x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Central Bank regulations prove to be thorny issue

The Central Bank has found that recent regulatory drives have meant, as much, change for itself as for the commercial lenders it oversees.

The Central Bank has found recent regulatory drives have meant as much change for itself as for the commercial lenders it oversees.

In February last year, the Central Bank announced new retail banking rules which, among other things, limited the amount individuals could borrow to 20 times their monthly salary and capped fees on personal lending.

Commercial lenders' lobbying pushed the implementation date back to May and also led to the establishment of a dedicated working group for bringing in consumer finance reforms.

But an unexpected backlash from bank customers soon had the Central Bank seeking to hire a head of consumer protection.

Since then, the Central Bank has published new circulars including liquidity regulations intended to put the UAE on track to implement the Basel III banking reforms and has announced the creation of a discount window to allow banks to borrow during times of financial stress.

Both of these measures have been broadly supported by banks.

But lenders' opposition to the limits to government exposures has been far more testy than last year's consumer lending regulations.

The most likely explanation for the backlash was that the Central Bank had miscalculated how difficult they would be to implement for lenders that rely on government business, said Naveed Ahmed, a financial analyst at Global Investment House.

"The retail banking regulations were easy to implement … It wasn't a limit that banks were supposed to meet," he said. "From top to bottom, [the new rules] will have a very deep impact."

The six-month implementation period "might have been an unrealistic timeframe" from the banks' point of view, Mr Ahmed added.

ghunter@thenational.ae