Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Have I got news for you!

No, I didn’t make it onto the Times Rich List. In fact, not many other writer’s made it, except the Great JK Rowling (and her literary agent, Christopher Little,) Jeffrey Archer, and Jamie Oliver (Chef, author, restaurateur. But most writer's I know are realistic, and don't expect to make much from their chosen profession. For me, I have something far more valuable. While I was away I was awarded another three blog awards! I am honoured. A thousand thank you’s to:

The super Elizabeth Mueller for recognising that I’d finished the A-Z challenge.

The lovely Cherie for the Blog on Fire award

And, the splendiferous, Anita who has awarded me an Inspirational blog award.
Oh yes, and not forgetting, I won a prize - a free 2000 words critique from writer, Jeffrey Beesler. Cheers Jeff!
Thank you all for your support and encouragement. It has been great to make your acquaintance over the A-Z challenge, and beyond…

Well, I’m back from the caravan after waving my little arm off flying the Union Jack flag for the Royal Wedding. And what a glorious and memorable day it was for me (hopefully the happy couple enjoyed it too.) I cried, I laughed, I ate salmon and strawberries and sipped Bucks Fizz. And that frock… (sorry, that’s a ‘dress’ for American reader’s) was divine! I thought everything was spot on – just the right amount of pomp, ceremony, and intimacy, considering millions were watching around the world. Most of all, it wasn’t too ostentatious.

Now I’m home, it's time to knuckle down to the WIP for the NWS, but not before I post this newsy, finger on the pulse blog.

Unfortunately, a gagging order prevents me from disclosing the latest line up of celebrities who have been caught, metaphorically speaking, with their pants down and in flagrante. But the question is, do we really care? Or am I the only old fart to ponder where the insatiable feeding frenzy for celebrities and the interest in their prurient, trashy lives comes from? I don’t give a stuff who’s made it big, despite their poor, troubled upbringings. I have no interest in vaguely famous people's stretch marks, their unsightly facial hair or latest drug,booze or shag-fest? Premier league footballers and their antics - pah! - I couldn't care less!

Photo: P A Wire

I don't do politics in my blogs and won't go on about the Lib Dem massacre in the local elections but I had to mention that it hasn't been a good week for Mr Clegg, seeing his electoral reform dream crushed. And it will be even worse if he happens to spot my blog because seeing a photo of him last week, I couldn't believe how much he's aged. They say a week is a long time in politics. But it's only been a year...

May 2010 - baby-faced and handsome Photo:Angela Harbutt

You wouldn’t catch me being a politician or Prime Minister, not for a squillion pounds! What a thankless job. And it wouldn’t be much better if I were still in banking.

I see in the last few days Lloyds Bank has set aside 3.2 billion for claims likely to arise from the incorrect selling of Payment Protection Insurance (although City analysts think the actual figure will likely exceed £10bn!)
Conditional selling, mis-selling - how underhand and unethical, I hear you shout! And you're right. There is no denying today's sales culture is about greed; banks make bigger profits, shareholder value etc. But having been on the 'other side,' I also understand why it's happened, because I have to admit, the news didn't surprise me.

In the early/mid 90’s before I joined Lloyds Bank as a Manager, I was Sales Manager then Regional Training Manager for Lloyds Bank Insurance Services – a wholly owned subsidiary of the bank. In essence it was my job to sales manage (and train) branch staff, from counter and enquiries staff to Senior Managers, how to sell insurance.
Branches had targets for everything; Overdrafts, lending, mortgages, numbers of personal loans, amount of loans, insurance take-up for mortgages and loans, freestanding insurance products, credit cards, bad debts... I won’t go on - you get the message.

Much time and training went into maximising every customer interaction, face to face and phone call, or ‘opportunity.’ Monitoring of leads, interviews and results, making sure staff didn't miss anything and were proactive. I observed interviews and coached. Staff sat in my interviews so I could demonstrate techniques. What I’m trying to show here is how sales and revenue were part of the culture and way of life. Back then, it was a struggle to get some of the old dinosaur staff to sell, especially the Senior Managers but slowly it dawned on people that working in a bank was no longer a ‘job for life.’ Everyone had to share in the sales effort, including cashiers and enquiries clerks who were expected to pick up snippets in conversations with customers, to identify leads, introduce them to an 'advisor.' There was constant resistance from staff who walked the fine line between providing customer service and giving help and advice, whilst at the same time increasing sales. Many staff hated the changes but their jobs depended on it. If you didn’t adapt to the changing ethos, you wouldn't survive.

As the pressure to grow sales revenue increased, targets got higher and higher, and everything and anything was tried to improve results; Competitions, rewards, tickets for sports events, holidays. Other gimmicks like ‘points made prizes’ (the more you sold, the more points you got, the bigger the prizes.) Clever incentives introduced a competition element, playing people off against each other. Successful individuals were hailed saviours; talisman of success, to be admired, and to aspire to. Branches were revered as the chosen ones, their methods studied, simulated, and best practise ideas spread across the network.

Nowadays, there can't be anyone who works in a branch who doesn't accept sales and targets as part of the job (even if they don’t like it.) In some cases branches have been de-skilled to the point that there are few skills left at all, only sales people. And I'm not knocking this. Being of this 'new breed' was the reason I was recruited all those years ago. It hasn't got any easier over the years for staff in branches. It doesn’t matter that times are tough in the economy, jobs are insecure, money is tight, customers don't have the disposable income etc etc. Branch targets are still there. In fact, more than ever there is huge pressure to increase sales revenue. Overdrafts and financial worries facilitate loans, and ‘talking up’ loans to increased amounts. Further advances may need to be secured against property, and re-mortgages. With an increased chance of redundancy and stress-related illness, there’s never been a more necessary time to have insurance. So the demand for loans won’t diminish. However people must see that when jobs, careers prospects, salaries, bonuses are inextricably linked to performance and achieving targets, it's going to be open to mass mis-selling. If a failure to meet targets means bank staff lose take-home pay, is it any wonders misconduct is widespread, and systemic?

The debate will continue to run but I wanted to show you a slightly different perspective and that you might see how hard it must be, trying to do what’s best for the customer, selling to their needs, when you have to balance reaching targets and surviving in a dog eat dog world.

I don't see obvious solutions. The above is the reality and unless banks stop the hard sell culture and have a major about turn on targets, bonuses, prizes and other incentives for staff to meet sales targets and shift the emphasis back onto customer service, I don’t think it will ever improve.

Sorry, I’ve got on my soap box a little there but with the recent revelations it gives a chance to voice something that's been glaringly obvious to me for years! I won't say any more as I have some very dear friends who still work for the bank;)

Anyway, I hope you liked the newsworthy blog. Let me know your news. And for now, I'd better get back to the novel...

Until another day

Bye for now

PS - As most of you may know, Google's Blogger platform went down for a day. It erased most of my Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning comments to this post - at least twenty of them, and I can't remember for the life of me who you all were. Sorry ;)


cherie said...

Congrats on your blog awards! You deserve them.

I'm glad you had fun on your caravan holiday. And yes, Kate's dress was phenomenal. She is so lovely.

I'm also glad you're blogging again. You're always news-worthy. =)

Anita said...

Congrats on all of the lovely awards (they look good on you!) and for your splendorific royal vacation!

As for the celeb news ... I stay away from it for the most part. I even have a bro in law in the media biz and still can't bring myself to watch his reports half the time.

I guess I really don't care. I think too much of our time is spent looking at other peep's lives under a magnifying glass when we should be concentrating on our own. To be successful ourselves, we have to develop a certain degree of tunnel vision.

Now, like you, I'm off to do just that! Going to work on the WIP. Happy writing!

Flowerpot said...

Well done on all those awards and a great holiday. Taht was a great post and crammed full of news. My news is over at my place!

Sarah said...

Congratulations on your awards and your prize, nice things to come back to :)

I only intended to watch the wedding long enough to see the dress but I somehow got sucked in to watching it all. Ah heck, at the end of the day, I actually believe that these two love each other which is a good start.

Am I the only person left in England that has no idea who the 'super injunction celebs' are? I've got to get myself on twitter. Although like you, I don't have any interest in who's doing what to whom.

Ooh and one more thing to comment on - your view on the 'hard sell' culture in banking interested me. Years ago I worked for Barclays. I was sent on secondment to a cash centre (no face to face customers, only cold hard cash to count and sort). By the time I got back to a branch two years later, sales targets were the norm. I lasted six weeks. A salesperson I am not, unfortunately :( I feel sorry for the cashiers in my local bank, they're forever trying to sell me something but then they look at my account and realise it's a waste of time! Their spiel irritates me, but I know they have to do it.

Wow, a very long comment! Sorry, and welcome back :)

Blossomcottage said...

Well done that Blogger, what an achievement I hope you will transfer these into a little book and have it printed it would be very worth while.
Blossom xx

Caroline said...

Congrats on the awards BSM!

Interesting post on the banks. Back in 2001 my hubby had a bad car accident and to cut a long story short he lost his job because of it. That christmas we got a letter from Lloyds saying that as we were such good customers and hadn't claimed they were giving us a £100 "bonus." This was the 1st we knew about having Payment Protection Insurance. Once we knew, we claimed straight away, and we were successful. We got our £100 a month loan paid off as hubby couldn't work! Result! But it just goes to show that if we hadn't got the "bonus" we wouldn't have ever known about it! Caroline x p.s glad you had a nice break - and welcome back to blogland!

Posie said...

Oh well done on all of those shiny awards!!
I loved the wedding too and had the whole range of emotions and bubbly too!!
Hate politics too xx

Lins' lleisio said...

Congratulations on all your awards for blogging. Well done you.

I used to work for Lloyds (before the selling culture was the norm - left in 1988; although there was talk of change coming even back then). I wouldn't have survived as I'm not a natural salesperson. I know a lot of good people still working for Lloyds and they hate it, trouble is when they joined selling was not part of the job description; the goal posts have been altered mid career. They tell me now that selling is the majority of what they do and if you can't sell to your own 98 year old granny to meet your targets you could be in trouble. The morale is low. Sincerely glad I'm out of it.

I do so agree with your comment about shifting the emphasis back to customer service (and with happier staff to boot if they stopped the hard sell\targets culture.)

As a customer I do all my banking over the Internet and have done for years. Now I know why.

Thanks for such an interesting and thought provoking blog.

mountainear said...

What an interesting post - and from the other side of the fence so to speak. I hate, hate, hate the sales orientated stuff. 'Is there anything else I can help you with today?' etc. But know where it is coming from. Don't particularly like it but can't imagine how we begin to change it now.

Yippee re the awards - you're a clever blugger!

Angela Felsted said...

Congratulations on your awards! I'm not into celebrity gossip much either. What an interesting read you've provided about the banks.

M Pax said...

Congrats on the awards!

The banks do the same here -- fire wonderful tellers who give great customer service because they didn't meet their sales quotas. We're a limited market. So, they end up firing them all eventually. It's sad.

Frances said...

Congratulations to you on those awards.

Also congrats to you for writing veyr clearly about the other side of the banking business. I think that many of us who have had access to various professions also have several vantage points from which to view current developments.

When I look at some directions that these various aspects of our lives are taking, I do wonder about what might be next, what might be now developing just round an unseen corner.


Susie Swanson said...

Congratulations on your awards. This is a very interesting read. I want to thank you for your lovely comments on my blog. I cherish them... Susie

Caitlin Vincent said...

I have another award for you - drop by my blog tomorrow :) You don't have to follow any of the rules, I just wanted to direct my followers over to your blog

Sylvia Ney said...

Everyone needs to soap box now and then. ;-) Best of luck with your WIP.

Josh Hoyt said...

It's so nice to have you back and I'm glad your home safe. Thanks for the updates and the news. It is fun to read and learn more about the going ons. Congrats on the blog awards and the critique that is so awesome. Celeb news has never been that big a deal other than amazed at how much they throw away. Have a great day and thanks for stopping by:)

Irish Nomad said...

Congrats on the awards - well deserved:) I take it you're not a regular Daily Mail reader from this post ?;) Very interesting stuff about the bank - have you thought of encompassing into fiction in some way? It's certainly topical and would be rife with conflict for a character. Not that I want to distract you from your WIP. Am still polishing mine but the agent hunt is sort of underway :)

Talli Roland said...

Congrats on your awards and welcome back! Glad you had a good holiday!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Well done on the awards, and a big welcome back to your entertaining blog! Glad you had such a great time away.

Pauline Barclay said...

Congrats on your fabby awards!
You certainly had a great time at the wedding...and it's great to see you back...! :)

Chris Stovell said...

Oh, I'm coming in late here, but it's lovely to start catching up after some time away (thank you for your lovely comment on my blog - yes we share a touch of true grit!). Well done on all the awards and the prize. You've been busy!

Debs Carr said...

Congratulations on your awards and winning the critique.

Good luck with your NWS novel, I have to get on with mine asap too if I'm going to send it in at all.

I loved the royal wedding and cried several times through it, much to my daughter's amusement.

I worked in finance for 9 or so years (not banking, but trust) and know what you mean about targets, exhausting and stressful. I'm so glad to be out of it all now.

Anonymous said...

Hello I'm new here!

Congrats on the blog awards! Nothing like being appreciated!

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Wow, what a great line up on your blog award... well done. Good to hear your holiday went well.
Just love your blog though, always interesting. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BSM .. thanks for coming by my blog - blogger and google have been a pain for the last fortnight or so .. and I just sort of flunked in and out .. just sorry you lost some comments ..

Congratulations on the awards - it was a challenge but a fun one!

The wedding .. well I've nearly had my say on that!! That seemed real to me .. the celeb stuff drives me dotty .. why does "everyone" crave that life style?

Actually any low level job is pretty awful .. I can see your dilemma in the bank - it's pretty dispiriting ... I see it at the Carer level in the Nursing Home .. not funny and I pity the staff.

Thanks - good post - your holiday break obviously did you some good .. cheers Hilary

stacey said...

Sorry about the Times Rich List, but congrats on your awards! :-)

Shannon Lawrence said...

Congratulations on the awards!

Very interesting look at the other side of banking. It's like anything else, I guess, with requirements for the employees that aren't always best for the customer.

Happy writing! I'm editing, editing, editing, and looking forward to getting back to actual writing in June when I do the BuNoWriMo to jump back in.

L'Aussie said...

Welcome back from the caravan. Lucky you. I just stayed glued to the TV. Thought the dress was just gorgeous as was the bride and bridesmaid. Oh well, they were all gorgeous!

Blogger has been very frustrating but now we're back and congrats on your pretty awards.

I am a bit political and quite enjoyed your little dissertation on banking etc.

Meanwhile, back to MaserChef Australia. Go mystery box!


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Glad you mentioned the erasure of some of the posts - I was looking through the comments thinking 'I'm sure I left one' - relieved it's not my memory after all (yet)!

Pondside said...

What a lot of reading here! I'm so glad you dropped by because it prompted me to visit back...

Mari G said...

I too worked in banking for several years & the pressure to sell products (to customers) that often were not the best ones available on the market, was enormous. You are so right that performance based pay nurtures sharp practice...we have surely seen the disastrous results of it in Ireland! oooh how I get on my hobby horse when it comes to this subject! Good to see you back!

Anna at the Doll House said...


Somehow I arrived at your blog and I'm really glad I did.

As I watch the UK from the sideline, I find it hard to understand the current British obsession with celebrity. I think it was Marx who said that religion was a tool to passify the people. Well, the secular society would seem to have found a new mammon to worship.

Although things change slowly here in the north, we do follow the rest of the world: it just takes a little more time to arrive.

For instance, as a bank customer, I see the same changes you write about worming their way into our banks here. We are no longer valued customers but targets for overstressed salespeople peddling their latest investment plan.

The good life for me is quite different from the above.


lesleylsmith said...

Congrats on the blog awards! I hope you got some good writing inspiration from all the news and news-worthy events!

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Awesome blog awards! :D

Great blog you have here! I'm new! **waves** ;)

Theresa Milstein said...

If it makes you feel any better, I didn't make it onto the rich list either.

Congratulations on your lovely awards.

Glad you're back!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Although we are barely acquainted, reading back, we feel that your posts contain plenty of newsworthy items to tickle the palate of even the most jaded reader. We are thrilled for you over the Blog Awards, but are not in the least surprised that fellow readers have nominated you for them.

We are in complete agreement with you over the greed of banks which, we are sad to say, could also be applied to a significant number of multi-nationals and indeed, smaller enterprises. Perhaps one day a revolution where the needs of individuals are paramount may prevail, but we do not see that happening any time soon.

We also agree about the ageing of Nick seems to happen to all senior MPs....a job best avoided...well, for us, any job is best avoided.....and so we are Followers.

Fennie said...

Hi Debbie, Thanks for the Versatile blogger award. I've been away so may have missed it. But thanks for thinking of me!

On other matters I hate people trying to sell me things I don't want. I would go to another bank to escape being sold to. It is so relentless, the telephone, people at the door, stuff through the post.

Still I got my own back on the bank. They wanted me to open an ISA, which I did but first I paid off early a loan which I found I could do when I examined my finances for the ISA. So the bank lost money by trying to sell me the ISA. Serves them right! Not that I shouldn't have had an ISA and now am glad I have one.