A small but diverse market and aggressive competition in the UAE has compelled banks to get creative with their credit card offerings.

Banks are now spending substantial resources analysing and segmenting the customer base in the region to comprehend how the various sectors of customers are receptive to certain product offerings and the way these offerings can be marketed to those segments.

Premal Patel, Marketing Director for the Middle East and North Africa, American Express, says that consumers have become more sophisticated and credit marketing reflects that development. "The current trend indicates that people cannot be classified under broad categories. Segmentation now spells individual preferences and attitudes. It has moved beyond demographics and towards the psychographics of customers — their lifestyle, media habits and online usage patterns," he says.

Targeting customers based on their incomes, lifestyles, preferences, leisure pursuits and travelling patterns has also been linked to increased customer retention and significant customer sales.

According to Robin Mukherjee, Head — Cards, Emirates Bank, the UAE market is unique in its diversity with many primary and secondary segments. "We address each segment based not only on traditional demographic profiling, but also on psychographics to determine customer attitudes and brand preferences," he says. This approach forms the basis for creating long-term customer relationships. "In simple terms", says Mukherjee, "it is essential that banks provide the right products to the right market segments to successfully acquire, satisfy and retain their card members.
Patel says that a segment-based approach also increases profits. Apart from allowing you to focus on the most profitable segment, it aids a better understanding of the segment motivations and behaviours leading to more effective offers, and better target communication leading to higher response to solicitations.

Banks are joining forces with retail establishments, airlines and automobile manufacturers and associations to offer co-branded cards. Affinity cards — the result of an alliance between a lending institution and a non-commercial group such as a club, association, charity, or professional organisation — are also becoming a common trend.

Money talks

While most banks offer the standard cards catering to different income segments and preferences such as classic, standard, silver, gold or platinum cards, some also have cards targeting high net-worth individuals. For instance, ADCB offers Excellency cards to its high net-worth customers, who can avail of high-end lifestyle benefits in addition to personalised services through dedicated relationship managers.

Emirates Bank offers the Al Shaheen card. "This is an exclusive card product that delivers premium level customised services and benefits to high net-worth Emirates Bank clients," says Mukherjee.

Emirates Bank is also the exclusive distributor of Diners Club cards in the UAE. The Diners Card is a prestigious card with no pre-set spending limit, which is a globally accepted travel and entertainment card. It also provides free access to airport lounges worldwide, irrespective of the class of travel.

William Keliehor, Cards Cluster, Business Head, MEA and Pakistan, says that Citibank is very disciplined about understanding the demographics and pyschographics of their customers to understand their needs and serve them better. "We have the Emirates-Citibank Ultima credit card, which we have launched with Skywards. It is aimed at the affluent community, and offers immense value. It is accepted around the world and has a liberal credit limit. Users can avail of concierge and travel distress services and get priority access at airports and other establishments. We also offer customers the option of a secure wallet insurance protection — at a minimal cost — against financial losses in case of unauthorised use of a lost or stolen card," says Keliehor.

RAKBANK also has a card in this segment. According to Anil Chander, Head of the Credit Cards Division RAKBANK, the bank has designed products to meet the needs of all customer profiles. Based on the hierarchy of customer needs, RAKBANK has the Visa Classic and MasterCard products. "We also have the first MasterCard Titanium product in the UAE to cater to the premium customer segment," says Chander.

According to Patel, Amex also caters to various segments. While the Blue Card is aimed at young professionals, the co-branded BMW card targets the elite. The American Express chip-enabled BMW credit card is accepted in more than 200 countries and features vehicle ownership and other unique lifestyle benefits.

Standard Chartered Bank's Manhattan credit card is aimed at young and trendy movers and shakers about town. The card gives holders entry into some of the hippest entertainment and hospitality outlets in the region, among other privileges.

Woman power

While the high net-worth segment has enough products vying for its attention, banks are also fervently wooing women and students across the region. The ABN Amro Al Ameera credit card for women offers a plethora of interesting offers, discounts and privileges. The Al Ameera rewards programme offers instant redemption while shopping at its partner outlets. Emirates Bank, which offers credit cards as part of its meLADY segment offerings, also focuses on this segment. Abu Dhabi-based First Gulf Bank has also launched a credit card accompanied by value-added benefits, discounts and offers for women.

Students can obtain benefits that accompany Emirates Bank's meUNI card, which is designed to support the lifestyle needs of university students. The product provides exclusive discounts and added value incentives in education and leisure-related merchants geared to make life easier for students.

Frequent travellers are also an important segment in the UAE. There are several products in the market that target them such as ABN Amro's Smart Traveller credit card. One of its privileges includes a personal travel assistant who can help cardholders with ticket bookings, hotel reservations and car rentals. The Emirates-Citibank credit card, on the other hand, rewards members with Skywards Miles, (which is a frequent flyer programme) every time the card is used. Members earn a Skywards Miles point on every US dollar that is spent on their card.

National Bank of Dubai in partnership with Dnata provides members with top-of-the-line banking services and Dnata's wide range of international travel services, quality products and expertise. The card's benefits include high credit limits, acceptance at millions of Mastercard Merchants worldwide and 24-hour customer assistance. Cardholders can also earn reward points every time they use their card anywhere in the world. These accumulated points are redeemable at selected Dnata outlets for any of its products or services, including tickets for more than 130 airlines and holiday packages.

HSBC recently launched Etihad co-branded card that targets the affluent travel segment. "It gives great value to customers and is one of the most innovative co-branded card programmes in the region," says Thimal Perera, Senior Cards Manager, Middle East, HSBC Bank Middle East Limited. The card offers a wide range of travel-related benefits such as free Priority Pass membership with unlimited access to more than 450 airport lounges worldwide and eGate functionality allowing fast-track immigration at airports in the UAE, according to Perera.

Cardholders automatically become members of Etihad Guest and Etihad Airways' loyalty programme. The card's global ‘Home & Away' programme offers cardholders exclusive discounts abroad and in the UAE.

The meCARD foreign currency cards are also ideal for people who travel frequently. These are available in three major currencies — US dollars, sterling and euros.

By using a specific foreign currency card in that specific region, the cardholders can avoid foreign exchange losses related to usage and payment.

Those who enjoy shopping can benefit from the functionality of a credit card and the rewards that come with shopping at Géant — the hypermarket at Ibn Battuta Mall. HSBC, Géant and Visa International launched the UAE's first co-branded hypermarket credit card — Géant La Carte last year. It is accepted at millions of Visa retail outlets worldwide and offers a wide range of exclusive rewards and loyalty incentives under the Géant Stars Reward Programme.

The VIP-Mashreqbank credit card by Virgin Megastore and Mashreqbank is also aimed at people who want to maximise their shopping experience at Virgin Megastores as well as for other functions including paying bills and shopping at other retail outlets. American Express also has co-branded cards in the UAE with Dubai Duty Free and Damas, which has privileges offered by both brands to its users.

Credit card issuers are increasingly tapping the health sector as well. For instance, RAKBANK's MasterCard NMC co-branded card focuses primarily on health-related benefits including discounts on certain medical services, non-pharmaceutical products and optical products at select outlets.

Affinity for sports

Meanwhile, Standard Chartered offers a range of affinity cards aimed at sports enthusiasts. The bank also has a marathon affinity card. Holders of the Golf Affinity Gold MasterCard credit card receive lifestyle privileges centred around the sport including exclusive invites to golf events and tournaments in the UAE, complimentary golf tuition, year-round discounts on golf merchandise and accessories, special golfer's insurance packages and customised golf holidays.

"The Golf Affinity Gold MasterCard credit card is in line with our strategy to own the sports affinity segment in the UAE with customised affinity credit cards, and fulfil the segment opportunity," says Owen Belman, Head of Consumer Banking, Standard Chartered Bank. The bank also offers
numerous benefits and privileges on its other affinity cards.