A few weeks ago – on October 21, 2015 to be precise – we celebrated the day portrayed in “Back to the Future 2.” That was the day that Michael J. Fox’s character traveled to from 1985. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is having its own “Back to the Future” moment this week, only in reverse – it’s speeding back into the past.
The bank – which is 73 percent owned by the government following a bailout in 2008 – announced that it is scrapping bonuses for its sales staff working in its retail banks, and raising their base pay by 5 percent on average.
The bank says that the new system is simpler and fairer, and will put less pressure on staff to sell products. Which raises a question: why have sales staff at all, then?
The move by RBS flies in the face of trends. Aon Hewitt’s most recent compensation survey showed that more than 90 percent of companies now offer bonus programs for salaried employees. That’s not just sales staff – that’s all employees, because it serves to attract and motivate top talent.
The same study showed that variable compensation had increased (at least in the U.S.) to 12.7 percent of total compensation in 2014, up from 8.8 percent six years ago.
RBS’s move comes after a series of incidents involving such things as payment protection insurance, known as PPI, credit card fraud protection and swaps. The bank contends that these things have eroded customer confidence and that the de-emphasis on selling is meant to win back customers’ trust. But bonuses remain for sales staff in investment banking –where the bank suffered the losses that led to government intervention.
Why aren’t the investment banking sales staff getting the same treatment? RBS does not say. Perhaps they feel that the specialized, skilled sales executives on the investment banking side would jump ship should their bonuses disappear. Removing their bonuses would take away this team’s ability to control its own outcomes and instead tie their financial compensation to the overall performance of the bank. The top sales talent would not accept their financial performance being at the mercy of others.
RBS says the new plan is fairer to staff at less busy branches, who don’t have the opportunity to earn the same bonuses as staff in busy branches. That sounds to me like an example of administrative constraints choking the business process – if they were able to easily track demand and quota attainment in the branches while automating bonus calculation, it would be easy to compensate for varying demand in the branches. And of course it’s missing out on a big incentive to perform – top sellers get rewarded with transfers to busy branches.
How successful this plan will be remains to be seen. Will it result in greater customer trust, or will it instead trigger churn in retail bank staff and a resulting decline in customer service?