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ex-HSBC employee reveals high pressure sales culture

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A former employee of HSBC has revealed that the sales culture within her branch was so bad she was forced to move jobs into the bank’s head office.

During Which?’s Future of Banking Commission in London yesterday, the consumer group put forward a panel of consumers forward to give their opinion of the banking industry.

Gill Kirk, a former HSBC employee for 30 years worked for both a branch and the head office of the bank. She left a decade ago and says the sales culture which existed then was so bad she decided to move from her branch job to avoid the sales-orientated culture.

She said: “I think the financial expertise of the branch employees is not as good as it used to be - the emphasis is on selling rather than on financial expertise, they just have to sell and have targets to meet.”

This was the second Commission hearing and was chaired by Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden David Davis and included Treasury select committee chariman John McFall and LibDem Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable.

Commission panel member former Schroders group managing director Philip Auger  wanted to know if Kirk had been pushed into sales and wanted to know about the branch staff’s incentives to sell financial products.

Kirk said: “It became more that you had to sell, and that’s not what I wanted to do so I did a course and moved into the head office as I didn’t want to sell.

“We were incentivised - we had targets to meet and if we met them we got points and prizes. The more you sold, the more prizes you got - we got Hoovers, cameras things like that.”

Capital Economics chief economist Roger Bootle asked Kirk if her bank had ever recognised it was wrong in pushing sales. She said no.

She said: “You had to sell, whether it was for the customer or not. You’d like to think that if you knew the customer you could sell them the right product but some people didn’t do that because they were trying to reach a target and they sold whatever they could.”

A HSBC spokesman says: “HSBC is well known for its quality level of service and its commitment to treat customers fairly. The sales initiative that Mrs Kirk refers to was phased out by Midland Bank in the late 1980’s.”

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Readers' comments (51)

  • This has always been the case, and to me not news. I have friends that work in branches for several different banks and they all say that they are pushed to sell, whether it is suitable for the client or not! If this is such big news and it is deemed so inappropriate then why haven't the FSA done anything about it in the past 10 years?!

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  • This is not news!

    Banks are the most aggressive sellers in the whole of the industry.

    Who can honestly say they have never been canvassed for mortgage, car insurance, house insurance, life assurance, personal financial review etc etc etc...... whilst simply trying to pay in a cheque over the counter?

    (Something that ironically they dont like you to do, paying in a cheque sir? Please use the machine. The counters are for cross selling!)

    I joke but you all know what I mean!

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  • I have now been put on disciplinary with in a Bank, for issues outside of my control.

    I am informed that it I have targets and I must meet them irrespective. I wish I could, I enjoy earning bonus for doing a Proper job for my customers

    Part of the associated improvement plan is to meet set weekly figure- my comment is, I can only do this if it is right for the customer. Do these targets fit in with TCF??

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  • I worked for NatWest for almost 30 years until 2001. Now work for firm of IFAs. I agree with all the comments made. Just pay in a large cheque into a bank and experience the high pressure to buy the structured product that 'happens' to be the flavour of the month. How can this be TCF? Of greater concern in this context should be the iminent introduction of RDR. Do the politicians realise there will be significantly fewer IFAs around to offer an alternative to bank high pressure selling? I guarantee, the public will be the losers. I do not believe the FSA have a clue the extent of their actions - how can they - no one has asked!

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  • All of the above is a diluted appraisal of the industry, just last year I was fortunate enough to be offered a rare employed position with the 'Financial Services' arm of a well known self professed 'ETHICAL' bank. Highly delighted and looking forward to meeting clients and offering them 'BEST ADVICE' to meet their requirements I completed the 4 week induction course, upon exit of this I was let loose on the client bank along with my then 'SALES' manager, only to be told by him that I was to forget all I had learned in past 4 weeks as "we do not get paid for giving advice but by the number of sales we make" needless to say I told them they could keep their precious job and so called 'ETHICAL' stance.

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  • I am currently working in a branch for HSBC
    The pressure to sell fee paying accounts along with Mortgages, Credit Cards, Home and Motor Insurance is VERY stressfull.
    We have to pledge sales and quotes.Emails are sent out from area office detailing other branches/staff performances bullying via internet. We have resorted to quoting family and friends to try and boost our branch performance. HSBC have told staff they intend to be "The Waitrose of banking" they want Premier or fee paying accounts and the dross can bank elsewhere. If you have a fee paying or Premier account you will speak to a U.K call centre the lower value customers/ accounts are filtered and routed to an overseas call centre. Branches are also targeted on ensuring customers use the auto banks and paying in machines rather than the counters as it is cheaper and frees the staff up to sell.

    We are also targeted on percentages of customers we sign up to use on line banking (This is cheaper for HSBC) although we risk customers not visiting the branch and putting our jobs at risk.
    We have to spread ourselves very thin with our product knowledge and I have known staff sell vunerable customers a credit card just to help with their sales target. We are told it is selling to customers need - but if the customer doesn't need/want it and you don't make sales you are classed as underperforming .
    HSBC will come up with a spin on this but I work in this enviroment and believe me this is true - ask some of the staff signed off with stress

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  • I started my banking career in Natwest and the pressure to sell to unrealistic targets was unreal. I looked forward to end of day conference calls with the senior manager each day where individuals who had not performed to target were humiliated and bullied in front of other staff. Half the sellers were off with stress. I moved to Barclays hoping they would treat customers more fairly and they are no better. The bullying to sell is not quite as harsh as Natwest but there are new challenges with Barclays such as cross sales ratios...if you sell one product to a customer they are not content with that, they want you to sell 3 products in one hit.
    Banking is a joke and staff are threatened with disciplinary and dismissal for not hitting ridiculous sales targets. Every day you worry how much longer you'll keep your job. The emphasis then strays from customer service and to sales. Even the call centres are pressurised in the same way. I hope something is done to stop bank sales culture, it is not fair on customers and it is not fair on staff.

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  • HSBC Sell or leave. regardless of how good you are with customer service if you are not making sales of fee paying accounts, loans and credit cards you are not wanted. The cashiers at our branch had to continually ask customers about home and motor insurance and then take abuse because someone else had asked last week/month. These are cashiers on an average salary of £13k still as long as the big chiefs are raking in Fat Cat bonuses why would they even care about the stress this awful push push sales culture put the HSBC staff under? Rubbish to work for rubbish to bank with unless you have Premier or a fee paying account.

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  • I work for the bank that prides itself on its ethics and the statement that it wants to be "The most admired financial services business...blah blah blah" It is just the same as any other bank. I had faith, that when I joined the company, I would be working for an institute that would stand out and take control of financial services to provide outstanding customer service. I am what is know as a "General Advisor" and as the name suggests I help customers ("people") solve their problems or provide them with account information. The problem is, if I spend my day helping customers as well as making them feel comfortable (I love to hear their stories, probably the most rewarding part of my job!) I find myself not meeting my daily sales targets. I then think why does it matter!?!? I received 100% on a recent mystery customer survey, a first for the branch and that went unrecognised... Banks could survive on word of mouth recognitions "a loan", unfortunately they're too dumb to realise this and too scared to admit to it. All banks lie and promise too much and always deliver far too little.... They look for a "quick buck" sale and hope for the best. It seems very amateur and not thought through. This is not surprising considering the calibre of the mangers. Most are hyped up mobile phone sales people who would fail an interview for "The Apprentice". We all know Apprentice contestants are egotists with no skills,so I guess it isn't really a surprise.

    So why have a bank account....? I suggest you do, but don't pay for it! Avoid giving any bank your money. They don't deserve it, they don't know what to do with it so therefore they don't earn it. All I can say is that some of their employees (although it maybe few) believe in ethics and will "help customers".Obviously this means we will not try and flog you something you don't want....

    "Barclays iron eagle, "33 injection"
    Sold to advertisers, computer execution line
    They give and take away, repossess and crucify
    The more you own the more you are, lonelier with cheap desire"

    I know that if banks committed to their promises, customers would have much more faith in them. I hope I portray that image, and from what customers say I do. I'm too aware though that my mangers can't see this.....

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  • Having worked in a bank, I can safely say that most people's views on here are spot on. I now work in insurance & it has really opened my eyes as to how much mis-selling takes place by banks in relation to home insurance. Be very careful if you take a cheap policy from a pushy bank clerk,the list of assumptions is huge! There are many articles online that the banks "next PPI" is their mis-selling of home insurance policies.

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