Bank Staff 'Under Pressure To Sell', Which? Says
Staff at Britain's largest banks remain under pressure to sell products to customers, often regardless of whether they are appropriate, an investigation claims.
Two thirds of bank staff with a sales role said there is now "more pressure than ever" to meet their targets, according to a Which? survey of front line bank employees.
Almost half of the 500 people interviewed said they knew colleagues who had mis-sold products to meet their targets, and 40% reported that they are encouraged to sell even when it is not appropriate.
Which? interviewed branch and call-centre staff from HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Santander, and found that even when incentives are removed, the practice prevails.
Although over 40% said incentives for sales have decreased, more than 80% said the pressure to meet sales targets has stayed the same or increased.
The research comes despite a string of mis-selling scandals over recent years, knocking customers' trust in UK banks.
The most high-profile - the mis-selling of payment protection insurance - has already cost the big banks more than £10bn in compensation claims, with that bill expected to rise.
Of the staff surveyed, over a third said they are not comfortable with the pressure they are under to sell products, and two thirds added that they are sometimes or always ordered to sell more.
Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith†called for "big change" across the banking industry, with customers - not sales - put first.
"Our survey reveals the stark realities of the sales culture that still exists at the heart of the banking industry," he said.
"Senior bankers say the culture is changing but this shows it just isn't filtering through to staff on the front line who remain under real pressure to put sales before service, even after incentives are taken away.
"We're calling on the banks to be much more transparent about their sales targets and incentives.
"We also want to see bankers meet professional standards and comply with a fully independent code of conduct."
A spokesman for the British Bankers' Association (BBA) said that any incentives for front line staff are now based on clear criteria related to customer service.
"Selling people products they do not need is not putting the customer's interests first and therefore is ultimately bad for the bank," he said.
"The banks will be looking at the findings of this small survey - along with their own internal research - to understand why any staff might feel otherwise."
Which? said it will provide a collection of evidence on the banking industry to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the Government and opposition MPs, and the Financial Standards Authority (FSA).
Barclays and the Co-operative bank have already announced plans to refocus their incentives schemes on customer service.
A spokeswoman for Barclays said: "From this week all Barclays UK front line staff are rewarded solely on customer service.
"This follows our announcement in October which was welcomed by Which?"
An HSBC statement said the bank encourages its employees to act "with integrity in the best interest of our customers".
"No one in the UK retail bank, not just customer facing staff, can earn a bonus without meeting the bank's values and behaviours criteria," it said.
And a spokeswoman for RBS said that its staff are rewarded on the basis of customer service and the performance of their branch overall.
"This is part of our move to make sure that customer service is the top priority for all of our staff," she added.