Consumer groups have expressed their dismay at the developments. Hassan Al Katheiri, Chairman of the Emirates Society for Consumer Protection, said he was appalled with what he perceived as the lack of ‘respect' shown to bank account holders. Speaking to the Khaleej Times, he said, "The consumers are always the weak party in the relationship (with the banks) despite them giving their money and their patronage to them. "The banks should have a greater respect for their customers, it's their obligation."
Mr Al Katheiri added that there are times when consumers could be more proactive when they feel ‘cheated' by the service of firms they use. "Customers should be more vocal when they feel mistreated. They should complain to the banks that have made the changes. Nothing will change if customers fail to act," he said.
Many account-holders with some of the banks that have switched their telephone banking arrangements have been angered by the banks' failure to notify them that the services were to be changed. Rami Abu-Lamaa, a Dubai businessman said: "I have relied on this service for a long time. I use it almost on a daily basis, and the first time that I found out about the change was when I made my usual call and was asked to contact another number."
The actions of the bank have prompted people like Mr Abu-Lamaa to consider switching their accounts. "The systems are often down, so it takes a long time to get the call dealt with. Now, I have to pay. This will mean that I will lose a lot of money over the year. I already have a second account with another bank and I'm prepared to transfer all my business to them," he said.
Most banks had previously employed an 800 number to provide comprehensive banking services to their clients, but have increasingly switched to local access numbers. Among those who have already made the switch change include large high street banks, such as Emirates Bank International, Citibank, and Standard Chartered Bank, while, MashreqBank admitted that they would be following suit shortly.
Fortunately, telephone-banking clients of other banks, including HSBC, have been spared from the changes.
A source at HSBC, which provides a free service based in Dubai for all clients in the Middle East, said their customers come first and can expect the bank's continued commitment to a full and free 24-hour telephone service, 365 days a year.
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