Major mis-selling scandals have failed to stop banks pressurising their staff into pushing products which may be unsuitable, Which? has claimed.
Two-thirds of (65%) of bank staff with sales targets said they are being placed under more pressure than ever to hit them and almost half (46%) know colleagues who have mis-sold products just to meet their goals, the consumer group found.
The research, which was carried out between October and early this month, comes as banks battle to win back customer trust and as complaints about the payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal continue to surge beyond expectations, with the total bill predicted to reach around £15 billion across the industry.
Which? said its survey of branch and call centre staff at HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Santander indicated that many workers are still being driven towards putting "sales before service". Of the staff surveyed who have a sales role, more than a third (37%) said they are not comfortable with the level of pressure placed on them to push a product.
Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said: "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. This proves the need for big change across the industry and for bankers to put customers first, not sales."
Around a third of people in a sales role said they felt under pressure from a boss and two thirds said they are sometimes or always told to sell more. Just 6% of those who were told to sell more said this was because it was in the customer's best interest. More than 550 bank staff were interviewed for the Which? survey, of which 371 have a sales role. Of those, 298 said they had sales targets to meet. Which? said the findings were broadly similar across all five banking giants.
A spokesman for the British Bankers' Association (BBA) said that any incentives for front line staff are now based on clear criteria related to customer service. He 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."
Which? plans 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 Standards Authority (FSA).
Following a previous announcement, Barclays has scrapped its product sales targets and from the start of this month its bonuses to branch and call centre staff are based wholly on customer satisfaction. A spokeswoman for Barclays said: "From this week all Barclays UK frontline staff are rewarded solely on customer service. This follows our announcement in October which was welcomed by Which?."
A statement from HSBC said the bank encourages its employees to act "with integrity in the best interest of our customers". The statement said: "No one in the UK Retail Bank, not just customer facing staff, can earn a bonus without meeting the bank's values and behaviours criteria." A spokeswoman for RBS said that its staff are rewarded on the basis of customer service and the performance of their branch overall. She said: "This is part of our move to make sure that customer service is the top priority for all of our staff."