Thursday, June 23, 2011

The most annoying bank fee in the UAE and how to avoid it

One of the less obvious side-effects of the economic slowdown is the increase in the number of bank services that were earlier offered for free but are now being charged for by the country’s banks.

Readers who’ve been around for more than a few years will remember when banks would actually honour their “free-for-life” credit card pledge and not charge customers an annual fee for such cards.

Nowadays, however, a free-for-life card comes preloaded with monthly maintenance fees, contradicting the very essence of the term “free” although we’re sure legally and technically, the banks are always right.

Also, there was a time when it used to be a customer’s privilege to have a documented proof of your bank transactions and account balance delivered to your doorstep every month – without an additional charge. Now, more often than not, you’ll have to shell out loose change every month to receive a copy, or settle for an emailed statement if you’re not inclined to dole out extra dirhams every month.

For bankers that want to give us the “green” logic: please stop bundling additional brochures and unwanted marketing material along with our bank statements and that will go a long way in going green.

A recent poll run by Emirates 24|7 shows that a majority of respondents believe that UAE banks are finding ingenious ways of relieving us of our extra dirhams, any which way they can get them off us.

The poll shows that the most annoying fees that customers in the UAE have had to pay include monthly statement charges and to get a ‘no dues’ letter after the end of a loan with the bank. Close to a third (29 per cent) of respondents branded their monthly statement charges as the most annoying bank fee they’ve had to pay while an equal number of people said paying money to get a ‘no dues’ letter after having repaid the loan with all the interest and charges was the most annoying fee for them.

“I was a good customer of my bank and prepaid my personal loan – for which my bank charged me an early settlement fee, by the way – and then asked them to give me a no liability letter. They charged me Dh200 for it. I found it ridiculous, but I’s rather pay to have the letter and be safe than not have it and be sorry,” said a respondent.

“The banks are now masters in the science of nickel-and-diming consumers with fees that start from the second you open an account to the moment you close it. I’ve moved from one bank to another and found out that it’s the same fees under different names,” said another upset respondent.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents found paying money to close a bank account as the most annoying bank fee ever levied on them while 10 per cent said paying to talk to a human teller was the most annoying for them. “Suddenly, the once toll-free numbers have all become paid now,” a customer quipped. Another 7 per cent said that money being charged for issuing a replacement credit card was the most annoying.

lists below some tips that you can follow to avoid having to pay some of the most annoying fees charged by banks:

1. Minimum Balance Fees. While this fee is not new, some banks have now started levying this fee on even salary accounts, which were earlier exempt from it. If you find it hard to maintain a certain balance in your account and you happen to mind this fee, then your best bet is to go with banks that don’t yet have a “minimum balance required” clause, although there’s no guarantee that they wouldn’t commence this practice in the future.

2. Ubiquitous ATM Fees. These ATM fees are everywhere. You use a UAE Switch ATM machine and before you know it, you’re out Dh2 per transaction. If you use these ATMs abroad, be prepared to pay Dh15 or even more per transaction. To cut down on these costs, use debit/credit cards where possible and regularly stock up on cash at you own bank’s ATM for bills you can’t pay by cards – petrol, for instance.

3. Paper Statement Fees. Emailed statements are indeed the ‘green’ way of doing things – and more efficient too, considering the number of times I’ve lost my paper statements in the past. Online banking is much more convenient and hassle-free. But remember, once you switch to emailed statements, some UAE banks charge you a one-time fee of up to Dh100 to switch back to paper statements. So if you think that you might need to switch back to paper statements – for whatever reason – in the near future, you may be better off paying a nominal monthly fee for paper statements instead of a hefty switch-back charge.