The Royal Bank of Scotland has been accused of using sales target pressure for branch staff under coronavirus-lockdown at home.
A whistleblower lifted the lid on the sales culture and claims that staff are having meetings over Zoom first thing in the morning to talk over targets, how many customers they’re expected to contact and last thing in the evening to reveal how they’ve done.
They add there was even a campaign to target key workers, including nurses, in the height of lockdown.
NatWest/RBS refute the claims and say they are contacting customers simply to ‘assess their needs.’
Targets? A worker for RBS, which also owns NatWest, says they’re ‘cold calling’ customers from home to ‘upgrade’ current accounts and give them a financial health check
It is not clear how many senior personal bankers are now working from home instead of in branch since lockdown began in March, but it is likely to be a high number.
The whistleblower claims a large chunk are ‘cold calling’ customers from home.
They contacted This is Money after reading our ‘stop the hard sell’ campaign that launched eight years ago, and which featured RBS in 2016, in shock that these practices still exist.
The whistleblower said: ‘I feel this cannot carry on and I would like to show them [RBS] how it effects staff member well-being which they seem to go on about for a week then forget exists.’
What are the claimed targets?
The whistleblower claims working from home consists of cold calling customers from campaigns NatWest/RBS says will benefit customers.
Staff doing this, they say, are pressured to book in 15 financial health checks a week and adds that in recent months, there has been a huge push to ‘upgrade’ a customer’s current account.
The upgrade is to the Reward account.
This costs a customer £2 per month with the opportunity to rake back £5 a month in cashback rewards.
They say they are told on the phone to basically tell customers that they are ‘getting money for nothing with cashback’.
They also say that currently, one business mortgage needs to be booked in a day as well.
They claim they are to ‘cold call as many customers as possible to get them to take out borrowing,’ such as loans, overdrafts credit cards.
Additionally, they say a campaign to call nurses and emergency workers during the peak of lockdown was binned after receiving a slurry for negative feedback from stressed customers busy at work.
What is a financial health check?
A financial health check says staff ask customers questions about their financial position and who they might bank with other than Natwest.
They find out what existing borrowing or savings they currently have and what home insurance life insurance they have.
They are then to identify products they would benefit from and – to pinch an American phrase – upsell them it.
The mantra given by the bank to staff is that the customers are financial fitter. The whistleblower says this is the case for some customers, but not all.
The staff member says management expect to a minimum of 17 needs met per week.
As previously covered by This is Money, this is industry jargon which often means the sale of one of the bank’s products.
Calls: The staff member says there was a campaign to target key workers which was binned after negative feedback
The dreaded performance plan
As well as a morning meeting to discuss targets, at the end of the working day, they debrief with the branch manager who quizzes them on how many financial health checks undertaken and what needs were met.
They say: ‘If we don’t meet targets, we are then highlighted at regional level and scrutinised by the branch manager who will put you on a performance plan and give you dialogue to use that seems to work with other staff.’
A performance plan of this nature often means re-training and the threat of job loss if staff continue failing to meet targets – it can be an extremely stressful for staff who are put on it.
Working from home for rest of the year?
Stop the hard sell
For many years, I have delved into the sales target pressure some bank staff are under.
I’ve heard tales of bullying and strain of being constantly monitored to ‘meet customer needs’.
The Financial Conduct Authority launched a major review into sales practices in September 2012, shortly after the start of our campaign.
In 2014, it said all major high street banks either replaced or made substantial changes to high pressure financial incentive schemes which resulted in vast mis-selling of products.
If you work for a bank and still find yourself under this pressure, please read the archive to this.
And contact: firstname.lastname@example.org in confidence.
The whistleblower claims it is more than likely they will be working from home for the foreseeable as management have set new targets for the second part of the year.
They adds: ‘This only indicates more mis-selling on the phones as no one can monitor our calls.’
The staff member claims that this week, they were told to be more assertive and not give the customer a choice with not taking out the reward upgrade account and talk to the customer how to complete it.
However, the whistleblower is concerned that customers are not being given the chance to read the terms and conditions properly before proceeding.
They said: ‘I would think a very low percentage [are reading the T&Cs] as the adviser is wanting them to complete the upgrade on the phone as soon as possible.
‘We were even sent an email from the local director the dialogue to use as the branch who is having the most success says it works.’
Those who are not performing well, they claim, are then pushed to use this dialogue to try and replicate the success.
What does RBS say?
An NatWest/RBS spokesperson said: ‘Since the outset of this crisis, our colleagues have been working hard to make sure that the people, families and businesses impacted by coronavirus have the right support in place.
‘As a proactive and responsible lender, this means getting in touch to assess their needs, signpost our forbearance support measures, and help them make informed choices about their finances at a time when many are experiencing changes in their income and outgoings.’
It confirmed staff not working in branches are working from home and that it is proud to help support people with the changes coronavirus has created – but that it does not cold call for product sales.
It also denies there was a campaign to contact nurses and key workers in the peak of lockdown.
In terms of the threat of a performance plan, it adds that it expects branch managers to support and coach team members on a daily basis to help more customers.