Dubai: Nine out of ten UAE residents feel they do not have enough savings to adequately support their future, according to a new study by National Bonds Corporation.
The research, conducted by YouGov Siraj, shows 71 per cent of people in the UAE do not save regularly and almost half the population saved much less than they planned to last year.
There are also major discrepancies between different nationalities and emirates. Sharjah residents are spending more on basic necessities such as groceries and household items but increasing expenditures in Abu Dhabi come down to transportation, eating out, rents and the consumption of luxury items.
The 2011 National Bonds Savings Index analysed responses in three key areas, perception of savings potential, the current savings environment and personal financial stability, to measure changing attitudes towards saving in the UAE.
"People are still paying for years of bad habits and misuse of credit cards. It is about a lack of knowledge and how to manage debt. We want to stress the importance of saving by tackling the root cause of the problem, which is about managing your own personal finances," said Kinan Esmail, executive director of marketing at National Bonds.
"There is a desire to save but people are in distress mode. There is a lot of negative sentiment out there and a lack of know-how in terms of managing expenditure," he added.
The survey shows a drop in savings sentiment among Emiratis and Western expatriates but an increase in sentiment among Arab and Asian expats over the past year.
Of those who do save, 64 per cent said the amount is usually less than a fifth of their income with 40 per cent of Emiratis and Arab expats saving less than a tenth.
Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi, a UAE-based economist, said it was important for all UAE residents, regardless of nationality or the emirate in which they live, to start putting part of their salary into a savings account each month.
"One of the reasons [for a lack of savings potential] is the culture in the Gulf. As oil prices rise and the standard of living gets better, Gulf citizens are looking to spend a lot of money on luxury goods such as cars, watches and furniture, Al Asoomi said.
"Most Emiratis live here on a permanent basis so they do not think about saving as much as expatriates, who are only in the country for a limited period of time," he added.
Al Asoomi says rising inflation and an increase in the cost of living is forcing people to spend more of their income on food and essential items. However, he says there are cultural and economic reasons behind the differing attitudes between nationalities.
"Many expats are in the UAE to save money and to support their families in countries across the world. This is the main difference in thinking between an expat and a local," he said.
"At the moment, many locals spend all their salary, wait for the next pay-cheque and then spend it all again. This is wrong and they need to put a savings plan in place instead of living month to month."
"It is time for local people to start putting aside a percentage of their income into a savings account. It is important for them and it is important for the UAE economy," he added.
YouGov Siraj conducted the study in both Arabic and English across a sample of 501 respondents, who were screened for age, income and bank usage.
The survey, which is in its second year, took place in February and March and aims to provide a reference point for the development of savings patterns and habits among the general public.
"We sampled 500 people across a broad range of ethnicities. In particular, we wanted to know their opinions on the current savings environment, whether they plan to spend more or less over the next six months and their current level of financial stability," said Suhail Shaikh, research director at YouGov Siraj.
"The poll allows for a four per cent margin of error either way. A lot of preparatory work went into the planning stage of the study to ensure we got the most accurate outcome," he added.
National Bonds, which has over 620,000 customers in the UAE, now plans to embark on a financial education roadshow to educate different sectors of the community on how to manage their spending.
The company has also launched an employees savings scheme that allows customers to automatically save part of their salary in National Bonds each month.
"Around 1,200 people have already signed up to the scheme, which includes companies such as the Dubai Financial Market, telecommunications operator du and Dubai Airports Company," Esmail said.
"We have had quite a healthy uptake for the scheme and the number is growing steadily. Most people have learnt lessons from the global financial crisis but there is a lot of variation in savings sentiment across the various emirates. It is not a blanket issue that covers the entire UAE."
"A lot of customers also stay with National Bonds after leaving the UAE. A large percentage have kept money and savings with us, especially those who have returned to India. We have also noticed an influx of fresh capital due to improved online services and the political unrest in other parts of the region," he added.
What is National Bonds?
National Bonds is a Sharia-compliant savings scheme that gives customers the chance to win cash prizes each month.
The corporation, which is licensed and regulated by the UAE Central Bank, announced an annual profit of 3.78 per cent for 2010, which it says is higher than the market average of 0.46 per cent on savings accounts and 2.40 per cent on 12 months fixed deposit accounts.
National Bonds also says customers aged 12 months to 70 are automatically entitled to individual Takaful coverage up to a maximum value of Dh125,000 at no extra charge.