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Bank staff tell inquiry of pressure to sell

Which? Future of banking commission – reports by Lee Jones

Kirk: ‘You had to sell, whether it was for the customer or not’
Kirk: ‘You had to sell, whether it was for the customer or not’

During the second Which? Future of Banking Commission it was the turn of the general public to attack banks for their high-pressure sales culture.

The commission, which is headed by Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden David Davis, Treasury select committee chairman John McFall and Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable, is looking at the future of banking from the perspective of the consumer.

Which? put forward a panel made up of people from the general public who had an interest in the UK banking sector as witnesses, led by Which? council chairman Paddy Barwise.

One witness was Gill Kirk, a former HSBC employee who had worked for the bank for 30 years, both in branches and at head office. She left the bank a decade ago and says the sales culture which existed then was so bad she decided to move from her branch job.

She said: “It became more that you had to sell and that is not what I wanted to do, so I did a course and moved into the head office as I did not 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.”

Jane Davies, a businesswoman who runs a small firm, was also on the panel. She had recently begun helping a family member with severe debt and said it had been an “awakening to realise banks’ predatory sales culture”.

She said: “Banks have to be up front about the fact that they are organisations that want to sell you something, they are not there to financially manage your affairs and they are not there to give you advice. I think there are a lot of people who do not know that.”

It was Kirk who became the centre of the commission’s questioning. She admitted that targets came before customer needs when working in a bank branch.

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 did not do that because they were trying to reach a target and they sold whatever they could.”

Barwise stressed that HSBC was not in any way a lone example of bad bank practice but he said that the behaviour Kirk described was a particular concern to Which?

He said: “Commission that is not transparent to the consumer has an enormous influence. From our point of view, incentives have a huge effect.”

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

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