Aisha Khan (whose name has been changed) was desperate for a loan. She had run up debt on credit cards, overdraft and even borrowed from friends. With so much unsecured debt, the administration assistant from India was in a financial quandary and turned to the banks for help.
“No matter how many banks I approached, they could not help, telling me that I did not work for an approved company,” said Khan “I am now on an extremely tight budget to ensure I can pay off the minimum balances on my five credit cards and repay the kindness of my friends.”
Khan’s situation is not unusual. In fact, a vast number of companies in the UAE do not receive approval from the banks, meaning that the majority of UAE residents are effectively barred from accessing personal finance products such as loans, mortgages and credit cards.
Your company’s reputation counts for you
There are around 1,500 banking products available to consumers, but to qualify for these products a customer must meet a number of requirements, such as the minimum salary threshold, residency status and debt burden. But perhaps the pre-determining factor in this approval process is whether they work for one of the bank’s approved companies.
It’s a situation that is almost unique to the UAE, where financial institutions rely on a company’s reputation in the UAE marketplace rather than an individual’s credit history. If a company passes a bank’s assessment criteria, its employees have access to an array of personal finance options. Fail and the employees have to live a cash-based existence.
The extent to which this process stops customers accessing credit is revealed further here. According to Souqalmal.com, on average the number of companies a bank has on its approved list from 1,000 to 7,000 and a few others may have a bigger list. However, with approximately 200,000 companies registered in Abu Dhabi and Dubai according to the DED, it means many more customers are missing out.
Criteria not public knowledge
While the exact criteria banks use to approve a company is not public knowledge, it includes elements such as:
- A company’s revenues
- How long it has been based in the UAE
- The number of employees
- Whether it is a government or private institution.
Ambareen Musa, founder and CEO of Souqalmal.com, said: “Many employees are literally at the mercy of their company’s perception of stability by the bank. Each bank has its own list of approved companies and they do not share lists or reveal the criteria of how they decide who goes on those lists.”
Musa said there are a number of reasons banks tread this carefully when extending credit. The Al Etihad Credit Bureau, due to launch any day now, is not up and running yet making it hard for banks to check a customer’s credit history.
“It is also a transient population,” added Ms Musa. “It is easy to run away and leave all your debts behind and banks end up accumulating debts. After the global financial crisis of 2008, the method a bank’s credit department used to approve companies suddenly became a lot stricter.
“This causes a lot of stress on many who cannot obtain finance for the simple reason that their company has not been identified by the banks. Not only that, you have to consider what percentage of the market share the 50 or so banks in the UAE are missing out on?”
Strict criteria for non-approved organizations
With such a small pool to lend to, it means banks are all calling the same customers again and again with personal finance offers. Meanwhile, those not working for an approved company are cut off from this line of credit.
However, there is hope. Souqalmal.com has recently launched a section of their site dedicated to employees of ‘non-listed’ companies. It provides an explanation of what it all means and a list of banks that will offer credit to those not working for approved companies.
To date, five banks in the UAE have said they will accept customers that work for organizations not on their approved company lists – however, they will only do so under much stricter criteria.
Customers that fall into this bracket may be assessed instead by how long they have lived in the UAE, their salary and how long they have worked for their employer. Another method is to assume that the customer is more risky and put higher requirements on them, such as minimum salary.
However, if approval is secured, often the personal finance is then offered at a higher rate or for a shorter loan tenure or both.
- ADIB, for example, offers car loans to those with a higher minimum salary of AED 10,000.
- Emirates NBD on the other hand, offers personal cash loans to customers not working for listed companies as long as they meet a minimum salary requirement of AED 10,000 and their salary is transferred to Emirates NBD for at least six months. They must also pay a higher reducing rate than standard customers starting from 8.99%.
The section on Souqalmal.com’s website includes a guide to the approval process such as how customers can only find out if their company is on a bank’s approved list by contacting the bank directly.
It’s important to note in all of this that an employee cannot entirely rely on their company to secure them personal finance. Just because your company has made an approval list doesn’t mean that you automatically qualify for a loan.Your own credit history, your salary and the number of years you have lived in the UAE will all come into play.
But there’s no doubt your company’s status in the eyes of the UAE banks is a first step in the loan process and therefore a major hurdle to overcome.