ICT Views

Sticking up for the sales force

by: (Associate Director, Research and Development) on

I’ve been on a bit of trip through regulated sales land over my last few blogs, and yes, there has been a UK focus (although I always try to ensure the underlying themes ring true wherever you are in the world).

Before I turn attention back towards how you can best approach an ICA assessment, examine a juicy case study or delve into some of my beloved pop-trivia metaphors, I wanted to make a final observation on this subject - to stick up for the oft maligned ‘sales force’.

(Quality of advice is something which was under the spotlight again this week following the results of the FSAs mystery shopping in respect of investment advice.)

Sales or Advice?

salesforceUndoubtedly, there were sales people motivated by targets and commission or bonuses based thereon and not so bothered about the moralities etc involved. Others considered themselves proper advisers, hamstrung by sales targets and motivated by doing a good job for their customers.

In practice, most of a sales force are probably ‘shades of grey’ in the middle. Most will have families to support, bills to pay and, crucially, an employer to satisfy.

The fact is, that if your employer sets you a target of seeing three customers a day, and selling £XXX of products a week across various products streams - but with a particular focus on the new XYZ mortgage deal or investment fund - it is difficult to do your own thing.

Compliance Monitoring

Several years ago, I got the opportunity to attend an international Compliance Professionals Development Course. The final day saw a dinner hosted by the Global Head of Compliance of an International Retail Bank. We would get the chance to meet him and say ‘hello’ and were told it would be nice if anybody had a question to ask – although of course these would need to be submitted in advance…

I’m usually game for offering a question or opinion (sometimes to my cost – I discovered at a previous employer that if one of the firm's Directors asks you how your Department could be improved in an open meeting, it’s not really advisable to answer in a full and frank way. Oh well, you live and hopefully learn).

Anyway - I proposed the question “how can there ever be a truly compliant culture in a firm when the sales force are subject to sales targets?”

My question was screened and subsequently rejected. I was politely informed that the answer would be that sales targets were deemed to be achievable whilst maintaining a focus on achieving compliance requirements.

To be honest, I felt a bit disappointed by this corporate (and probably predictable) stance, but I’m sure I haven’t been the only Compliance person to ask this and receive the same rebuttal.

With a bit of luck, I may be one of the last.

Change is in the air

Earlier this week, HSBC announced they were removing sales targets in branches and were instead focussing on customer satisfaction. Antonio Simoes, head of HSBC in the UK, said: “We have changed how we assess and reward our employees, removing any sales targets, so that they can completely focus on serving our customers’ needs and providing superior service. We want our customers to know they can depend on HSBC to do the right thing for them and this is the absolute focus of our employees.”

The Co-operative Bank and Barclays have also recently stopped paying staff commission based on sales. Not before time, many would argue.

And hopefully other firms will follow this lead, creating an opportunity to focus on genuine customer care.

As long as the bottom line doesn’t suffer though?

Just a question. Never hurts to ask does it?

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