Code urged for UAE telemarketers

Bahrain's biggest call centre operator warns that UAE banks should aim to dial down unsolicited telemarketing to prevent leaving customers with a bad impression.  

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Banks in the UAE should create codes of conduct to regulate telemarketing calls and avoid a "poisoning of the well" for the entire industry, the head of a leading call centre specialist has warned.

Joe Tawfik, the chief executive of Silah, Bahrain's biggest outsourcing and call centre specialist, said telemarketing calls could easily snowball for the growing number of customers who bank with more than one institution, putting off customers who might otherwise be happy to receive offers.

"It does require regulation and the best place that a lot of banks could start is self-regulation," Mr Tawfik said.

It was only a matter of time before the Government followed other countries such as the US, UK and Australia in imposing regulations over the times telemarketers are allowed to make calls and establishing "do not call" lists, he added.

"I think it's inevitable that it'll come to this part of the world," Mr Tawfik said. "We've seen a lot of regulations in the industry and I think it's imperative that there's a centralised body that can actually help regulators come up with a sensible set of rules for the industry."

Three weeks ago the Central Bank banned UAE banks from marketing products through unsolicited telemarketing. Regulators said it was "causing such customers a lot of disturbances" and created "a negative impression about the status of UAE banks".

In spite of tighter regulations on cold-calling, clients of some banks, such as HSBC, have continued to receive calls because of a loophole that permitted calls promoting products to existing customers.

The bank's compliance division had identified selling products to existing clients as permissible under the new Central Bank rules, according to sources close to the bank.

A spokeswoman for HSBC said while the bank continued to contact its customers by telephone as part of "maintaining banking relationships", the bank did not "cold call" individuals in the UAE.

There was nothing wrong with marketing products to existing clients, so long as it was done properly, said Salmaan Jaffery, the regional head of advisory services for the retail banking sector at Ernst & Young.

"Telemarketing, when it's done the right way, takes care and accounts for things that are important to customers," Mr Jaffery said. "Good telemarketing will never happen at dinnertime."

But he said bank profits could fall if lenders were not able to market products in a targeted fashion, whether by phone, SMS or e-mail.

"If you can't sell more stuff to more people and you continue to operate at a pretty fat cost base, shovelling lots money in a non-targeted fashion with billboards and advertising without any returns, then your profits are going to decrease," Mr Jaffery said.

In a poll of 50 HSBC customers at the bank's branch in Abu Dhabi, 27 said they had received unsolicited calls from the bank, with most noticing no significant change in the number of calls they had received since the Central Bank's circular last month.