stop whining or something

Being a South African I am very aware of the fact that we complain a lot, about everything. This is true whether we are still in SA, or living somewhere else. I know this because I personally spent many hours complaining about the SA banks, amongst other things, when living in Johannesburg. Essentially there are 4 main banks that operate in the country, and sometimes it feels a bit like Hobson’s choice when deciding between them. However, since moving to Dubai, I have realised the banks back home are FANTASTIC, not to mention rather technologically advanced, when compared with the choices here.

Arriving in Dubai, and starting a new job, is an overwhelming event. This is probably an under-statement. There is a lot of administrative type stuff to get through when you first land. It all begins with the medical, which you have to get done before your residence visa is put into your passport. Well, its not a real medical, just a blood test (no HIV) and a lung x-ray (no TB) to make sure you haven’t got any nasties. You need this urgently of course, and so pay double to get the results in 1 day (yes you pay for everything here, I have mentioned this before). Once you have said visa in said passport you can proceed to open a bank account, join a gym, get your driver’s license converted, find a place to live and even get a DVD rental contract. You essentially don’t exist until you have it, plain and simple.

But back to the bank discussion. Generally what seems to happen is that the company you are working for will make an arrangement with a representative from a certain bank that “assists” you with opening the account and getting a car loan if you need one and so on. Unfortunately not having been here for more than 5 minutes you can’t make an informed decision and so you just go with their recommendation naively believing that your employer has your best interests at heart. Right? Well whilst working under this misapprehension we ended up opening a “joint” account with HSBC. Now I use the term joint extremely loosely because essentially Stu is the primary account holder and the one that counts, I am merely supplementary. Despite the fact that my name is on the account he is actually the only one who the bank will take instruction from. As I pay all the bills this becomes tedious and annoying very fast. The other fun thing is that your bank account is linked to your residence visa, so if the main visa holder should leave their job or even worse be fired or retrenched the visa is automatically cancelled by your company AND a notification is sent to the bank. Whilst on the residence side you still have 30 days to get a new job and visa, or leave with all your worldly possessions, the bank has in the meantime frozen all your accounts. What also seems to happen in some instances (and this we have been told first-hand by several people) is that the bank will offset any savings you hold with them to any debt you still have, without your consent. This happens even if the other account holder (the non-important supplementary one) is still working and earning. So after being here a little while you realise the safest thing to do is open a bank account each, at different banks; and also, more importantly, move any savings offshore. It may be a little neurotic but at least you can eat for that in-between month.

But surely there must be something good about the banks here? Well happily they do have internet banking, which is good, but its stuck in the dark ages in my opinion, which is not. It seems the most widely accepted form of payment in Dubai, after your credit card, is a cheque! EFTs (electronic fund transfers) aren’t that popular here. Whilst in SA you can pay pretty much anyone, any time, at any other bank via EFT and it’s mostly always free (in fact due to cheque fraud its encouraged), here they charge you a “nominal” flat fee for the convenience, normally around 40 Dirhams (10 USD), no matter the amount of the payment. So last week I had the fun task of paying our new credit cards (at RBS) with cash, as doing an online payment was not only difficult (you have to go into the branch to set up the payee) but also expensive. This took me almost an hour as the CDM (cash deposit machine) at the RBS branch was malfunctioning and would only work once for every 10 or so attempts. As I had two cards to pay it was an exercise in patience, Stu would have lost his mind.

Until there is a decent consumer watchdog here, and some more regulation, I don’t suppose much will change in a hurry.

**My post was written yesterday, and scheduled for publishing tonight, but I have edited it to add this last thought. I just read a post on the “Life in Dubai” blog that covers a related topic, namely customer service or rather the lack thereof. A few people seem of the opinion that the upside of the current economic downturn may be that companies might actually have to start making an effort to keep your custom, banks included.

A small silver lining perhaps in all this doom and gloom? Time will tell.

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