x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Communication is key to UAE bank policy

When talk of deadlines comes before policy implementation, as was the case this week with news that banking could require an Emirates ID, customers are the ones left in the lurch.

By now, every resident of the UAE should have a new Emirates ID card in their pocket or purse, or possess a clear plan on where to get one. Since 2011, over 7 million identification cards have been shipped, and upwards of 20,000 new cards are being sent out every day.

Communication throughout this ambitious programme - how to register, and why it's necessary to do so - has improved dramatically since a renewed effort to publicise the programme began last year.

But this week brought a new wrinkle, and with it, confusion in the banking sector after an official with the Emirates Identity Authority (Eida) told Emarat Al Youm newspaper that the Emirates ID will now be required documentation for all bank-related business. Saleh Al Bareky, an official with Eida told The National that banks had been ordered to refuse services to any customer who could not provide a valid card. Banks started implementing the rule this week, Mr Al Bareky said.

That, it turns out, was news to some bankers.

If banks and the identity authorities believe an Emirates ID is the best way to streamline business and protect funds from fraud, residents will simply have to adjust. Rule changes are to be expected in a dynamic and evolving society. The trouble comes when deadlines come before policy implementation, leaving customers scratching their heads on how rules affect them.

In this case the issue may be simple miscommunication. On Monday, Eida announced that the UAE Central Bank had told banks that customers should "use the national ID card when obtaining a loan or fund from banks". Bankers themselves told The National this was simply not true. For now, a passport, salary letters and other documentation are still being accepted as identification.

When policy changes are not presented clearly, confusion is possible. Last month, people queued for hours after du and Etisalat said mobile phone subscribers would have their numbers cancelled unless Sim cards were re-registered. It turned out to be a false alarm - both providers extended the deadline - but time had already been wasted standing in queues.

It's a similar story with the ID authority and rules on banking. Will customers be denied service without a valid Emirates ID? For now, the answer seems to be no, at least not as far as banks are concerned. Authorities should make it clear when that will change.