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At the second hearing of the Which? Banking Commission recently, several former bank staff gave evidence of the sales culture they experienced while working for some of the biggest names in high-street banking. Following reports of the hearing published in Money Marketing,several former bank employees got in touch to tell us of similar experiences. Here, three former bank advisers talk to Lee Jones about the high-pressure sales culture they experienced when they were working for banks

’You were targeting sales every time you met your client’

Account manager from Worcestershire, former Barclays retail and business adviser (1995-2006)

“There was a real sales culture at Barclays and we always had impossibly high targets to meet. All banks have that culture in that sense – no bank will offer a bonus on customer service alone, you have to add value to the role.

“One of the biggest pushes was for insurance with loans and we were trained in a very tough manner to make sure that when we sold a loan
we sold the spin. It was all about telling people what happens to them if they did not take the insurance and painting the worst image.

It is how we were trained and now, from a compliance view, it seems crazy. We were told to put the fear of God into the client.

That has changed with IFAs, the FSA will not allow it, but in banks you still see it and they are still trying to frighten people into buying things that they might not need and might not do what they were told it would do.

“When I moved to business banking, I thought it would be different but it wasn’t. You were targeting sales every time you met your client and nine times out of 10 it would benefit the bank more than it would the client.

“We had guys who knew compliance inside and out, very good relationship managers who knew how to advise clients but these guys were ’managed out’ of their jobs because they were not making massive sales.

“There was no real emphasis on compliance. I was conscientious and it would frighten me that I did not know if I was being compliant or not half the time.

“When I was putting the files away I didn’t even know if I had completed my sale properly. We know the banks have to make a profit but they should be doing it in a compliant manner but it is not happening. It was just about getting it done and getting on to the next sale.

“A lot of people were off sick because of the stress of the job and because the job affected their home life too much. Also, people would leave so often. As a result, you always had so much work you just had to keep going on this treadmill, which meant you just could not do the job properly.

“I know the guys in the branches still, and knowing how they were then I expect it is even worse now because they have to all make even
more money than ever. They are under so much pressure to make the sales.

“It is not the fault of the people in the branches, it is the manage ment putting the pressure on.

A Barclays spokesperson says: “We do not recognise the environment described by this former employee and it is certainly not reflective of the culture at Barclays today. We have a clear strategy of establishing long-term relationships with our customers, providing them with products that meet their needs and offer long-term value.

“Like any successful business, we agree goals to motivate staff but these are balanced against customer service and retention. Staff bonuses are paid for deliv ering a balanced combin ation of sales, customer retention, customer service and following the bank’s rules and policies.

“There is a huge emphasis and investment in compliance and ensuring that we treat our customers fairly at all levels of the organisation, both centrally and embedded in the business. We do not believe we create a pressurised sales environment for our staff and we do not condone the actions of any manager who does.”

’It got so bad they resorted to selling to their own staff’

IFA from Milton Keynes and former HSBC tied adviser (2004-08)

“I left HSBC after the doctor told me to in the end, I got quite ill with stress and exhaustion. I worked all around the home counties, driving three
hours a day and they would not allow me to work closer to home because my boss said I was ’her bonus’.

“What we sold was always geared round the particular campaign that was going on – structured products, for example. It was all product pushing. Publicly, HSBC would always deny product pushing but they were doing it – why have a campaign on a specific product if you are not going to be pushing that product?

“I used to feel so sorry for the girls in the branches, they were in tears because at the end of the week we would have a conference call with all the teams in the area and they were made to feel useless as they did not have enough points. They were told they had not sold enough credit
cards, bank accounts and the like. The product pushing that goes on is dreadful.

“Staff would worry they did not have enough quotes and would resort to just putting down friends and family. They would even ask me if I had home and contents insur ance. It was so bad that they resorted to trying to sell to their own staff.

“They said it does not happen now, but it does. It is about getting as much out of as little as possible by pushing staff more and more.

“I still get calls from HSBC clients, telling me that they are not being looked after, asking me what they should do with their investments.

“This happened especially when the markets went down in 2008 and they said no one at HSBC was helping them. I just told them to sit tight but the bank warned me off. It sent me nasty letters as it thought I was stealing its clients. I have never done that, I can build my own client bank.”

A spokesman for HSBC says: “HSBC’s sales policies are entirely compliant with all required regulations, our advisers are trained and rewarded to meet customers financial needs with only the most appropriate products and solutions. Our high level of customer satisfaction and low level of complaints reflects our service excellence. Without further details of this member of staff we cannot investigate further, however these views show no reflection of the environment in which our advisers work or how our advisers work with customers.”

’We would have to give commitments on what we would sell by the end of the day’

Mortgage broker from Bedford, former RBS branch employee (2004-08)

“When you start your training at the bank it is all bells and whistles but when you get into the flow of things you really see the bad side of the business – the last two years in the job were horrific.

“I was branch-based and my job was to sell, they called it a ’customer adviser’ position but it was really just sell what you could. As soon as I
sat at my desk I would call into a conference at 9.30am where all the branches in the catchment area would have to read out our sales figures.We would also have to give commitments on what we would sell by the end of the day.

“Two hours later, we would then have to log into another conference call and give an update about what is going on. It would be just sitting around listening to people reading out their figures and they would then ask for further commitments for the next couple of hours – how many loans? What would be the conversion on insurance?

“This would go on every two hours until 4.30pm, when we had our last meeting and fed back our daily sales figures and remind them of our initial commitments for the day. We would have to explain why we didn’t meet those targets or, if we did, what your targets were the next day. If we did miss target, we would be forced to explain ourselves and tell them what we were going to do to improve the next day.

“It was stressful because every day we had make a commitment, not actually knowing if the best thing for the clients you were booked to meet was to sell them a loan or some insurance.

“There was no regard as to who got what loans. I was put on a target-based contract because I explicitly refused to do loans for clients when I did not think it was appropriate. RBS was just interested in getting the numbers. But it was difficult to turn people away because you had so much pressure on your head and you knew you had to sell something before you even walked into an appoint ment, before even saying hello.

“I studied my mortgage exams while I still worked at RBS and as soon as I gained them I left. I have a relationship with my clients now, they approach me for business and it is actually financial advice. At RBS, there was no professionalism or advice, it was all down to sales.”

A spokesperson for RBS says: “Our focus is and always has been on building and maintaining long-term relationships with our customers and we recognise the importance of supporting our staff to make sure customers are made aware of the most appropriate products and services for their particular needs.

“Our customers must be at the core of our efforts to rebuild RBS and we have already taken significant action to change the way we do business and the business that we do. We have embarked upon a radical programme to eliminate a wide range of administrative processes in our branches and this is already allowing our staff to spend more time with their customers.

“We have also made significant changes to our sales process to ensure staff are only rewarded for providing customers with a comprehensive and balanced offering rather than simply discussing products and services in isolation.

“Our staff will be key to making sure we serve our customers well and we are very proud of the profession alism and commitment they have shown in supporting customers during this difficult economic period.”

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