After paying billions in compensation for mis-selling, the big banks say they’ve ditched staff sales targets to focus on meeting individual customers’ needs. So have they?
We surveyed 383 front-line bank staff to find out if they’ve put the aggressive sales culture of the past to bed. The results show that the banks have made significant changes to reform their sales-culture, but there is still more work to be done.
Since our last investigation, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been cracking down on poor practice and all the banks have scrapped sales targets, so we’re pleased to see this progress reflected when we repeated our research with bank staff this year.
Customer service not sales
Customer service targets are now more common than sales targets and 78% of staff at Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander told us there is a greater emphasis on customer service than on selling products.
In 2012, when we first surveyed bank staff anonymously, 43% said they felt under pressure to sell because of the culture in their bank. This time around, only 27% felt the same.
But while things are looking up, this is a long journey and removing individual sales targets isn’t enough to reduce the risk of mis-selling on its own.
Room for improvement
So where is there room for improvement? Well, three in 10 sales staff at the big five banking groups still say they sometimes feel they’re expected to sell regardless of whether it’s appropriate. The same percentage say they’re uncomfortable with their bank’s approach to sales. It’s clear we need more work to change the culture completely.
Pockets of the old culture still exist; 16% told us about schemes which aren’t linked to targets but do reward strong sales. One branch supervisor told us that sales targets are now referred to as ‘outcomes’. Another said they could ‘see some form of targets being reintroduced in the near future’.
Fast-talking salespeople are par for the course at a local car dealership, but when it’s your bank giving you the hard sell, the stakes are high.
And banks don’t have a good track record – they’re still paying staggering sums in compensation for the mass mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) and scandals such as Libor-fixing haven’t helped restore trust.
Things seem to be moving in the right direction, but our survey suggests there is more work to be done.
The FCA has also warned that removing sales targets alone won’t reduce the mis-selling risk if other practices put staff under pressure – it wants banks to do more to monitor practices.
Do you agree? Is there unwanted pressure from your bank, or do you think they’re finally putting customer service at the heart of their business?