The National Australia Bank has re-introduced sales targets that create incentives for branch staff to maximise lending, a practice that was exposed during the banking royal commission for eroding consumer protections.
Internal NAB documents titled “KPI Guide Performance Plans”, obtained by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, show the bank is using incentives to sell products including credit cards, personal loans and general insurance.
The bank has also re-introduced dollar value targets for increasing home loan drawdowns, with targets varying between banker positions and branch locations.
NAB staff say sales targets are creating an unhealthy culture within the bank. Credit:Will Willitts
The documents show bankers are considered to have hit their target if they increase the total drawdown (mortgage top-ups) by between $39 million and $60 million per year, with higher amounts above $80 million considered “outstanding”.
NAB bankers must achieve these targets within certain timeframes to be promoted to roles with higher pay grades, according to the documents. Staff who fail to meet targets are put on performance plans which can be used as justification for termination.
The documents show a range of non-financial targets are used to evaluate staff performance, including correct data entry and customer identification. However, a Victorian branch manager, who could not be named because they are unauthorised to speak publicly, said “it’s all about sales”.
“It’s written and spoken about doing the right thing for the customer, but it’s not. We’re now sales coaches.”
This masthead reported this month that NAB banned over the counter credit card payments but was later forced to backflip on the policy after backlash from customers and staff. NAB staff claim this policy was part of a wider strategy to transform branches from service providers to sales centres, where daily target tracking is used to encourage competition between branches.
NAB confirmed financial metrics make up less than 20 per cent of a retail employee’s overall performance measure, in line with the Sedgwick review that outlined ways banks can increase consumer protections while using targets.
NAB retail executive Krissie Jones said the bank expects staff to sell products with the “right behaviours intent and in the best interests of customers”.
She added it was not in the banks’ interest to sell credit to customers who can’t afford it, adding performance reviews were constantly updated. “We regularly review our performance and reward frameworks so that they encourage the right behaviour to deliver good outcomes for customers.”
University of Sydney Business School senior lecturer Andrew Grant said the royal commission had created a perception among consumers that sales targets were no longer used in banks, adding these incentives should be disclosed in product disclosure statements.
“They’ve run advertising campaigns to make it clear that it’s all about customer service and not about sales,” he said. “People might be under the impression that bankers aren’t being told to push products when if they are, discreetly or under the table, being told to push that.”
Dr Grant said sales targets were not necessarily bad for consumers but could create a more “cut-throat” culture, adding it was unlikely that NAB was the only bank using such targets.
“If it’s happening at NAB, I would be surprised if they are doing it on their own,” he said. “I could see how this could be seen as adding back in a sales culture if you have these firm figures there. Overall, it does look a bit concerning.”
University of Wollongong senior lecturer Dr Andy Schmulow said sales targets that reward staff for increasing customer indebtedness contradict the banks’ duty to prioritise customer welfare.
“This is the sales culture that Commissioner Hayne specifically referred to as promoting greed, customer disadvantage, all sacrificed at the altar of headline profits.”
Dr Schmulow said it was irresponsible for banks to incentivise loan sales amid an uncertain economic environment, with interest rates positioned to rise. “It is the wrong time to be pushing people towards the end of their limits.”
Sally Unthank was unemployed, with seven children and on Centrelink payments in 2014 when the National Australia Bank gave her a credit card with an $8000 limit.
Over an 18-month period, she requested two top-ups which were quickly approved to give her access to $15,000. “Then I separated and I wasn’t able to pay it back,” she says. “I wasn’t working. It forced me to go bankrupt.”
Ms Unthank still suffers from the bankruptcy, living in public housing in regional Victoria because she is unable to rent property. She blames the bank’s aggressive sales tactics that she said fails vulnerable Australians. “I’m on the poverty line as it is living off the Centrelink let alone having something like that,” she says. “I don’t think they take into consideration low-income families.“
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