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Selling the hard sell

It doesn’t surprise me that a staff survey at one of the big four found “pressure on bank tellers to push customers into … financial products such as insurance and managed funds is causing stress, depression and bullying”.

Sales under the guise of customer service is underhanded and it is understandable bank tellers aren’t comfortable in an arrangement that sees them competing against sales targets and ranked on a whiteboard.

It stands to reason that personnel whose role has been defined in a service-related capacity previously may not readily make the shift into sales performance-based productivity ratings.

According to an employee spokesman, “Staff have to up-sell and on-sell products and services and debt to consumers to maximise profits for the bank."

It all sounds fairly bleak if you take the word of one former bank-employed financial planner who says the sales training is rigorous.


''The poor staff get no respite: sales meetings, videos, weekly 'Big Fives' and ritual humiliation on the 'Whiteboard of Shame' at the end of the week for the 'underperformers'.''

Certainly, there is an element of sales that is rooted in customer service, when customer care personnel refer clients to other specialists within the business after determining whether they have a requirement for extra financial products or services.

This equates to good customer service practice; it takes into account a client’s personal circumstance and priorities and puts them into the hands of experts who can create the right mix of products to help them achieve their finance goals.

This is vastly different to front line service staff upselling insurance, investment and loan products faster than you can say “Would you like fries with that?” 

This sort of practice erodes customer trust in the institution because the customer can never be sure whether the service staff are just being helpful or trying to sell them something. They are left not knowing whether they are receiving objective information or a skewed sales pitch and it causes them to question their own decision-making capabilities.

It does little for the credibility of the industry overall and it seems financial planners will feel the ramifications of that, one way or another.

On one side of the argument are the qualified, credible planners whose research and experience ensure their clients have a tailored solution for money management and wealth creation. The flip side is bank tellers engaging in arbitrary upselling of loans, insurance and investments with little knowledge of the clients’ personal circumstances or the products, beyond the sales blurb.

In its defence, the bank in question says the survey was flawed and part of an enterprise bargaining campaign by the Financial Services Union.  

If the survey responses are to be believed, the staff are suffering for having been put in a compromised position where they must compete against each other to reach sales targets connected to their pay.

This makes the customer their quarry, an unsavoury prospect for a person who has walked into a bank branch expecting just to be able to complete a straightforward transaction.

It could be customers are left with a ‘trust no-one’ mentality that prompts them to stash their savings in their mattress. Or, they could be more discerning in who they choose to do business with when it comes to managing their finances.

My money’s on the latter.



Selling the hard sell

Kim Cannon

Kim is founder and Managing Director of Firstmac Limited. He has been in the Australian finance industry for the past 30 years, and has owned a number of different companies and brands in that time. Kim was there at the start of the non-bank lending industry in Australia and was one of the leaders that challenged the banking industry at the time and made home loans more competitive for every day consumers.

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