Big Four bank still ‘not doing the right thing by the customer’

Most of us over the age of 50 can still remember the slogan of Westpac Bank’s predecessor, the Bank of New South Wales. My very first savings passbook featured it: “You can bank on the Wales”.

These days it seems like a more appropriate slogan for all of the ‘Big Four’ banks would be “You can bank on the sales”.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald this week reported that staff at one of those big four, NAB, are being “incentivised” to meet sales targets, rather than focussing on the traditional core services provided by banks.

This revelation comes more than three years after the Australian government’s royal commission into banking, which resulted in banks supposedly ditching business models based on employees hitting sales benchmarks.

Read: The bank that doesn’t want your money

According to one Victorian-based branch manager, that is anything but the case.

“It’s all about sales”, they said. “It’s written and spoken about doing the right thing for the customer, but it’s not. We’re now sales coaches.”

The statement is a further blow to NAB, following recent revelations that the bank had ordered branch staff to refuse to accept payments from customers who wish to settle credit card bills over the counter.

That sparked an angry response from Finance Sector Union (FSU) Julia Angrisano, who said banning over-the-counter credit card payments is designed to ultimately close more bank branches.

“This is an outrageous bid by NAB to block its customers from using branches for a common transaction many older people make,” she said.

The bank later backflipped on its decision, claiming it was all a misunderstanding.

Read: Abandoned: Branches and ATMs disappearing across Australia

It might be harder to convince many that the Big Four are no longer pushing sales targets, though. This week’s report follows similar ones of nearly 12 months ago.

Despite Australian Banking Association chief executive Anna Bligh claiming that employees were no longer being paid based on hitting sales benchmarks, many staff, and the FSU itself, say otherwise.

One worker who took part in a focus group conducted for the Finance Sector Union said, “If anything, since the RC, things have just gotten worse.”

Read: Call for banks to do more to protect consumers from scammers

Many of the focus groups participants condemned bank bosses for continuing to run a sales-oriented culture, if not in name, then certainly in nature.

“They don’t call them sales anymore.” one worker said. “They call them different things like ‘customer requirements met’. Frontline staff are always terrified of being performance managed out the door.”

Nearly a year later, and a full three years since the commission’s final report, Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, nothing appears to have changed. NAB’s own staff claim that the new credit card policy was part of a wider strategy to transform branches from service providers to sales centres, where daily target tracking is used to encourage competition between branches.

Passbooks, along with one and two cent coins, have disappeared from bank branches, and not many would lament their passing. But many customers, particularly older ones, have said they would like to be able to go into their local branch to pay off their credit cards in person, rather than help the person serving them reach an arbitrary ‘sales target’.

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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