x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The one thing I really want to bank on: service

I can still remember opening my first bank account. I was eight years old, living in the United Kingdom and it was a Black Horse Young Savers account with Lloyds TSB.

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

I can still remember opening my first bank account. I was eight years old, living in the United Kingdom and it was a Black Horse Young Savers account with Lloyds TSB.

I was more excited about the free money box than the account. I could literally watch my money grow by inserting coins and seeing them roll into the correct slot for their denomination.

I loved watching the coin columns stack up, particularly the pound coins, and would dream of all the toys I could buy with my little nest egg.

But there were difficult times in those early saving days. My spendthrift elder sister would often raid my money box, saying she needed money for this and that, promising to pay me back. She never did.

Thirty years later and my sister and I still bank with Lloyds - a testament to the fact that banks who sign up children are likely to keep their custom for a lifetime.

My sister and I may no longer fight over the pound coins but we are going our separate ways because, sadly for me, my relationship with a bank I have trusted for so many years is about to come to a premature end - at least in Dubai.

While my UK and offshore accounts will remain in place, my Dubai account will disappear because the British financial institution has decided to sell off its UAE operations to HSBC Middle East. The final cut-off date was Thursday.

My decision to pick Lloyds when I moved here seven years ago was a simple one. I'd never banked with anyone else and it made sending money home that much easier. In fact, it never entered my head to bank anywhere else.

Such was my determination to stick with "my bank" that I encouraged five other new joiners at my workplace to sign up with me to ensure our company qualified for privileged banking services.

So the news that my business was no longer required was a kick in the teeth. More than that, it meant that for the first time since I was child I needed to consider where I wanted to stash my cash.

And that's where my dilemma began.

I'm not familiar with HSBC's products but, from what I've heard on the grapevine, they don't have the best record when it comes to customer service - one of my biggest bugbears in life.

The purpose of a bank (for the customer) is to make the handling of your finances easier. Processes need to be efficient and service an absolute premium. We lead busy enough lives without having to consider the ins and outs of when our next cheque book is coming and whether or not our expired debit card is going to be replaced.

So if I wasn't going to go with HSBC, who would I choose? I asked friends about their banks, but few seemed willing to recommend I join them. I even ventured into a couple of institutions, but was put off by long queues or no one being readily available on the customer-service desk.

After delaying the decision for a few months, I eventually picked a bank that seemed eager for my business. Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB) called constantly, going out of their way to lure me in and, to their credit, it worked.

Because for me, choosing a bank is such a big commitment it's a little like being in a relationship. They've got to be loyal, understanding in a crisis and easily accessible. And they've got to really want you.

In the end, my decision wasn't based on who has the biggest assets or has won the most awards; I went for the bank that would help me to manage my financial affairs with the least possible amount of hassle.

The fact that EIB has three branches less than 15 kilometres from my house compared with the one branch Lloyds has 20km away, and the fact I already have a EIB Skywards credit card that I can now pay off online rather than trudging into the bank every month, are both big bonuses.

However, my new relationship hasn't got off to the smoothest start. I began switching my account towards the end of last month and am yet to finish. The amount of paperwork involved is slightly alarming and I was also less than impressed when a bank representative was an hour late for one of our meetings.

As a result, I'm not 100 per cent committed to this new partnership yet.

They've got six months to prove my decision right, otherwise I'll move on again.

 

Felicity Glover is on leave and will return next week