Which? says bank staff 'still push unsuitable products'

Image caption Complaints about the payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal are still on-going

Major mis-selling scandals have failed to stop banks pressuring staff into pushing potentially unsuitable products, Which? has said.

The consumer group found 65% of bank staff with sales targets said they were being placed under more pressure than ever to hit them.

The British Bankers' Association said staff incentives are now based on clear criteria related to customer service.

The research was carried out between October and early December.

Which? surveyed branch and call centre staff at HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Santander.

More than 550 bank staff were interviewed, of which 371 have a sales role. And, of those, 298 said they had sales targets to meet.

The consumer group said the findings were broadly similar across all five banking giants.

Which? said the findings indicated that many workers are still being driven towards putting "sales before service".

It comes as complaints about the payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal continue to rise beyond expectations.

In the first half of 2012, the Financial Ombudsman Service received 135,170 new complaints, of which 85,562 - or 63% - were about PPI.

The total bill is predicted to reach about £15bn across the industry.

PPI was originally sold alongside loans, mortgages and credit cards, wrongly in many cases, to cover repayments if people became ill or lost their jobs.

'Real pressure'

In September, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) gave High Street banks 12 to 18 months to rein in the bonus schemes they use to encourage staff to sell insurance, loans and bank accounts.

The following month, Barclays announced that it would no longer pay any commission to 18,000 staff in its High Street branches and call centres for selling financial policies.

Bonuses, it said, would depend only on giving customers good quality service.

Which? found that some 46% of bank staff it had surveyed knew colleagues who had mis-sold products just to meet their sales targets.

Of the staff surveyed who had a sales role, more than a third - 37% - said they were uncomfortable with the level of pressure placed on them to push a product.

"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," said Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith.

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

Only 6% of those surveyed who were told to sell more said this was because it was in the customer's best interest.

A spokesman for the British Bankers' Association said: "Selling people products they do not need is not putting the customer's interests first and therefore is ultimately bad for the bank."

"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."

Marc Gander of the Consumer Action Group said: "So long as the banks are allowed to lend out their ill-gotten gains at up to 25% but are only obliged to repay it with 8% when they are found out, there will always be a good reason for them to keep on mis-selling."

Which? said it planned to hand in a dossier of evidence on the banking industry to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the government and opposition MPs and the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

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