from an automated voice for a good 48 hours afterwards.  A call to the call centre ascertained that the messages were incorrect and would stop soon, but not before we had started to have thoughts that the Dubai Police would be on our doorsteps to get angry about unpaid debts within a few hours. 

Thankfully they weren't. 

It's probably one of the best ways of showing what day to day life can be like here.  The theory of everything we bank on at home is there: Credit cards, internet banking systems, money paid or transferred at the touch of a button all for the convenience of the customers, but the reality is somewhat different.

The advantage of banking here is that if you pay money in, be it a cheque, transfer or cash, it's there instantly unlike the spurious "payments may take three to five working days to process" nonsense that we put up with in the UK.  So I suppose it's not all bad.    

1 comment:

  1. I'd just like to share that Google's currency exchange rate converter has proven very helpful when I read your blog. :)