/ Money

Under pressure: the stark reality of your bank’s sales culture

A large target with an arrow in the middle

Many banks have promised to focus on their customer services over sales. So we surveyed more than 500 front-line bank staff to find out if the pressure to sell still pervades the culture in the big five banks.

The results of our survey of staff from the five major banks – HSBC, RBS, Lloyds, Barclays and Santander – were disconcerting.

We found that two-thirds of bank staff who have a sales role and sales targets say there’s more pressure than ever to meet sales targets. Throughout this Conversation, we’ve added anonymous comments from the bank staff we surveyed.

Putting on the pressure

So what’s the problem – banks need to make money, right? The problem is that the overwhelming pressure on bank staff to sell is leading to some of the most damaging practices in the industry. In our survey, four in 10 agreed that sales targets drive employees to sell when it’s not appropriate.

‘Although banks claim customer service comes first, in reality, the job is completely sales driven. The sales culture is demoralising, stressful and extremely frustrating. I’m faced with trying to sell to the same regular customers day after day.’

Most worryingly, almost half the people we surveyed who had sales roles knew colleagues who had mis-sold products to meet targets. We’re hearing this from bank staff even after many banks have claimed to remove or reduce sales incentives altogether. However, the pervasive sales culture hasn’t changed enough, as eight in 10 say the pressure to meet sales has stayed the same or even increased.

‘A lot of the time you get a message from the manager like “we’re going to focus on credit cards today”, and we’re meant to look into the customer details and see if they’re eligible. I just don’t like having to ask them out of the blue.’

Customers pay in the end

Over a third of bank staff say they’re not comfortable with the level of pressure to sell in their role, while two-thirds say they are sometimes or always told to sell more. And the impact has been felt by their customers who we surveyed separately. Four in 10 customers say the last time they contacted their bank they were offered a new product or service that wasn’t suitable, and a quarter felt pressurised to take it.

‘Staff are often monitored on an hourly basis and constantly badgered by management with regards to their sales performance, while performance reviews are entirely focused on sales. We are driving customers away.’

To sum it up, despite their big promises, the big banks aren’t putting their customers before sales. The pressure on bank staff to meet sales targets encourages mis-selling and, ultimately, customers end up paying the price. At Which?, we want all the banks to refocus their incentive schemes towards customer service – a key ask in our Big Change campaign.

Have you felt under pressure to buy a product or service when calling or visiting your bank?

Have you felt pressured by your bank to buy a product or service?

Yes - I've felt pressured to buy a product or service (56%, 352 Votes)

No - my bank has never pressured me (35%, 222 Votes)

I'm not sure (8%, 52 Votes)

Total Voters: 636

Loading ... Loading ...

It seems to be difficult to make any contact with any bank today without receiving unwanted pressure to follow their agenda.Even a telephone enquiry to check changes of interest on savings accounts will not be answered without a demand that you visit a branch “for a detailed examination of your situation so that we can tailor our advice to your needs.. for otherwise you may not make the right decision”.. Even when you do feel a visit to talk to the ‘specialist’ adviser might be useful as in a recent pre-arranged visit I made to Santander to specifically discuss options for the reinvestment of a maturing savings account, the whole of the meeting (until I removed myself) was spent in urging me to move from my present current account with another bank to the Santander 1/2/3 version although I repeatedly indicated I was there to discuss other matters. This is not customer service but the equivalent of telephone ‘cold calling’ which does not make me favour the bank but was rather a prompt to withdraw my custom entirely.

And is still happening to-day @ Satandar

A bank customer says:
21 December 2012

In 2011 I changed my bank to MetroBank when it opened a branch locally. They do not try to sell you investment products and just concentrate on straight forward banking: current and savings accounts and lending. The service is excellent and when I had a problem, not of their making, they went out of their way to find the cause and put my mind at rest. Any other bank would have shrugged their shoulders and said “not our problem”. I know MetroBank are still relatively small but isn’t it time you included them in surveys?

Having recently retired from over 40 years in financial services, the last 15 years in complaint handling, I’ve seen a lot of history of miss-selling, including by banks. It still seems to be continuing and is largely caused by the short term culture of profits, ignoring the long term risk of expensive fines and compensation, let alone loss of reputation. Lets hope the recent embarrassments and and future regulation changes this culture from the top.

John H Hutchinson says:
21 December 2012

I have a close friend who resigned from her counter job in one of the Big Five because she resented pressure upon her to sell bank’s products.

Like so many organisations, banks are under more pressure from shareholders for higher profits, than from customers for better service. Too many people mistakenly believe that bank staff have more knowledge about financial products than they really do and many are taken in, believing that they really ought to “buy” the deal being pushed. The days of the experienced and “much revered” local bank manager providing the right advice to customers for their specific needs – are long gone. Years ago, people seldom changed banks, often staying with the same bank that their parents used. That has all changed and people are much more willing to move their accounts these days – so banks had better watch out.

Michael P says:
26 December 2012

The last time I needed to pay a rare visit to my local Lloyds Bank branch I was asked to wait by the cashier before she would complete my transaction because they wanted to offer me a financial review. I have been with them for nearly 50 years and never borrowed or owed a penny. A young suit appeared from a side doorway and invited me to follow him to an office for a financial check up I didn’t want or need. I went to convince him I didn’t need any help. What followed was an intusive scrutiny of my financial affairs and I came out with two new additional credit cards on the promise of some benefit just to get released. I cut them up when I got home and wrote to the manager telling him to keep off my back in the future. I had to repeat my instruction sometime later when I was pestered by texts and phone messages which could be interpreted as there was something amiss with my account I needed to discuss with them. This is customer harassment.

John H Hutchinson says:
27 December 2012

You don’t need me to tell you that we are all saying the same thing. Banks must change or be changed. For a start investment / commercial / personal accounting should be separated since we customers are being alienated not attracted.

I am quite surprised by the number of people who seem to have a difficulty in saying, NO, to someone trying to sell them something. I have never had such a problem, particularly with my local branch of the Bank of Scotland, where I my wife and I have had the same joint current account for the last 30 years. In 1996, I negotiated a bridging loan with the then manager at base rate plus 2%. Ten days before I needed the money, I went in to see him and he said, “Everything is fine, you just have the arrangement fee to pay”. An arrangement fee have never been mentioned before. I had nowhere to go to get the amount of cash I needed in the time available, and he knew it. My first thought was to close the account some months down the line once my loan had been paid back. Then, I thought about it and decided to stay with Bank of Scotland and from that point forward to cost it as much as I possibly could for the rest of my life. I never go overdrawn, I keep a minimal amount in a savings account with this bank, I let them send me all the marketing material they like, I consistently refuse all requests move to a different current account or to move to paper-free banking, and I never ever buy any products from them. When they start the hard sell I just tell them the above story and say that if they would like to repay me the arrangement fee, plus interest at 2% above base rate, then I might talk to them. Easy and most satisfying. As the Bank of Scotland slogan used to go, “Your Friend for Life”. That’s me 🙂

John H Hutchinson says:
31 December 2012

From today, you will have to pay your financial adviser for advice. Be sure that he / she advises you of the absolute cost before starting the discourse!

John HH – you’ve always had to pay – either by a fee or through commission. The main thing is to find a good independent financial adviser (and get a bit clued up yourself so you know what you are doing – that’s no different to any other transaction).

Nelson Spring says:
3 January 2013

I’ve never had a problem in over 30 years with the Cooperative Bank. But then they are ethical, or at least try to be.

Telephoned Nationwide to-day, guess what they asked after dealing with my request? Do you want a Credit Card. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh

Miss-selling fines imposed on the banks have to be made high enough that it is only in the shareholders’ interest for the banks to act in customers’ interests. The government should keep on raising the level of fines until there are no more customer complaints

The problem with fines imposed by regulators on banks and energy companies is that they are not a deterrent because, in the end, the customer has to pay through the price of the products. The companies want to keep their shareholders happy, so reduced profits are not an option for them. Not only that, but the bonuses continue to be paid (as profits are maintained) despite the unethical practices which attracted the fines. So it is a double whammy against the customer – conned by these bad policies and then paying for the fine imposed. This is what happens with corporate responsibility – those that are guilty are not held sufficiently accountable, unless the shareholders are canny enough to ensure salary and bonus structures will penalise offenders. Just imagine the difference if these “fines” could be imposed on the directors, or those responsible for the policies which cause the problems. Perhaps they would look much more carefully at how their companies operate and consider the people who bring them the business – the customer.

If the Co-operative Bank is so ethical, why has it been fined for delays in handling PPI miss-selling complaints, and why did it generate PPI miss-selling complaints in the first place?

angry banker says:
12 January 2013

Working for a bank let me tell you it is business as usual. Infact, our targets have tripled!

Malcolm H says:
12 January 2013

Whilst paying in a large(ish) cheque to my Lloyds TSB current account I was asked by the cashier, who was fairly new to the role & undergoing training/supervision, if had I any plans for the money and would I like a financial review. This seemed to be a script that has to be followed on such occasions. Obviously selling is still paramount at LloydsTSB!

This has been a fairly standard question from banks for many years. The reply should be “Yes, I am going to invest it in my debts”. A sure show stopper.

It is not unreasonable to ask such a question as long as they then respect your answer.

James Williams says:
12 January 2013

When they ask this question, one should always resist the temptation to reply ‘best if you don’t know, luv’ and tap the side of your nose with your finger.

Apparently they have to fill loads of report forms in if you do.

give me a name says:
20 February 2013

I work for a major bank. If a customer calls in to inquire about PPI, I have been trained and always pressurized to cross sell home insurance. Nothing has changed and would never be changed unless the term “Sales Target” is eradicated. Incentives are shown on paper to be based on customer service and sale combined but in reality it is only about sales.

tiredofpressure says:
25 July 2014

My husband is a bank clerk, and despite achieving the highest customer service scores and being personally mentioned by customers as providing top quality service, was told he could not have his ‘customer service’ bonus as his sales did not meet their (unattainable) targets. He is pressured daily to sell to the same regular customers when it is clearly inappropriate and makes customers uncomfortable. This is on top of doing the actual work of a bank clerk, which goes completely unnoticed in appraisals due to the sole focus on sales.

Stephen Rosling says:
25 July 2014

So here we are – coming up to 2 years since this conversation started and has anything changed?

Are we really surprised ? I don’t think so. As with most big businesses, their policies are designed to appease shareholders, not customers and whilst I won’t be popular for saying this – most shareholders are more financially astute than the average bank customer. When customers begin to accept that financial “products” they are lured into buying are lining the pockets of shareholders, they then need to consider more carefully what product they really need rather than give in to pressure selling. Customers certainly need to shop around, rather than accepting the “offer” from their high street bank. We now have the FCA which has replaced the FSA – as regulator, but none of us should hold our breath on any improvements, though I would love to be proved wrong.