WINDOWS investigates: UAE internet banking

If you're looking to set-up an online bank account in the UAE, read on as the WINDOWS team checks out some of the market's current offerings and suggests which of these you can bank on.

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By  Cleona Godhino Published  August 4, 2007

There are currently more than 40 banks in the UAE. Of these 15 offer internet banking services for consumers. This investigation marks step one in what will be our ongoing analysis of these services. Here we assess six popular online offerings, from the likes of Emirates Bank, HSBC Bank, CitiBank, NBAD, Standard Chartered and Mashreq. We talked to a group of online banking customers (friends, colleagues, readers) who provided us with detailed feedback based on their experiences. We then evaluated this feedback, in conjunction with each online service's entire feature list, to offer our considered verdict on each. The three crucial factors we focused on were an account's number and quality of features, ease of use and perceived level of security.

EMIRATES BANK

Service
BankNet Power

Web
www.emiratesbank.ae/ebg banknet.htm

Features
The BankNet Power customers we interviewed agreed that the features provided by the service were comprehensive.

These include Evision and Etisalat bill payment, a cheque request option and the transfer of funds to other EB accounts and third-party accounts abroad. What sets this online service apart from others here is that it also lets users pay their Du bills, top-up their Salik credit, and deal with parking and speeding fines.

Appearance and usabilty
While EB's online service seems to have all the key features covered, its interface is not as user friendly as it could be, according to the users we spoke with. Mohammed, a web development professional who's used the service for five years revealed, "While very feature-rich, its navigation is rather confusingly spread down the left-hand side of the screen. There are also sub-options placed across the top of the screen, which makes the site rather unintuitive to use."

Mohammed goes on to comment that this huge number of options contributes to a sense of clutter. And he reveals that all the options appear for everyone, whether they're active options or not. If an inactive function is selected (such as a non-credit card user clicking a credit card related option), a potentially irritating message appears, informing the user of the absence of the service. Unfortunately, this then stops other links from working too and forces you, the user, all the way back to the Banknet homepage.

Security
The site's login procedure just requires a username and password. For sensitive areas such as adding a payee, there are additional security questions (first school attended, mother's maiden name etc.), but these only come up when adding such a new function. Internally, the site makes extensive use of pop-up info input panels - which can make it harder for you to detect possible phishing attacks or diversions by Trojans, thanks to the lack of a visible URL. (To explain, phishers try to scam people by using fake website addresses, so if you cannot see the address then it is harder to detect if the site you're at is legitimate.)

WINDOWS verdict
Banknet has almost everything covered in terms of features, however its interface doesn't isn't too hot and can be niggly to use. Security wise, its login procedure is also relatively simple.

CITIBANK

Service
Citibank Online

Web
www.citibank.com/uae/gcb/cbol

Features
Citibank's feature list is reasonable - and includes account statements for the previous few months, the option of paying utility bills and contact forms to report problems, order new cards and more. According to Ahmed, a Dubai-based professional who's used the service for a year and a half, these forms are somewhat variable in quality, often featuring confusing options. He also claims that, in his experience,"there is no real communication from Citibank after the use of these forms".

Appearance and usabilty
Some might find Citibank's login procedure slightly cumbersome, as you have to enter a user ID, password via an on-screen keyboard and answer a secret question. However, this approach does offer a reasonable balance of usability and security. The site's graphics and menus are somewhat basic but get the job done.

Security
As mentioned, the site's login procedure is reasonably rigorous; users must input their username (which can be saved on the PC) then enter their password using an on-screen virtual keyboard, and then answer one secret question from five chosen at registration. The site insists on opening a separate window when opening the service, which on older browsers obscures the address bar - a potential problem when trying to detect phishing attacks. However, newer browsers such as Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 retain the address bar in the new window, eliminating this problem.

In terms of sessions, the site will confirm you want to remain logged in after five minutes; if it receives no response after ten minutes, it will log you out automatically.

WINDOWS verdict
Citibank's security offer is solid and whilst - like Emirates Bank's offering - its appearance could use an overhaul, it does what it's supposed to however. The only negative holding the service back is that it's not as feature-rich as Emirates Bank or Mashreq's services.

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