Banks are still pressurising staff into pushing products which may be unsuitable, despite major mis-selling scandals, Which? claimed today.

Two-thirds (65%) of bank staff with sales targets said they were being placed under more pressure than ever to hit them. Almost half (46%) knew colleagues who had mis-sold products just to meet their goals, the consumer group found.

Key Points

  • Which? found bank staff pressured to sell
  • 46% know colleagues who mis-sold to meet targets
  • FCA has promised crackdown on sales incentives

Meanwhile, 40% said targets were driving employees to sell when it wasn't appropriate.

Which? says its survey of branch and call centre staff at HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Santander indicates many workers are still being driven towards putting "sales before service".

Its research found a sales culture remained, even after rewards had been taken away.

While 41% of staff said incentives for sales had decreased, 81% said the pressure to meet targets had stayed the same, or had even increased.

The research, which was carried out between October and early this month, comes as banks battle to win back customer trust.

Complaints about the payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal are continuing to surge beyond expectations, with the total industry-wide bill predicted to reach around £15 billion.

'Power hours'

Of those asked who had a sales role, although not all had sales targets, Which? also found that:

  • Two-thirds (64%) said they were always or sometimes told to sell more.
  • The most common reasons for being told to sell more were to hit targets (26%) and increase profits (16%). Only 6% said it was because it was in the customer's interest.
  • Nearly half (45%) sometimes feel they're expected to sell, regardless of whether it's appropriate or not.
  • 38% with targets have 'power hours', where they have to make a certain number of sales within a designated period of time.
  • 37% are not comfortable with the level of pressure to sell in their role.

Which? said separate research into bank customers found 43% said the last time they contacted their bank, they were offered a product or service that was not suitable, while a quarter felt pressurised to take it.

A third said they had to say no more than once.

One staff member admitted last year that he was pressured into mis-selling PPI when working for a high street bank (see the I've mis-sold PPI MSE News story).

'Frontline staff still under pressure'

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith says: "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.

"This proves the need for big change across the industry and for bankers to put customers first, not sales."

Martin Wheatley, who will head the new Financial Conduct Authority — which takes over the Financial Services Authority's consumer protection role next year — told earlier this year that the FCA will crack down on incentive schemes, making sure firms put customers first.

However, some banks have already begun cleaning up their acts. This month, Barclays stopped offering inducements to employees based on how many products they sell. It followed a similar move by Co-op Bank.

Which? plans to hand its evidence to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the Government and opposition MPs, and the Financial Standards Authority.

It will include the bank staff survey, as well as 120,000 signatures from people who support its "big change" campaign to make banks more consumer-focused and get badly-behaved bankers "struck off".

Additional reporting by the Press Association.