Can The Financial Industry Move From ‘Product Pushy’ to Client Centric?

The difference between a product-centric financial institution and one that is truly client centric? The sales process. Unfortunately, investments in development of frontline staff are falling short.

Picture a customer service representative or bank teller and a line of fifteen customers at a busy time of day. What typically runs through the representative’s mind?

  • ‘All I am obligated to do is deal with their issues’
  • ‘I can move them all through in record time – lunch starts in twenty minutes’
  • ‘Selling ‘Product A’ means big points for me – tell every customer’

Chances are, these thoughts are the most prominent within a frontline sales team. But what if the CSR had a different mindset?

  • “Wow, 15 customers for which to better understand business opportunities beyond the initial request for assistance”.

In a perfect world, this could be true. However, sales training departments are given the daunting task of instilling this mindset while coping with the realities of low wages, time constraints, and part-time positions. But suppose frontline professionals were confident and properly equipped with the essential skills to take care of customers’ initial “active needs,” and then was able to unearth a “latent need” with the potential to generate a high quality internal sales referral.

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With so much volatility in the financial services industry, frontline sales reps are forced to stay up to date on a wave of new offerings that never seems to end. This constant environmental scan detracts from their ability to connect with customers. How can financial institutions keep up with changing products and services and changing customer needs? How do financial institutions increase the bottom line selling products and services that consumers need vs. what they want the customer to have?

New York-based Labaton Sucharow’s second annual survey of the U.S. financial services industry revealed that almost 30% of respondents felt the industry doesn’t put customers first. Why doesn’t the sales process ensure that client needs are first priority? The difference between a product-centric institution and a client-centric institution rests entirely in the sales process. The difference is the actions, behaviors and motivations of the sales team.

And this is where institutions are getting it wrong.

The “product pushy” trend is happening all over the world. The UK’s Financial Ombudsman Service released it’s 2013 Annual Review on Customer Complaints which shows staggering percentages of complaints related to sales and advice.

“It’s our job to sort out individual complaints that consumers and financial businesses aren’t able to resolve themselves,” explains Martin James with the Ombudsman’s office. “We handle complaints about all kinds of money matters,  from insurance and mortgages to savings and credit. Last year we answered over two million inquiries and took on more than half a million cases.”

Out of those half million complaints:

  • 99% of Payment Protection Insurance complaints were related to sales and advice
  • 25% of Insurance complaints were related to sales and advice
  • 44% of Banking and Credit complaints were related to sales, service and advice
  • 92% of Investment and Pension complaints were related to sales, service and advice

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Canada’s banking network is seeing the same trend. In 2012, Dalbar Inc., the nation’s leading financial services research firm, released “The Trends & Best Practices in the Retail Branch Client Experience.” Based on mystery shoppers who conducted 200 unique visits in different branches (both urban and rural), the study concluded that the retail banking experience focuses more on presenting new products versus engaging with clients to better understand the appropriate placement of products within a client’s financial horizon.

Toronto-based Algario, a North American firm focused on sales and service in the financial industry, says that even credit unions are in danger of missing the client-centric (or member-centric) objective.

“Although credit unions tend to be more member centric than banks, they still fail to consistently explore and understand the true needs of each customer and as such, often resort to selling what they think is the product the customer needs,” explains Algario CEO Dave Batchelor. “However they often miss.”

“The industry is seeing very strong results from ‘applied learning’ that measurably changes employee behaviors at each stage of the sales process, and this is where we are focusing our efforts,” he continues. ”The new age form of learning needs to be this way, and we’re committed to bring this type of learning to the North American market.”

“A transformation like this is possible, but not overnight. Not in a day or two of classroom training. Not even a week. But, by shifting the approach to changing frontline sales and service behaviors, reaping a sustainable return from the methodology is both achievable and measurable.”

Algario is a learning development company focused on delivering innovative customer service tools to financial institutions. Customer-centric frontline employees are key to presenting a differentiated customer experience and to delivering the results needed to be successful. To learn more about Algario and the Algario PowerLearnTM Sales Development System, please visit

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