Indian expatriates queue up at UAE Exchange in Rolla Square
UAE Exchange was once the dominant player in the remittance business as well as in the Wage Protection Scheme services. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: After months of waiting, former customers of UAE Exchange Centre have finally got their funds back, while the future continues to look bleak for the once dominant remittance company.

UAE Exchange Centre, and its parent entity Finablr, are still facing internal and external investigations over missing funds taken out from local banks and never entered into the books. But none of this matters for those ex-customers who had the misfortune of trying to send funds and then wait endlessly for refunds after UAE Exchange imploded under mismanagement.

See More

“I had given up hopes of getting any of my transfer amount,” said D.M., who had tried to make the original transfer to his savings account in the UK. “I had entered the transaction in March and it was late last month I got a call saying I should head to one of the UAE Exchange outlets to collect the refund.

“They even had the audacity to assign me a specific date to collect. After four months of waiting and calling them repeatedly to try and get some answer, they were now setting the agenda. But I’m glad the nightmare is finally over and got the money returned, which I honestly didn’t think would happen.”

Reasons to be thankful

D.M. isn’t the only one counting his lucky stars. More ex-customers have confirmed to ‘Gulf News’ that have received similar calls to go collect the refunds.

Most of these transactions were to the UK, Europe and the US. Former employees with the company said there were no such difficulties on remittances meant for the Subcontinent and accounts in the Far East.

According to another customer, who waited nearly five months for the refund, just returning the original amount still does not absolve the company in full.

“They point-blank refused to pay any compensation – despite my sending a sizeable sum that was meant to go into my savings account,” said B.Y. “I had to wait five months for the money to be returned, and I have lost out on the interest rate and other income.

“Yet, UAE Exchange officials had nothing to say to that. The impression was I should be thankful for the getting the original funds.”

200103 dirhams dollars
It was on transactions meant for the US and UK that UAE Exchange failed to meet delivery schedules. Some of the repayments extended up to five months. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

What next?

Sources in the remittance industry say that a few outlets have been shut for good, while others are kept open just to return the funds. Senior officials at Finablr have yet to come out with a statement indicating what they plan to do to revive its fortunes… if at all that’s possible.

Finablr has dangled the possibility of the company going into “insolvency”.

Losing out

It’s not just individuals who have shifted their remittance needs to other exchange houses or doing it through their banks.

UAE Exchange was the dominant player in the WPS (Wage Protection Scheme” launched by the UAE Government in 2009, and which ensures salaries of blue-collar workers would be transferred into the WPS accounts they hold. These were individuals who do not have bank accounts, and until WPS came along had to rely on their employers.

But with WPS, it ensured companies pay the exact amounts as per their contracts with workers. Each month, the wages would be transferred direct to the WPS account. The beneficiary receives a payroll card which doubles up as a debit card.

UAE Exchange was one of the partners in the initiative, and through the years became the dominant player. What this did was give it access to high volumes – and the remittance business is all about volumes.

“But now these WPS accounts UAE Exchange held are transferring to the other big exchange houses such as LuLu, Al Ansari and Joyalukkas,” said a source at a local remittance company. “Since January, some have seen a 60 per cent increase in their WPS related activities. And this period neatly coincides with the problems that UAE Exchange had gone through.”

Lucky breaks

For a lot of UAE Exchange employees, it also meant they were able to get into other exchange houses. “They had the “domain” expertise in specific markets or regions such as Egypt or the Philippines,” said an industry source. “It meant those skills were much in demand and that helped them find proper breaks with other currency houses.

“In what’s proving to be a difficult market, those skills that made UAE Exchange the market leader until recently is being put to use elsewhere.”

Read More

What next?

The industry expects some details to emerge on what Finablr and local regulators intend to do with UAE Exchange. Will it go the way that the other D. B.R. Shetty founded enterprise – NMC Health – just announced? Of breaking up into much smaller enterprises and trying to find buyers for the rest?

Within Finablr, UAE Exchange was the crown jewel. Consumers’ trust in the brand and its services will need restoring before it can even think of a comeback.

Coming weeks will give some insight of what’s in store. But for now, some of the outlets have removed framed pictures of Dr. Shetty as the once famed brand distances itself from its legacy.