x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Treatment in terminals and early saving

Addressing this week's questions and concerns.

I recently wrote to Marhaba, a passenger service company, to complain about the poor service that my mother received from them when she arrived at the new Emirates Terminal 3 a few weeks ago. What I normally find to be a very good service fell well below their usual standards, and my 66-year-old mother, who was not well at the time, did not receive the full service that I paid for. I did receive a response from Marhaba, but they failed to offer the refund that I had requested, and described rather a different version of events to the one that I related to them. They did offer compensation in the form of a complimentary voucher for their "standard service", but this makes me feel as if we have been brushed off and I feel that they could have offered more. Since they have a monopoly on the service they provide, they don't appear to be too worried about their reputation. - Mrs R.B. Dubai followed this matter up with Marhaba and they are very apologetic. They had a shortage of staff at the new terminal and hence no porters were available. The service booked is one where several passengers are assisted together, but understandably our correspondent and her mother are aggrieved. On this occasion Marhaba has put its hand up to admit the error and has now made a full refund, as well as offering Mrs R.B.'s mother their Diamond service for their next departure at no charge to make up for the previous disappointments. Mrs R.B. is happy, and well done to Marhaba for resolving the situation. You may also like to know that a similar service is offered by a company called Ahlan.

I am a fresh graduate from India working with an EPC company in Abu Dhabi. I am 23-years-old. I have just started to realise the importance of retirement planning. Someone suggested investing in Unit Linked Pension Plans early in life. Do you recommend investing money in pension plans? What are the pros and cons of these type of financial instruments? - M.B. Abu Dhabi Everyone in employment should be making provision for their future. Global demographics show that governments will not be able to continue paying state pensions at a worthwhile level for too much longer, so the onus is on individuals to provide for themselves. People are living much longer than they were at the time when the nominal retirement age of 65 was set and so ever larger amounts of money are required. I would point out that pensions are not the only way of planning for the future and that any form of savings is better than nothing. For this reason I prefer the term "retirement planning" instead of "pension planning". The UAE does not offer pensions to expats, although the company Gratuity Schemes are designed to at least partly offset provisions that may have been made in the home country. In fact, there are no real pension plans available in the UAE, despite the names of some insurance company plans. Instead there are a variety of savings schemes. For many expats there are significant advantages in investing offshore. Being 23-years-old, you are not too young to start planning for your financial future, and the earlier you start the better, as your money has longer to grow. While many of us dream of moving to a new home, or taking a round-the-world cruise when we stop working, the reality is that most people will need to save a significant amount just to maintain their existing standard of living in retirement. Delays in saving mean that a person can end up desperately trying to "catch up" later in life. Regular premium savings plans have a minimum five-year term, and although they can be set up for terms of 25 years, this is rarely suitable for expats, who are likely to move "back home" at some point in the future. Sadly, many people are "sold" long-term plans, as much higher commissions are payable to financial advisers in these programmes. Far better, in my opinion, is to give yourself the flexibility of a shorter-term plan. You should also be wary of plans that are sold as having an 18-month term, as this is simply what is properly known as the "nil allocation period" during which your contributions are not invested, but instead are used to pay charges to the plan provider and commissions to an adviser. Your premiums can be invested according to your personal views on investment risk and a good adviser will assist you in structuring the right investments within your plan. A huge range of underlying funds are available, from high-risk, high-volatility funds to cash and bond funds at the other end of the spectrum. Anyone thinking of investing in such plans should seriously consider the amount they can comfortably afford, as overcommitment is as important as insufficient contributions. When investing in equities, you must be aware that the value of your plan may fall as well as rise and that final returns are not guaranteed. Without detailed information regarding the correspondent's personal and financial circumstances, it's not possible to provide specific advice regarding the funds to be selected, but as you would be looking to invest over the long term a portfolio of equity funds is likely to be most suitable. Please seek individual advice from a qualified and experienced independent financial adviser.

Last week we printed a letter of complaint about Jacky's, the electronics shop on Airport Road in Dubai, as they appear to be changing the price of goods arbitrarily. Jacky's has not responded to telephone queries or emails. Even more disheartening, the Consumer Protection Department of the Ministry of Economy has also failed to respond to several telephone calls and emails. None of this can give consumers any confidence, and I am saddened to see the Ministry seemingly paying lip service to the issue of consumer protection. I would be delighted if someone from the Ministry of Economy would contact me to clarify the situation.

Have a problem? Have you been treated unfairly? If so, e-mail Keren Bobker with your story at onyourside@thenational.ae. Ms Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai.