You probably don’t remember me. I was one of a series of warm bodies in that cubicle in Newmarket, the office (with a door!) in Huntsville, and the other office (with a window!) in Bracebridge. I mostly didn’t meet my sales targets and never made my cold-call quota. I was the one talking to clients about cash flow planning when I was supposed to be selling them more credit cards, or – failing that – a debt consolidation loan. You didn’t have to send me on any Achiever’s trips to the Bahamas, but you didn’t have to fire me, either, so I forgive you for forgetting about me.

I haven’t forgotten about you, though. It would quite literally be impossible, since you’re entwined in everything I do. You and your friends hold my life savings, I owe you money for the house I’m typing in right now, and I wouldn’t be able to turn work for clients into money for groceries if you weren’t acting as the intermediary.

I’m grateful for the services you provide, and frankly, I don’t really care if you rake in the profits while providing them. Heck, part of my porfolio is invested in Canada and therefore in banking, so it’s not like I can avoid profiting (a little) when you profit (a lot).

But I feel like I need to tell you something that’s been bugging me for a while, mostly because it’s so glaringly obvious that I feel like you probably already know it and – if you’re the decent, caring, friendly bank that your commercials make you out to be – you’re probably already working on it. Bear with me if you’ve heard this before:

Your clients hate being sold to. They HATE it.

In fact, they’d rather keep paying ridiculous service fees on their accounts than come in and ask if there’s a cheaper option, because they don’t want to have to sit down across from one of your employees who’s trained only to sell them stuff. They’d rather suffer an annoying mortgage payment schedule than ask to have it changed, because in the middle of changing it to bi-weekly payments they’ll be pressured into adding mortgage life insurance. They’d rather ignore their asset allocation and not contribute to their RRSPs because they know they’re going to get sold another high-price, actively managed basket of mutual funds that will be rolled into a different fund in a few years to mask underperformance.

You might not realize the depth of your clients’ hatred of sales because they have to buy the products anyway, and while you’re mulling over customer satisfaction reports that analyze “length of time spent waiting in line” or “accuracy of transaction” to the fourth decimal point, the survey company you hired isn’t asking anything that can’t be answered with a number from one to five (one being excellent, five being poor), and you’re missing the signal for the noise.

Also, and I know THIS can’t be news to you, your employees hate selling stuff. I know you know this, because you’re constantly rolling out new incentive campaigns, new weekly sales competitions, and new ways of bullying them into selling credit cards to every client they make eye-contact with. You wouldn’t have to incentivize them so frequently nor harass them so heavily if they actually WANTED to add a secured line of credit to every piece of real-estate equity that walked in the door.

So if your clients hate you, and your employees hate you, and what they hate about you is the fact that you’re pretending to offer a service when all you want to do is sell, sell, sell said service, regardless of whether it’s needed, wanted, or helpful, then maybe a solution would be to stop selling.

Just stop.

Tell your employees to focus their time on making sure the mortgage is structured exactly right. That the bank accounts offered are the ones that best suit the client. That the phone is answered, the mistake is corrected, the cheque is delivered. Amp up customer service to the point where clients expect immediate resolution and get it, because no one behind the counter is spending their time worrying about their next performance review and how they haven’t met their targets this quarter, and instead is acting immediately on what needs to be done.

Get rid of the slogans, the catchy tag lines, and the comfy chairs, and stop pretending that your number one focus is the financial health of every Canadian.

Imagine how happy your employees would be if you announced at the end of this fiscal year end that all sales targets were abolished, and that their performance would be evaluated by how delighted the customers were with the level of service they received. Imagine how motivated they would be to do their best work if it wasn’t going to be brushed aside by a manager answerable for branch profitability in favour of going through remedial objection-handling scripts and sales aids.

Imagine how happy your clients would be, if they came to the branch to find out what happened to a payment they made on a competitor’s credit card and weren’t asked why that credit card even existed in the first place, and if they were met with employees whose only job was to make sure that their concern was addressed, their transaction was completed correctly, and their needs were met in the most cost-effective, efficient, and appropriate way possible.

Whoa. My mind is kind of blown just thinking about how exciting that would be.




Sandi Martin

Sandi Martin is an ex-banker and fee only financial planner who specializes in working with regular folks who suspect their money might be a bit of a mess. She lives in beautiful Muskoka with her husband and three children, and works online and by phone with clients across Canada.

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