‘We are all doing it’: Employees at Canada’s 5 big banks speak out about pressure to dupe customers

Calls for parliamentary inquiry following Go Public investigation

By Erica Johnson, CBC News

Posted: Mar 15, 2017 5:00 AM ET

Employees from each of Canada’s five major banks say sales pressures are forcing them to use what they consider unethical practices on customers. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Employees from all five of Canada’s big banks have flooded Go Public with stories of how they feel pressured to upsell, trick and even lie to customers to meet unrealistic sales targets and keep their jobs.

The deluge is fuelling multiple calls for a parliamentary inquiry, even as the banks claim they’re acting in customers’ best interests.

In nearly 1,000 emails, employees from RBC, BMO, CIBC, TD and Scotiabank locations across Canada describe the pressures to hit targets that are monitored weekly, daily and in some cases hourly.

“Management is down your throat all the time,” said a Scotiabank financial adviser. “They want you to hit your numbers and it doesn’t matter how.”

CBC has agreed to protect their identities because the workers are concerned about current and future employment.

An RBC teller from Thunder Bay, Ont., said even when customers don’t need or want anything, “we need to upgrade their Visa card, increase their Visa limits or get them to open up a credit line.”

“It’s not what’s important to our clients anymore,” she said. “The bank wants more and more money. And it’s leading everyone into debt.”

A CIBC teller said, “I am expected to aggressively sell products, especially Visa. Hit those targets, who cares if it’s hurting customers.”

Former BMO employee speaks out

A financial services manager who left BMO in Calgary two months ago said he quit after having a full-blown panic attack in his branch manager’s office as she threatened to stifle his banking career because he hadn’t met sales targets.

“It was like the only thing they cared about at BMO,” he said. “If you weren’t selling, you weren’t worth having around.”

This former BMO financial services manager says his manager told him to lie to customers to improve sales revenue. (Colin Hall/CBC)

He claims his manager once told him not to tell clients who wanted to invest more than $40,000 that the markets were down, because putting their money into GICs wouldn’t earn the branch as much sales revenue.

He said she also told him to attach high interest rates on mortgages and lines of credit and to not tell clients those interest rates are negotiable.

He said he was “pressured to lie and cheat customers,” but refused to do it.

More than 1,000 emails

The revelations about other banks came pouring in after Go Public revealed last week that front- line staff at TD were under pressure to sell customers products and services they may not need and that some employees were breaking the law to hit their sales revenue targets.

Those stories, experts say, prompted the largest drop in TD Bank shares since the financial market downturn of 2009.

‘We are straight up told to tell false stories (lie) to sell products.’- TD insurance agent wrote in an email

They also resulted in hundreds more emails from TD workers past and present, including a teller who recently stopped working in Bramalea, Ont., who said the requirement to meet ever- increasing goals was so unprofessional, “I thought this was not a bank but a flea market.”

He admits to acting unethically because he says he feared being fired.
“I bumped up credit cards, overdraft or account types just because of the pressures.”

An Ontario-based TD insurance agent wrote, “We are straight up told to tell false stories (lie) to sell products.”

And an RBC financial adviser told Go Public, “We are all doing it.”

‘Shaming’ and ‘bullying’

Many bank employees described pressure tactics used by managers to try to increase sales.

An RBC certified financial planner in Guelph, Ont., said she’s been threatened with pay cuts and losing her job if she doesn’t upsell enough customers.

“Managers belittle you,” she said. “We get weekly emails that highlight in red the people who are not hitting those sales targets. It’s bullying.”

Some TD Bank employees told CBC’s Go Public they felt they had to break the law to keep their jobs. (Aaron Harris/Reuters)

Employees at several RBC branches in Calgary said there are white boards posted in the staff room that list which financial advisers are meeting their sales targets and which advisers are coming up short.

Similar white board results are reported at Scotiabank branches in Toronto.

“The entire team can see who is keeping them down. It’s shaming,” said a Scotiabank financial adviser who told Go Public she’s taking early retirement “because this environment is not for me.”

Stressed out

Some of the big five bank employees said they’re so stressed by expectations to hit sales targets, they’re on medical leave. Others said they had to quit.

They wrote about their jobs causing “insomnia,” “nausea,” “anxiety” and “depression.” ‘I went into a full-blown panic attack.’-former CIBC small business associate

A CIBC small business associate who quit in January after nine years on the job said her district branch manager wasn’t pleased with her sales results when she was pregnant.

“She came into my office and decided to harass me. I went into a full-blown panic attack.”

She said the worst part of her job was having young families in her office who agreed to re- mortgage their homes because of debt.

“We told them we were helping them, but essentially we were extending more credit so the vicious cycle would … continue and we, in turn, would make a sale,” she said.

While working in Waterloo, Ont., she says her manager also instructed staff to tell all new international students looking to open a chequing account that they had to open a “student package,” which also included a savings account, credit card and overdraft.

“That is unfair and not the law, but we were told to do it for all of them.”

Big banks decline interview requests

Go Public requested interviews with the CEOs of the five big banks — BMO, CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank and TD — but all declined.

Instead, they sent statements, essentially saying the banks act in the best interest of their clients, and that employees are expected to follow codes of conduct.

The statements did not address employees’ concerns about high-pressure sales tactics.

Calls for parliamentary inquiry

NDP finance critic Alexandre Boulerice is now calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the sales practices of Canada’s banks.

“We expect banks to be honest with their clients … and now we are learning that those employees are under considerable pressure to sell, sell, sell to boost profits of the banks,” he said. “This is so greedy. It is not acceptable.”

Federal NDP finance critic Alexandre Boulerice wants a parliamentary inquiry. (CBC)

Stan Buell, founder of the Small Investor Protection Association, agrees it’s time for the federal government to take action.

“We’ve got a culture that exists on greed, lying and deceiving people, and it’s not going to end soon,” he said.

“This is why the only solution really is to have government step in and look after the Canadian people. Because I feel the Canadian people deserve better than to serve as grist for the mill of these great financial organizations.”

Stan Buell from the Small Investor Protection Association says the government needs to step in. (CBC)

A spokesperson for Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the minister wasn’t available for an interview, but sent a statement that says Morneau “expects all financial institutions in Canada to adhere to the highest standards when it comes to their consumer protection obligations.”

Shareholders concerned

TD shareholder Allan Best says he’s concerned about more than the bank’s bottom line after last week’s stock dip, telling Go Public, “It is my position that employees are our most important asset and we have to do all we can to keep them in good mental and physical condition.”

The emails Go Public received from bank employees suggest not only have the sales targets increased dramatically in recent years, so has the pressure to meet them.

“I want the world to know how much pressure we are all under on a daily basis,” wrote an RBC teller in Ontario.

“We hit our target and the next week, they up them again. It’s out of control.”