Westpac prides it self on its commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. It promoted this extensively in press releases, public reports, annual reports, on the company’s website. In fact Westpac has been a consistent high performer internationally on the concept of triple bottom line business, doing the best for the shareholders, employees, the community and the environment.

It’s led to some innovative work on Cape York with indigenous communities and CEO David Morgan has made it a big part of his mantra in a stellar career which ends this year. Thursday sees Morgan present his last profit for Westpac. St George Bank (which reports Wednesday) CEO Gail Kelly takes over.

But is Westpac hiding a nasty little secret? A report from the Sydney Morning Herald seems to suggest so. Staff don’t want to be pressured by management to push more and more debt products onto customers because of already high levels of debt in the community.

Now this could be argued as a bit of special interest pleading by the union: a negotiating point. But all banks have gone out of their way to train staff to cross sell products, to try and push more products through frontline staff onto customers who may or may not need higher debt levels on credit cards, new credit cards, car loans, personal loans or higher equity in a home loan refinancing: that’s especially so now with credit card debt at very high levels and interest rates on the rise.

You would have to accept the advisability of running that sort of campaign now. And yet Suncorp, Westpac, the NAB, St George and CBA all do it, as does the ANZ.

Staff are given sales targets and are pressured to meet them: it was one of the reasons relations between staff and management at the CBA broke down so terribly when David Murray was in charge. It’s a very fine line between acceptable banking practice (cross selling can actually help customer sometimes by getting them lower costing products and packages) and unwarranted pressure on staff and customers.

Many of the customers who are pressured on visiting branches are older: more and more younger customers are banking online. If you ring a call centre you can bet that the bank employee will try and upsell you something, a financial product you may not need.

Meanwhile eyebrows were raised on Thursday by the new head of the ANZ, Englishman Mike Smith. His comment that improved customer service and corporate sustainability issues would only be kept on if they earned a return for the bank was one of a string of odd statements from a man who reminds people of old style bankers at the ANZ, back in the 1960s.

The comments betrayed a lack of understanding of how the bank has improved its image under John MacFarlane, who drove the opening of more branches, higher staffing levels and higher revenues which allowed the bank to spend fairly heavily on a range of issues. Some in banking believe Smith is unsuited to modern Australian banking.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.