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Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National

Tie up your loose ends - or else they'll tie you up

On the money: You're at the airport, all is well, you're at passport control, your mind is preoccupied with your trip, then you're brought back to reality with a thud: there's a problem, a case has been lodged against you with the police by a bank.

You're at the airport, all is well, you're at passport control, your mind is preoccupied with your trip, then, you're brought back to reality with a thud: there's a problem, a case has been lodged against you with the police by a bank.

You cannot travel today, or any day in fact, until this matter is resolved.

Confused and angry perhaps, with a whirlwind of thoughts racing through your mind, you try to make sense of it. Police case? Debt? Bank? What? Well, you have all the time in the world to figure it out, because it's not as if you're going anywhere.

And so, you begin to unravel the "facts" as they are presented to you.

You go to the bank in question, and a dialogue starts. In one particular case I know of, it went something like this:

Former Customer (FC): But I closed the credit card account you're referring to five years ago. I cleared the card, I owe nothing.

Banker (B):Do you have any record of this? Emails? This bank took over the bank that had issued you the credit card you're talking about. We've been going over the old records. In fact, we've been trying to get in touch for years. (They were calling a number no longer used by the former customer.)

FC: I ran up credit card debt back then and negotiated a last payment. The banker I spoke to agreed and we settled the matter, I made my payment and the account was closed. All our agreements were verbal, face to face and over the phone. I don't have emails.

B: I believe you. The banker you spoke to probably used your payment to hit his target, and most likely moved to a different bank a week later. (This was actually said.)

B (cont'd): Your problem is that we found a cheque for Dh14,000 you had written out, and this is the basis of the police case against you: failing to honour the cheque. You have no letter from the bank we took over stating that the account had been closed, and all debts cleared, and so the cheque you wrote still stands.

FC:But that was a guarantee requested by the bank in order for me to get a credit card. It was the only way a self-employed person like me could get a credit card. I assumed when I was told the account was closed, everything was sorted.

B:I believe you. But you don't have any correspondence from the bank saying the credit card account had been terminated. We presented this cheque, and it bounced.

And on it goes. What would you do? The choices are limited: you can either dispute the claim, go to court, and effectively be a prisoner of sorts till it's concluded, because your passport is now in the possession of the police. Court proceedings could take the longest time, and you, being self-employed, cannot get on with the business of focusing on your work and bringing in income, and all that stress will damage you. Plus it's effectively your word and assumptions against a system and a bank going ahead with business as normal.

Or you could simply pay the money (Dh14,000 - ouch) and call it the cost of learning a lesson.

We all make mistakes. The question is: do we learn from them?

The lesson here is: don't leave any banking or financial loose ends blowing around in the wind. They'll surely weave their way back and choke you.

The problem is, we don't even realise we have loose ends, not until they're stifling our ability to make decisions, get on a plane, or simply get on with life.

Another example, that is in fact all too personal: I bought shares through a bank locally, and the bank has had new owners twice since then. Every time I wanted to access accounts or carry out any transaction it has meant a flurry of activity while the bank "discovers" what paperwork needs to be signed (reams of it), only for me to find out that, again, when I want to carry out another transaction, a new piece of paper needs signing.

My current situation is as follows: having decided to offload, I put in a request to sell my shares three weeks ago (note - it takes less than two minutes in the US once the broker is informed). This delay has cost me. There was a significant difference between the price shares were selling at when I put through the order (I had also sent a screenshot of live trades to help), and the price quoted to me by the time the bank and the broker got their act together. I complained to the bank which is now conducting an "investigation", leading to more delays, and the shares are still sitting there, unsold. It's not much money I hasten to add, which is contributing to the fascinatingly dismissive attitude the bank has displayed towards me - I'm so "not worth it" - that the team leader of the relevant division in the bank instructed me at one point to call the toll free number to chase my issue.

And so, I was ecstatic when I read that the UAE Banks Federation is developing a Code of Conduct for the country's banking industry.

I do hope they delve into people's real, daily experiences and not just look at sweeping statistics. The thing is, banks are such a vital, unavoidable part of our daily lives here, we can't even rent an apartment without a bank account. But to be held hostage to institutions that so blatantly disregard the price we pay for their lack of internal systems that work in a reasonable, timely manner, has far reaching ramifications for each of us and is unacceptable. We are not just a number. We are people, who have responsibilities, aspirations, payments to make and lives to live.

In the meantime, while the Banks Federation delves, I really do recommend you look at every single financial relationship, obligation or liability you have. Do you have any loose ends? Tie them up, and quickly.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website www.cashy.me. You can contact her at nima@cashy.me

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