Monday, September 03, 2007

The flexible fiend

I was insufficiently organised to gas up the Goatmobile last Friday, so I had the dubious privilege of being one of the first customers to pay the 1.65% surcharge when I proffered my credit card. ENOC, and presumably everyone else, has decided that because the banks charge the oil companies to process credit card transactions it's perfectly OK to pass this charge on to the consumers.

What rot! Using a plastic card benefits the customer by deferring the evil moment of actually paying for something and eliminates the need to carry great wads of nickable or loseable cash. It benefits the bank because of the annual fee and the usuriously high interest rates payable should the customer not settle up in time. And plastic money benefits the retailer too. He gets the payment immediately without all that tedious moving of cash from the shop's cash register to the bank. The words 'nickable' and 'loseable' can be re-used here when describing the risks associated with cash transactions.

This is where I insert the caveat about easy credit and responsible borrowing. The MasterVisaExpress only defers payment for up to a month, and anyone who has a credit card must surely realise this. Credit card interest rates can be atrociously high. Don't borrow at 25% or more whan a bank loan is available at 6%.

About 25 years ago I had a part-time job working for Conoco. Operating the cash register at a Jet petrol station in Plymouth, I was confronted by whinging customers who objected to a flat 15p surcharge on all credit card transactions. It only lasted a couple of months until some legal expert decreed such a charge illegal. Hopefully this will soon happen in the UAE.

The idea of imposing a surcharge on plastic transactions sets an alarming precedent. What if the entire retail trade suddenly decides to do likewise? With any luck there'll be a sudden move by the population back to crinkly cash. Everyone's plastic will lie dormant, unused and unloved, and in extreme cases cut in half. Felonious types with stockings over their heads will use the massive increase of cash in circulation to increase their income. So much for the cashless society.

If shopkeepers wish to discourage credit card usage, the carrot of 'discount for cash' is more likely to receive approbation than the stick of 'extra for plastic.' Anyway, down at EPPCO 1.65% on a tankful for the Goatmobile is around Dh4, broadly the same as a tip to the guy who spends all day in the heat and humidity pumping gas, cleaning windscreens and generally being polite to customers for his derisory salary.

It's not the amount of the credit charge surcharge that galls me, but the principle of imposing one at all. If there are any UAE gas stations where credit cards are accepted at face value, I'll take my custom there. Who's going to join me?

1 comment:

Emjay said...


Is our newly opened Mirdiff station one of the villains? And does having a Gloria Jean's cancel this out? :-)


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