UAE residents 'less likely' to stick with one bank

Published May 5th, 2013 - 09:17 GMT
The offices of the National Bank of Dubai
The offices of the National Bank of Dubai

Dubai: When it comes to banking, customers in the UAE are a pretty dynamic bunch.

Residents in this part of the world are less likely to stick it out with one bank compared to their peers in other markets due to stiff competition in the banking industry.

The UAE, home to at least 50 banks with more than 800 branches that are actively competing for customer attention, is considered the most competitive banking market in the GCC. Analysts say it is due to strong competition that customers are tempted to switch banks easily and maintain multiple accounts.

In comparison, banking customers in the UK, where a huge proportion of the market is concentrated with only five banking groups, tend to stick to one bank longer than they stick to a spouse or partner.

New research from Spanish bank Santander showed that more than half (58 per cent) of the respondents have been with their current account provider for more than a decade, with the average bank relationship lasting just over 16 years and one month.

According to Santander, one out of six people (17 per cent) have stayed with their bank for more than three decades, while nearly one third said the main reason they stayed is simply out of habit. In comparison, the average UK couple stays together for only 14 years and four months.

“Majority of the UAE banking customers do not have the same level of high loyalty compared to depositors in the UK,” noted Jad Rammal, director of measurement solutions at Ethos Consultancy. “[Customers tend to] look for better services and offers from the banks and there are many tempting offers and choices in the market today. There is stiff competition among the banks and it is easy to change [providers],” Rammal told Gulf News.

The low levels of inertia can also be attributed to the fact that majority of the retail banking customers, the expatriates, are transitory in nature and banks impose less stringent rules for switching banks.

“Unlike in the UK or Europe, it is so much easier and more convenient to change banks in the UAE. In Europe, all your monthly bills (telephone, electricity, insurance, even taxes) are automatically debited from your account and it is very inconvenient to change your bank. Practically, you are stuck with your bank. But here, most people can easily open and close their bank accounts and they can have as much accounts as they want,” Rammal added.

Rammal noted that the average lifespan of a bank account in the UAE is often tied to a customer’s employment contract, which normally lasts two or three years if not renewed.

“After they finish their contract, they will leave the country and bring whatever savings they have. The sudden loss of job will sometimes force the depositor to close their bank account especially if the salary is automatically transferred to the bank,” he said.

“Transferring to another company is another reason to switch banks as different companies have different banking facilities for their employees,” he added.

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