Thursday, July 06, 2006

Psst, Wanna Credit Card?

Scarcely a week goes by when I don't get a phone call from a bank wanting me to 'avail' of their latest offer on credit cards. Had one this morning, from HSBC, my own bank.

HSBC: 'ulloooooo
ME: yes, who is this?
HSBC: 'ulloo, Mr Keefieboy?
ME: yes, who is this and what can I do for you?
HSBC: this is HSBC, do you have two minutes?
ME: are you trying to sell me a credit card?
HSBC: no sir, not sell, it's free!
ME (on the floor laughing): free! you mean no annual subscription but massive interest calculated every nanosecond?
HSBC: yes sir
ME: thank you but no
HSBC: but sir, it's free!
ME: bye bye and have a nice life

I've learned two things while living in this town:
1) As an expat, do not take on debt unless you are 200% sure you can clear it before you want to leave
2) I am not 'creditworthy'

The first point should be fairly obvious. The second might be surprising. But as the owner of a tiny business I am regarded by banks as 'self-employed'. Which they seem to think means that I just invent my earnings. My accounts are not audited, some of the income never actually goes into the bank, some of it goes in as cash, and if you had a suspicious mind (a given if you are a banker) you might think that I was just circulating one chunk of money from one account to another. So it always tickles me to talk to credit card salesman in the certain knowledge that if I did decide to apply for their product, my application would be declined.

I have this Calvinist thing in my head. Say I want to buy a brand-new Beemer. It costs Dhs 200,000. Look in wallet. Somewhat less than Dhs 200,000 in there. Check bank account - close to zero. Dang, ain't got the money, therefore can't have the product. Easy-peasy.

Had a call a few weeks ago, from Dubai Islamic Bank:

DIB: 'ulloooooo
ME: yes, who is this?
DIB: 'ulloo, Mr Keefieboy?
ME: yes, who is this and what can I do for you?
DIB: this is Dubai Islamic Bank, do you have two minutes?
ME: are you trying to sell me a credit card?
DIB: yes sir, the world's first Islamic credit card!
ME (on the floor laughing): you jest, surely!
DIB: ?
ME: well credit cards are the highest form of riba (usury) after loan sharks are they not?
DIB: ??
ME: go on then, tell me, but I'm not buying
DIB: there is no interest on the outstanding balance, only a monthly fee...
ME: how much is the monthly fee?
DIB: dhs 15
ME: great! So if I have an outstanding balance of Dhs 20,000, I only pay dhs 15 per month?
DIB: ah, no, it would be quite a bit more.
ME: so what you're saying is the monthly fee is a bit like interest, but you just call it by a different name?
DIB: yes sir
ME: that makes me feel so much better. Thank you and goodbye