Bank workers call for end to pressure to sell debt

Undue pressure on bank staff to meet sales targets is putting the public at risk of being miss-sold debt, says a union.

But the banks say they are putting customer interests first and some are already rolling out changes to the way they incentivise staff.

First Union, which represents New Zealand’s 4000 bank workers, will launch a campaign in Wellington today, calling for the big four banks to focus on service before sales, and cut debt product targets.

The move comes in the wake of a report carried out in Australia called the Sedgwick report, which made 21 recommendations urging banks to change their focus from sales to service by 2020. Australia’s major banks have agreed to adopt the changes.

Tali Williams, national organiser for the union, said it had been pleased with the engagement it had so far with the ANZ, BNZ and Westpac which had agreed with the principle recommendations of the Sedgwick report.

But the union wants three immediate changes – a commitment to engage with the union and front-line staff throughout the process, a moratorium on disciplinary action around sales targets and bank chief executives to see a message to staff about what they are doing and what that means for workers.

Williams said the union wanted a commitment to those actions within the next month.
She said the daily pressure put on staff was widespread across the banks and unless that was removed cases of miss-selling would continue.

“It is important banks remove the pressure that forces them to miss-sell products.
“In our view nothing will change until that pressure is alleviated.”

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A Westpac worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said pressure had risen in the last 10 years to meet targets.

“It’s more and more,” the worker said. “People have to go to their manager every day and say what they are going to sell.”

She said bank workers understood they needed to sell products and services for their employer.

“But not at the expense of people’s health. It is shocking pressure and people buckle under it.”

Banks say there are checks and balances in place to protect the public and more changes are coming that will put more emphasise on putting customers first.

Westpac said it was strongly committed to the principles behind the Sedgwick Report’s recommendations, “while there are differences between the Australian and New Zealand environments, we will review and identify how we can use these recommendations to improve the way we operate and the service we provide our customers”.

A BNZ spokeswoman said it had a customer-centric approach to everything it did.

“An example of this is the work we do to ensure our rewards and incentive packages are set up in a way that encourages the right behaviour – ultimately delivering the best customer service and where appropriate, recommendations for products and services.”

She said in addition to this New Zealand had laws like the Financial Advisers Act, which was under review at the moment and would include a new customer-first obligation for financial advisers when passed.

Banks also followed the Code of Responsible Lending that was designed to ensure conflicts of interest when selling financial products were appropriately managed.

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She said BNZ was still going through a review process but it was committed to implementing the recommendations in the Sedgwick report which were applicable to it.

An ANZ spokeswoman said the bank was already in the process of changing its staff incentives program, which would be rolled out from October.

“A pilot has been running since April, which started before findings of the Sedgwick Review were released.”

She said the bank wanted a more balanced approach to rewarding staff for doing a great all-round job, that included meeting customers’ needs, working well with colleagues, and managing risk processes, as well as financial performance.

ASB said it regularly reviewed practices and processes to ensure they continued to provide the best outcomes for customers, “and where the Sedgwick report can add value to our customers and the service we provide to them, we will certainly consider its recommendations in the context of the New Zealand banking environment”.

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