Mashreq bank’s head of consumer lending said that buffers created by the credit bureau have been successful in keeping bad debt among individuals in check, with the rate of rejections for loans at the bank doubling after it went live in October.
Subroto Som said that even though there have been a number of small business owners skipping town as the economy sours on lower oil prices, that stress is unlikely to infect the consumer loan market because of measures, other than the credit bureau, taken by the Central Bank to prevent debt from spiralling out of control.
During the last oil crash in 2009, many expatriates abandoned debt, often leaving cars at airports before fleeing the country.
“When the bureau came in the beginning, the rejection rate was very high. It almost doubled,” said Mr Som. “Our approval rates dropped to almost half. The credit policies that came after the crisis have also helped people manage their debt.”
Those policies from the Central Bank have included putting in higher loan-to-value ratios for car loans and home loans as well as limiting the amount of unsecured debt consumers can take, usually defined as a percentage of salary.
The banker said that despite these efforts, there has still been stress among employees at SMEs that have struggled to make ends meet. However, a broader escalation is not imminent, especially as demand from individuals for finance has diminished.
Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, the chief executive of Mashreq, warned in November that a number of small business owners may have skipped town, leaving about Dh5 billion of unsettled loans.
Last month, Mr Al Ghurair said the potential fallout from rising levels of bad debt in the small and medium enterprise sector had been contained, as banks restructure some of those loans.
But the strain on SMEs has not gone away completely. According to the results of a survey released in May by the Dubai-based SME financier Gulf Finance, SMEs continued to feel the pinch in the first quarter as the economy slowed, with payment collection and tapping debt remaining difficult.
The woes facing small business owners began to appear in earnest last year as the price of oil took a nosedive, losing more than 70 per cent of its value from its peak in mid-2014.
“There definitely has been an impact, but it’s not a significant impact,” Mr Som said.
“There is clearly a slowdown. New business for new credit cards, for new personal loans has declined. Some of the stresses on delinquencies and chargeoffs have seen an uptick, but if there is a fallout in SMEs then the employees of those companies will go. Some will pay their debts, some won’t. That is happening, but it’s not of an alarming nature or of that scale like 2008-09.”