Bank staff under ‘more pressure than ever’ to sell

A new Which? investigation of more than 500 front line bank staff reveals that pressure to sell still pervades the culture in the big five banks.

The truth about working for Britain’s banks is laid bare as two-thirds (65%) of bank staff who have a sales role and have sales targets say there is now more pressure than ever to meet them, almost half (46%) know colleagues who have mis-sold products in order to meet their targets and four in 10 (40%) say targets drive employees to sell when it’s not appropriate.

We also found that the sales culture remains even after rewards have been taken away; while 41% say the availability of incentives for sales has decreased, eight in ten (81%) say the pressure to meet sales targets has stayed the same or increased.

Which? interviewed branch and call centre staff from the five major banks – HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Santander.

Of those who have a sales role (not all have sales targets):

>   Two thirds (64%) say they are always or sometimes told to sell more.

>   The most common reasons for being told to sell more were to hit targets (26%) and increase profits (16%); only 6% said it was because it was in the customer’s interest.

>   Nearly half (45%) sometimes feel they’re expected to sell regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not.

>   Four in 10 (38%) with targets have ‘power hours’ where they have to make a certain number of sales within a designated period of time.

>   Over a third (37%) are not comfortable with the level of pressure to sell in their role.

Additional Which? research finds that customers are feeling the impact of this pressure-selling environment. Four in ten customers (43%) say the last time they contacted their bank they were offered a new product or service that wasn’t suitable and a quarter (25%) felt pressurised to take it. A third (34%) had to refuse a product or service more than once.

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said:

“Our survey reveals the stark realities of the sales culture that still exists at the heart of the banking industry. Senior bankers say the culture is changing but this shows it just isn’t filtering through to staff on the front line who remain under real pressure to put sales before service, even after incentives are taken away.

“This proves the need for big change across the industry and for bankers to put customers first, not sales. We’re calling on the banks to be much more transparent about their sales targets and incentives. We also want to see bankers meet professional standards and comply with a fully independent code of conduct.”

Which? is handing in a dossier of evidence to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, Government and opposition ministers and the Financial Services Authority (FSA). The dossier includes the bank staff survey, consumer views and previous research on the banking industry. This is in addition to 120,000 signatures from the general public pledging their support for ‘Big Change’ in banking with Which? and 38 Degrees.

The public can continue to support the campaign by signing the Big Change’ pledge.

Which? is calling on all the banks to refocus their incentives schemes on customer service, as Barclays and the Cooperative bank have done.

However, with only one in 10 people (11%) trusting bankers to act in their best interests, the banks need to take further action to restore the public’s trust.

‘Big Change’ is calling for:

>   Bankers to put customers first, not sales  with pay and bonus schemes, at all levels within banks, that are clear and transparent and prioritise meeting the needs of customers over simply making sales.

>   Bankers to meet professional standards and comply with a code of conduct – professional standards to be developed and enforced by an independent professional standards body, making it mandatory for individuals to comply with a code of conduct that is backed by statute, and contains genuine sanctions for malpractice.

>   Bankers to be punished for mis-selling and bad practice – proper whistle blowing arrangements in place so that frontline staff can raise concerns with senior executives. Where mis-selling and poor conduct is found, executives must be held to account, with stronger criminal sanctions – all the way up to board level – if they have presided over corrupt practices.


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Notes to editors:

1   Bank staff survey: ComRes interviewed 551 front line bank staff who have daily interactions with customers, by telephone between 22nd October and 4th December 2012. 371 respondents have a sales role, and of those 298 have sales targets. Respondents were selected from HSBC, RBS, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander and Barclays.

2   Bank customer research on sales: Populus interviewed 3922 GB adults, who have a personal bank account, online between 21st and 25th November 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of al GB adults.

3   Bank customer research on trust: Populus interviewed 2060 GB adults online between 17th and 19thAugust 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults.

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