One in five bank customers across the Emirates say they intend to change their bank this year, with poor customer service cited as the main reason, a survey found.
In a poll of 4,000 bank customers across the Gulf, Ernst & Young found the single biggest reason for switching banks was the failure of a specific service, named by 45 per cent of respondents, followed by slow transactions, cited by 24 per cent. One in five said that access to Sharia-compliant services was a factor in switching loyalties.
Dirar Abu Daqa, a Palestinian dentist who lives in Abu Dhabi, is among those who have been unhappy with bank customer service. He says he was charged a Dh25 monthly fee on an account that he thought did not attract any charges. It took him three visits over a year to close the account.
The study reveals that a quarter of Gulf residents plan to switch their primary bank account, more than twice the level for Europe or Asia.
Keeping customers satisfied is crucial for banks as deposits are needed to maintain financial strength during times of crisis.
Gordon Bennie, the MENA financial services industry leader at Ernst & Young, said banks "are starting to realise that improving customer experience is an effective way to increase financial performance and build sustainable banking franchises".
Competition in retail banking has been increasing in the UAE, with Emirates NBD expected to hire about 300 staff in its retail division, and banks such as Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Union National Bank and RAKBANK opening new branches in the past month.
But for bank customers, quality of service is more important than quantity.
Michael Allen, a teacher from San Francisco, said the service at his bank had been "horrible". Mislaid paperwork, difficulties withdrawing cash and branch opening hours were among his complaints.
"It's a never-ending story of banking incompetence," said Meredith Tuqan, a public relations executive from Australia. Poor online security and unresponsive staff were among her complaints. "Back home Ö everybody had the same level of product knowledge. It's really not the case over here."
The only thing keeping her from closing her account was the perception that all the banks were equally bad, she said.