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Under pressure

Andrea Tryphonides looks at a union survey which says many mortgage advisers at the Lloyds TSB group are feeling the pressure of sales targets

With the group on the cusp of what appears to be immense structural change, the Lloyds TSB group union and its members are concerned that the pressure will increase.

The union’s survey says 39 per cent of its members feel that mortgage specialists are pressured to sell products to customers when they knew they did not need them or could not afford them. Ninety-two per cent feel they strongly or tend to agree that the bank is only interested in sales performance and 54 per cent say they have become too focused on targets to the detriment of customer service.

The constant pressure to meet demanding sales targets and the management culture have been identified by the union as being to blame.

FSA spokesman Robin Gordon Walker says: “On frequent occasions, Callum McCarthy has said that banks have to be careful with their incentive structures.Where there is too much commission targeting, there can be misselling.”

The pressure was certainly put on by Lloyds TSB executive director (UK retail banking) Terri Dial who explained that the group was aiming for growth of 45 per cent over the next 15 months, with much of that to come from mortgage business.

Mortgage Force chief executive Rob Clifford says: “There is immense commercial pressure to make retail business distribution work. There is a fine line between satisfying clients’ requirements and enthusiastic activity and misselling.

John Charcol senior technical manager Ray Boulger says: “The FSA says they are reviewing remuneration practices. This is exactly the kind of example they have in mind. Every intermediary has known that this kind of practice has been going on. Now it looks as if we have the hard facts.”

From January 2006, as part of its strategic review, C&G is hoping to create a more flexible intermediary sales force, which will be better aligned with the IFA marketplace. C&G’s aim is to be represented in geographical areas where it has a limited or no presence. The number of intermediary sales managers will stay at around 100 but there may be some additions and the bank maintains there will be no redundancies. Intermediary sales director John Champion says this move is to build an intermediary sales team that can respond to the needs of intermediaries rather than solely opera- ting around the C&G branch network.

Hamptons International Mortgages technical director Jonathan Cornell says: “I can see that they would be wanting to centralise their mortgage processes but so far their moves have been negligible. The intermediary website may be good but as far as I know, nobody uses it.”

But LTU members say the reorganisation of the intermediary salesforce is a means to streamline the branches as the bank moves towards some sort of integration.

Union assistant general secretary Steve Tatlow expects C&G branches to keep their own identity but C&G will no longer be run as a stand-alone business, with Lloyds TSB taking much greater control over its operations.

The group would not comment on its branch plans but it confirmed early last week that there will be no branch closures. But on November 16, C&G announced the closure of its Warwick mortgage application centre, sending 300 jobs to India while 100 will be transferred to operations in Gloucester and Scunthorpe.

The union estimates that 2,500 jobs have already been transferred abroad with 960 of those jobs coming from the closure of a call centre in Newcastle.

Lloyds TSB staff in the mortgage arranger role are rewarded in levels dependent on their performance. There are fears within the LTU that pressure on C&G mortgage specialists will increase if the integration of branches goes ahead.

Tatlow says: “The survey shows that there is centralised pressure across the group, that is the culture of things here. They have to ease off the pressure, otherwise we will be dealing with misselling issues.”

A Lloyds TSB spokeswoman says: “We are fully committed to FSA guidelines on responsible lending. Buying a mortgage is a very complex issue and we believe we provide excellent and sound advice to customers. Our advisers are all fully trained and adhere to strict regulatory guidelines.”

The Mortgage Practitioner sole trader Danny Lovey believes the issues arising from the survey, while deeply worrying from a consumer perspective, only serve to act as a powerful advertisement for truly independent mortgage advice.

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