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Central Bank seeks chief to run its complaints department

The Central Bank is set to appoint a head of consumer protection as it seeks to ramp up its response to retail banking complaints.

The Central Bank is hiring a head of consumer protection as the regulator seeks to strengthen its response to a rising tide of banking complaints.

The successful candidate will head a unit set up by the regulator in December to handle consumer complaints about banks and other financial institutions.

"We are in the process of hiring," said a Central Bank official, who declined to be named. "We have five staff at the moment who are fulfilling the requirements of the unit."

Unlike the UK and other developed countries, the UAE does not have a separate banking or financial watchdog to respond to consumer complaints. Instead, the Central Bank fulfils that role.

The regulator has received a growing number of complaints since it imposed a raft of tough retail banking rules last May. Intended to end a free-for-all in consumer banking, the measures included capping the amount banks can lend to customers at 20 times their salary and setting the period of loan repayment at 48 months.

But some customers have complained that the rules have curtailed their ability to take out loans and extend overdrafts.

Others are unhappy with the overall level of service they receive from their bank.

Some consumers have also criticised the Central Bank for its handling of their complaints. The Arabic newspaper Emarat Al Youm last month cited several banking customers accusing the regulator of not doing enough to resolve their complaints.

"We have received [more complaints] and this was anticipated since the new rules were enforced," said the Central Bank official.

"People would start complaining about Central Bank regulations and people were complaining as they couldn't get new loans, but the intention is to stop them getting into debt."

A key role of the head of the consumer protection unit will be to act as an intermediary between dissatisfied customers and their banks.

"Sometimes it's just a misunderstanding between banks and customers," said the official. "We do have many successful cases and have received thank you notes from those people."

According to the job advertisement for the head of the unit, whoever is chosen will be responsible for "supervising as well as guiding banking institutions to improve consumer confidence".

They will also be responsible for "writing regulations on customer activity".

The appointment comes as the Central Bank prepares a further overhaul of its retail banking regulations over the next two months. Credit cards, mortgages and personal loans are all under discussion for further regulation, after an attempt last year to curb excessive lending fees was heavily resisted by the banking sector.

Modelled in part on consumer protection departments within other central banks, the unit was created following a restructuring of the regulator's operations that ended last year.

 

tarnold@thenational.ae

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