x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Laughing (and crying) all the way to the bank

Fed up with your bank? The obvious decision is to open an account with another, unless you have enough experience with banks here to know better.

Well, that worked out.

After three years at the bank where all the western expatriates go (and beyond that Humongous Super Big Clue, I feel it would be indiscreet to identify it), I had had enough. It seemed like I never had the same "relationship manager" for two visits in a row. My bank cards would stop working whenever I travelled.

And their phone service? It eventually dawned on me that it was quicker to get a cab to the downtown branch, take a number, wait in the queue, deal with a teller, then get a cab back home again, than it was to accomplish even the simplest transaction over the phone. And that would, frankly, have held true even if their nearest branch were an oil rig swept by waves in the Arabian Gulf and you replaced "get a cab" with "swim".

So I switched banks. Took my business to a new bunch of initials and boasted on Facebook about how good it felt. And the new bank welcomed me with big smiles and open arms. Good for you, friends said, and keep us posted.

You know where this is going, don't you? Because you live here, you know this story is unlikely to end well.

I applied for a credit card with my new bank. And waited to hear back. And waited, and waited. I gave them the benefit of the doubt: maybe it's hard to phone someone when you're welcoming all those new customers with big smiles and open arms. Because really, they were just so darn nice at the new bank.

Finally I popped by the branch, just to check, because one wonders about these things. Ms Relationship Manager said, with a tight smile that would not have fooled a child, that we needed to talk to the branch manager. Mr Branch Manager examined some papers most pensively. Ms Relationship pointed to a line next to which "EOS" was written in a feminine hand. "I didn't write that," she said, looking away from me.

The bank, it emerged, suspected that my annual bonuses paid in January were in fact an end of service (EOS) payment, and that I was a jobless deadbeat. Nice. So they asked for three months of pay slips, itemised, to prove that my beat was not dead. I brought them three months of pay slips, itemised.

But there was another problem. The bank said it was not issuing credit cards to people at my company, except those in the "technical section", the existence of which had hitherto been a secret to me.

Mine is a big company, state-affiliated, solid and decades-old. The new bank could not explain this silliness. "It might have been an idea," I said, "to mention this when you signed me up." Yes, Ms Relationship nodded, that might have been an idea; the way she nodded, it seemed like this was an altogether original suggestion, a bolt from the blue.

Then followed, over several weeks, the predictable variation on the "dead parrot" comedy sketch in which the pet-shop owner tries to convince the customer that the dead parrot is, in fact, alive.

In this case, the bank promises to look into the problem, makes soothing noises, and never once returns my phone calls. "I will be trying my best level," Mr Branch Manager assured me.

As a side note, I think "best level" makes much more sense than "level best", which comes to us from the world of weights and scales centuries ago, in the innocent times before credit cards, and credit card rejections.

And so - you saw this coming, of course - I ended up crawling back to my old bank, passport in hand, asking if it was not too late to re-open my old account, and being told by someone perhaps accustomed to the return of prodigal clients that no, it was not too late.

Customers want choice, and in the UAE our banks are kind enough to always offer us one: laugh or cry.