March 19, 2006
Women's Banking Services in KSA: A Rant
Due to a prolonged absence from the Kingdom of Saud my bank account (hosted in a financial institution the child of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and what was an infidel country last time I last looked) was frozen as no transactions had been conducted in over a year. Getting it unfrozen I assumed would be a straightforward enough matter as I made my way to the women's branch. Upon entering a small marble floored hall I beheld two female employees seated in workstations each side of an idoor floral plant arrangement and about a dozen other female clients seated atop plush leather furniture each apparently suffering from some degree of exasperation. I took a seat while trying to fathom what system of queueing was in use. As one client emerged from one office and another waiting sprung to her feet and darted in behind her, I surmised it was every woman for herself.
As I was tired and feeling generous to my fellow woman I sat back and decided to let fate determine when I would be served.
There are only two branches catering for women in the whole city and they were both tiny, particularly in comparison to the male branches. However, judging from what I was witnessing, the size of the branches was not in direct correlation to the size of their female client pool as it was only 9 am and the place was minging. In addition, due to the disgraceful lack of privacy provided by the pathetic screens hiding the client chair at the employees' workstation, most of the business transactions could be overheard and seemed to be purely revolving around deposit of salaries or withdrawal of amounts larger than those allowed by the maximal limit of an ATM, no doubt in order to purchase some monstrous Gucci shoes by someone who still had not learned how to use a debit card. The female bank employees themselves addressed clients with no polish or professionalism, taking ages over anything, talking to relatives on their mobile phones and at one point, singing Haifa Wehbi absent mindedly while waiting for paper to come out of the mouth of the printer.
I amusedly looked on as clients tried to edge closer to the office doors so as to spring up as soon as the music stopped in a sort of reverse musical chairs. It was a fascinating and highly entertaining exercise in survival of the fittest. When one client walked in and serendipitously beheld another just leaving one of the offices she took herself and her obscene metallic Dior bag and darted into the office sending the patiently waiting now desperate members of the lower gene pools into shock. Hardly able to smother my smile at this point I decided to undertake the defense of the downtrodden, especially as at this rate I was never going to get served, an eventuality made all the more probable by the fact that the two employees were operating in a dimension a few hours slower than our own.
I approached one office and in my sweetest dulcet tones enquired as to the queuing system as we had been waiting for some time and due to our pathetic anti-social skills had been preceded by many who had arrived later than ourselves. She examined me in total confusion, like no one had ever dared question the way things were (ok ok I am being harsh, we are after all in Saudi Arabia) and indeed, like she had never actually thought about it herself. After what seemed like an age she said, 'And what do you want me to do? I have no idea who came first.!'
By now my magnanimity was beginning fast to evaporate. I took one look at the poor women egging me on with their eyes and decided this was not a time for jaded observation.
'Can I speak to your manager?' I asked, more firmly.
Another request the ridiculously made up overdressed dim-witted bint seemed never to have encountered. After the inevitable delay, she called over to the other member of staff (a manager of a team of one, I was already intimidated by her potential gravitas) upon which emerged a bull dog like older woman, made up grotesquely in an Elizabeth Taylor meets Alissa extravaganza. After a brief exchange with her a clear case of civil war was emerging. The two clients being served had now in anger over the delay for entangled in a skirmish with my hapless troops now much emboldened by my martyrdom. While trying to get my message across but simultaneously mindful that these cavewomen with Windows XP diplomas held the strings to my by no means empty bank account I recalled a contact at a random men's section of the same bank who had helped me open that very same bank account years ago. While being subjected to the most ignorant unprofessional abuse by the 'manager' I scrolled down the contact list on my mobile phone, found his name, dialed and prayed that he had not been reassigned. I raised my hand to signal the conversation paused (at this point the manager believed she had triumphed, that I was calling my chauffeur and that her total lack of professional training or expectation would be rewarded) and thanked God when he answered his mobile. Thankfully, he remembered me and in full view of the entire tragic cast I detailed the situation to him by now throwing all caution to the wind.
Being a much more experienced employee and better trained in customer care he enquired as to the names of the employees involved (which I read off their table plaques, highly amused at their faces then) and in which branch I was. He then proceeded to tell me that luckily he had been transferred to the very same branch and was indeed the manager of the men's headquarters. And would I be so generous as to make my way round the corner to be served by him personally, if my business was urgent and if I did not mind entering the exclusively male hallowed ground of his office? Nothing would have made me happier I thought as I accepted and started preparing for my exit. I turned to the 'manager' and detailed what I thought of the women's banking services they offered, how the resources to train and prepare them had been pissed up the wall and how they were an embarrassment to Gulf women everywhere and may Allah strike me dead if I ever darkened their doors again.
I walked out, made my way round the corner and through the glass automatic doors of the men's banking halls upon which about one hundred employees, customers and floor staff looked up and fell silent. What happened next, is another rant
TrackBack URL for this entry:
don't tell me you had to go back to the women's section???
ps: i am proud to say that i singlehandedly introduced the concept of "customer privacy - keep a distance to the customer at the window or he'll kill you" to cairene banks.
Posted by: raf* at March 19, 2006 11:08 AM
"ps: i am proud to say that i singlehandedly introduced the concept of "customer privacy - keep a distance to the customer at the window or he'll kill you" to cairene banks"
Please let me know when you can introduce that into American pharmacies.
Posted by: matthew hogan at March 19, 2006 11:47 AM
"emerged a bull dog like older woman, made up grotesquely in an Elizabeth Taylor meets Alissa extravaganza."
thanks for this. it made my day!
Posted by: Chanad at March 19, 2006 11:51 AM
Can't wait to read the rest of it.
Posted by: samuraisam at March 19, 2006 12:20 PM
No I didn't, I had already invoked higher forces and declared that Allah may strike me dead if I did. Not tempting fate.
Chanad, I'm surprised it didn't take her a day to emerge looking like that.
Samuraisam, after I have sufficiently recovered.
Posted by: Bint at March 19, 2006 03:55 PM
How's Saudisation proceeding in the sector?
BTW, I confess I had a bit of trouble following this.
Posted by: collounsbury at March 20, 2006 12:54 AM
Oh Col I do apologise I am being ethnocentric, Saudisation in the banking sector is almost totally complete. For me Saudi employees=inefficiency, I should have made that clear!
You had trouble following the progress of Saudisation or the gist (or lack thereof) of the post?
Posted by: Bint at March 20, 2006 04:51 AM
Come to think of it, will include a blurb re Saudisation in the banking sector in follow up men's banking post. Col being inspiring as always.
Posted by: Bint at March 20, 2006 05:02 AM
So is this a state-owned bank, or maybe a semi-state-owned bank (as in, ostensibly private but in fact owned by a royal family member and/or someone named "Hariri")?
Posted by: Tom Scudder at March 20, 2006 05:44 AM
Tom- Semi-state owned in partnership with an international privately owned bank, no individuals involved. Ironically, internationally partnered banks are renowned to have better customer service as their staff are usually educated and trained in headquarters of the non-Saudi partner in Europe or the States. In addition, in earlier days, the presence of non-Saudi employees usually gave these banks the upper hand over the national banks staffed pre-dominantly by Saudis. Since Saudisation brought most banks in line particulalry in the retail sector, foreign expertise has been limited to upper echelons of management and private wealth management.
Posted by: Bint at March 20, 2006 08:10 AM
Among the items you might want to do is explain Saudisation - I am well aware of its effects from the outraged tales I hear(d) from my (Arab, Saudi or not) colleagues in sector, but you'd convey the retail end better than I. My exposure to retail banking in region is rather priviledged.
The "why" of how Saudisation has crippled service, etc. is useful - and is a good lesson on the perverse incentives in the Gulf.
Posted by: collounsbury at March 20, 2006 02:47 PM
Oh wow. That is superb!
My favourite was the Elissa/Elizabeth Taylor bit.
Posted by: secretdubai at March 20, 2006 04:28 PM
Going to a woman’s branch in Saudi is such an aggravating experience. It is simple, if you want to destroy your mood and the rest of your day, just go to your local women’s branch! Most female workers are, as you said, unprofessional and extremely arrogant. It is difficult to make sensible conversation with them or be served properly. Although it was a simple transaction, I was once refused service because it wasn’t the original branch where I opened my account. The lady blatantly told me: “We are not responsible for helping you, go to the other branch,” she made it seem as if we are talking about two different banks. So, what I did is simple: go to the men’s branch.
Posted by: Aya at March 23, 2006 06:00 PM