Why private vaults are not just for the wealthy

State-of-the-art security features, convenient operating hours and a better service offering are the main draws - and for more people than you might think

People typically store expensive items, documents, title deeds, gold, crypto codes, watches or diamonds in safety deposit boxes. Bloomberg
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A few years ago, Sherif El Haddad bought gold bars as an investment in Dubai. He was on the lookout for a safety deposit box to store the gold along with other valuables.

Although he found a local bank that offered him a locker facility, he was put on a six-year waiting list and then asked to put down a sizeable cash deposit for a tiny box in a shabby, unsecure room that was only accessible during branch opening hours.

“In developed countries in the US and Europe, private facilities have taken on the role of providing this service because it’s not a core, revenue-generating business for a bank and it requires real estate,” Mr El Haddad says.

“If we do it privately, we would address the capacity shortage. Also, if you consider this service at a bank, it’s not the most pleasant – you only have certain operating hours to access the safety deposit box, which is in a concrete room in the basement.

“So, we decided to build private vaults and make them best-in-class in terms of experience, technology and safety.”

In April 2020, Mr El Haddad partnered with fellow entrepreneur Imran Khan to co-found Vintage Vaults, a safety deposit box service in Mall of the Emirates in Dubai that helps residents, tourists and companies to protect their valuable physical possessions and financial assets.

The UAE is expected to attract 4,500 new millionaires this year, according to a June report by Henley & Partners, which tracks private wealth and investment migration trends worldwide.

The Emirates was ranked second behind Australia, which is expected to attract the highest net inflow of high net-worth individuals globally at 5,200, Henley & Partners said in the report, which focuses on people with a net worthof $1 million or more.

The UAE has undertaken several economic, legal and social reforms in recent years to strengthen its business environment, boost foreign direct investment and attract skilled workers.

Dubai was ranked the 23rd most popular city in the world last year for the super-rich after it recorded an 18 per cent increase in HNWIs in the first six months of 2022, a separate report by New World Wealth found.

The study defined HNWIs as people with wealth of $1 million or more.

However, facilities like Vintage Vaults are not only targeting the ultra-wealthy.

“People tend to confuse price and value. An expensive item will have value, but something that doesn’t cost a lot can be even more valuable. It could be a family heirloom that holds sentimental value,” Mr El Haddad says.

“Our vaults are also helpful for people who have expensive items, documents, title deeds, gold, crypto codes, watches or diamonds.”

Vintage Vaults offers seven sizes of safety deposit boxes, which can be rented for a duration ranging from three months to 10 years.

Renting the smallest box for three months costs Dh300 ($81.60) a month. The biggest box – about the size of a small suitcase – costs between Dh10,000 to Dh20,000 a year or higher, Mr El Haddad says.

If you need a customised VIP number for the box, that will also cost extra, he adds.

Security measures at Vintage Vaults include multi-stage biometric checkpoints, CCTV linked to Dubai Police, night vision cameras, motion and audio sensors, dual key locks and security guards on the premises 24/7.

Each box is automatically insured for Dh1 million and cover can go up to Dh5 million.

Unlike a bank, the vault can be accessed from 10am to midnight every day throughout the year, Mr El Haddad says.

It is a custom-made reinforced steel vault and memberships come in standard and premium tiers, with the latter offering benefits such as more time in a private booth to access the contents of a box with full discretion, the option to add three nominees who can be given access rights and velvet-lined boxes, among others.

Even tourists can rent a deposit box at Vintage Vaults by showing an ID, a facility that banks do not provide to non-residents, Mr El Haddad explains.

Customers can book the service online, choose a box number, reserve a private room or even arrange for a home delivery.

The safety deposit box is sealed and sent with security guards in a GPS-tracked armoured lorry to the customer’s address. The guard will wait outside the customer’s hotel or house for 30 minutes to allow them to do what they want and then return their box into the vault, he adds.

“Demand is cyclical. You have a level of demand from the local population and then from tourists, people who consider Dubai a second home, corporates and small and medium enterprises,” Mr El Haddad says. “We have also tied up with banks.”

To a question on what items customers cannot store in their safety deposit box, he says: “Just like a bank, we don’t allow people to store anything that’s illegal.”

Meanwhile, Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, stores her valuables in a safe in her house.

The safe is securely bolted to the floor so it cannot be picked up and taken, she says, adding that she did the same in the UK.

“We also ensure that all doors and windows are secure and never leave things unlocked,” Ms Bobker says.

“I see people saying they don’t worry about that but even with our low crime rate, people should be sensible and take reasonable precautions.”

Tazeen Jafri, a public relations consultant in Sharjah, initially used to store valuables in a small bag in a wardrobe at home.

However, after a couple of residential tower fires in Sharjah where her friends lost valuables in the blaze, her family decided to invest in a fireproof safe.

“In my home country, we tend to have built-in hidden compartments for small and less valuable assets and the more valuable assets are stored in bank lockers,” Ms Jafri says.

“When we travel out of the country, we always inform our family members where the key is or what the combination of the safe and briefcase are. We have a briefcase for all our important documents that we move to the safe when we’re travelling and we don’t really carry much with us except passports and money.”

Certain banks in the UAE provide safe deposit lockers. Emirates NBD, Dubai’s biggest lender by assets, offers Smart Lockers, a safe deposit locker system in its Jumeirah Al Wasl branch only.

The facility is open to individual customers only and subscription to the locker facility “requires maintenance of minimum relationship”, according to the lender’s website.

The lockers are accessible 24/7, with no intervention required, offers biometric technology for enhanced security, and is ideal for safe keeping of valuables such as jewellery and important documents, the bank says.

The maximum weight deposited in the safe deposit box should be less than 20 kilograms, it adds.

While a small locker can be leased for Dh2,100 annually, it can go up to Dh6,300 to rent the largest locker at Emirates NBD.

My safe is securely bolted to the floor so it cannot be picked up and taken
Keren Bobker, senior partner, Holborn Assets

At Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, the UAE’s third largest lender, safe deposit lockers are available at designated branches.

The assisted safe deposit locker facility is available in Karama, Rigga and Khalid bin Al Waleed branches in Dubai, Sharjah and Al Ain, according to the lender’s website. This type of locker can only be opened by using the customer’s key in combination with the bank’s master key.

The unassisted safe deposit locker features a biometric security system, which requires the customer to register their palm impression, access card and password to validate their identity.

ADCB offers a range of locker sizes at its main branch in Abu Dhabi, according to its website.

The bank’s customers (individuals or legal entities) are eligible to rent a locker. The customer must carry their original passport, valid Emirates ID and a debit or credit card to apply for a safe deposit locker. A one-time refundable deposit of Dh1,000 will apply.

Lockers are available on short-term and long-term basis and the rates vary based on type and size. While an unassisted safe deposit locker can be rented for between Dh3,150 and Dh6,300, an assisted locker can be leased for Dh787.50 to Dh3,150, the website says.

The locker rent must be paid in advance annually or semi-annually.

Updated: August 28, 2023, 3:28 AM