x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Central Bank ready to introduce UAE's direct debit system

Bounced cheques: All of the UAE's banks and finance companies are to adopt the service, allowing borrowers to fund repayments from their bank account when instalments are due.

The Central Bank has been in the midst of trials of its direct debit system to address the 1.4 million cheques that failed at the point of use during 2012. Ryan Carter / The National
The Central Bank has been in the midst of trials of its direct debit system to address the 1.4 million cheques that failed at the point of use during 2012. Ryan Carter / The National

The Central Bank plans to introduce the direct debit payment system to the UAE by June 15.

But bankers warned that the UAE must press ahead with plans for a credit bureau if the direct debits are to fully replace security cheques carrying criminal liabilities for bounced payments.

All of the UAE's banks and finance companies are to adopt the service, which allows borrowers to fund repayments from their bank account when instalments are due.

"The facility is designed to eliminate the need to sign several post-dated cheques for instalments upon obtaining a loan," said the Central Bank in a statement. "The benefit for account holders is that they can plan their expenses more efficiently."

The system, which covers mortgages, personal loans and credit cards, is part of a federal government strategy that involves "adopting technology to enhance electronic systems and improve services to banking customers in the UAE", the statement added.

"Given our focus as a regulator we believe it is necessary to have a prudent, stronger and stable economy. Our current intention is to establish a more convenient retail banking system that will create more stable and progressive economic development," the Central Bank said.

The National reported in November that the Central Bank was in the midst of trials of its direct debit system to address the 1.4 million cheques that failed at the point of use during last year, representing one in every five used.

The invalid payments were worth Dh46.8 billion (US$12.74bn), according to the Central Bank's data, and although the data do not differentiate between cheques that fail for technical reasons and those that bounce, banks and ATM vendors say there are no major issues with the UAE's cheque-clearing technology.

Bouncing a cheque is a criminal offence, although a presidential decree in October immunised UAE nationals from serving jail time for writing a bad cheque. Since then, more than 1,000 Emirati defaulters have been released from prison.

The implementation of direct debits would be a step in the right direction towards an end of cheque use, but the creation of a credit bureau is still needed, said Ala'a Eraiqat, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, at the bank's annual general meeting last week.

"It's an operational change, and it definitely brings more efficiency. But will it replace the use of cheques when you sign a loan? Not yet."

The new system would reduce risks in the processing of payments for loan and mortgage instalments, but would not alter the need for better assessment of credit risk, Mr Eraiqat added.

"You can have a much smoother execution," he said.

"However, the credit bureau will be the real mark in the evolution of lending."

At present, banks use cheques as a method of securing payments as they have no means of assessing a borrower's creditworthiness.

A consensus has emerged during the past year that the UAE's reliance on criminal penalties to ensure discipline among borrowers is in need of overhaul.

The UAE Banks Federation has been discussing how to proceed with decriminalisation of bounced cheques with the Central Bank, although it has warned that an alternative should be found to ensure that banks are still willing to lend.

Bankers say they expect the long-delayed Federal Credit Bureau to become operational at some point during the third quarter of this year.

 

ghunter@thenational.ae