Banks and brokers lambasted over profit zeal

Ian Rogers Finance regulation
The high pressure sales culture persists, or so FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano contends.
The high pressure sales culture persists, or so FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano contends.

The bonus culture in banking – and commissions in mortgage broking - may be destined for an undignified death if the populist analysis in the interim report of Kenneth Hayne’s Royal Commission into Banking leaves any imprint.

Hayne’s interim report scorned banks, the mortgage broking chain and the financial advice sector for slipshod thinking and reactive behaviour.

What can or should be done about remuneration practices and policies, Hayne asked in the headline to the sixth chapter of the first volume of his interim report.

The royal commissioner pummelled the industry’s recent work on remuneration, much of it driven by the Australian Banking Association and the Combined Industry Forum.

“The unstated premise for so much of the debate about remuneration of both bank staff and intermediaries, that staff and intermediaries will not do their job properly and to the best of their ability without incentive payments, must be challenged,” Hayne wrote.

“And in the case of intermediaries, arguments based in predictions of industry damage or collapse should be examined with special care.”

Hayne assessed the topic of pay and bonuses and commissions in a manner that will disappoint industry conservatives.

“Why do staff (whether customer facing or not) need incentives to do their job unless the incentive is directed towards maximising revenue and profit?” he asked.

“How can staff - especially customer facing staff - be encouraged to do the right thing except by the line manager observing, encouraging, counselling and supporting the staff in that task?

“What is the point of allowing an incentive payment for doing the assigned task in a way that meets but does not exceed what is expected of that staff member?

“And if customer facing staff should not be paid incentives, why should their managers, or those who manage the managers?

“Why will altering the remuneration of front line staff effect a change in culture if more senior employees are rewarded for sales or revenue and profit?”

Shareholders, Hayne suggested, “might be able to bring some pressure to bear to have an entity change its remuneration policies. It is not apparent to me that consumers could do that.”

In a report that is unrepentant in its choice of language, Hayne wrote of the “fees for no service” affair: “no matter whether the motive is called ‘greed’, ‘avarice’ or ‘pursuit of profit’, the conduct ignores basic standards of honesty.”

Hayne said: “Two themes recurred: - dishonesty and greed.”

The commissioner placed these terms up front in his executive summary, asking, “Why did it happen?”

Too often, Hayne wrote, “the answer seems to be greed – the pursuit of short term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty. How else is charging continuing advice fees to the dead to be explained? But it is necessary then to go behind the particular events and ask how and why they came about.

“Selling became the focus of attention. Too often it became the sole focus of attention.

“Products and services multiplied. Banks searched for their ‘share of the customer’s wallet’.

“From the executive suite to the front line, staff were measured and rewarded by reference to profit and sales.

“When misconduct was revealed, it either went unpunished or the consequences did not meet the seriousness of what had been done,” Hayne complained.

And has it changed much at all? The Finance Sector Union on Friday contended that the answer is no.

 “While the banks have given numerous assurances that heavy-handed sales targets are being phased out, bank workers are still being pushed to sell products to customers who don’t need them and can’t afford them,” FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano said.