A group of tellers, loan officers, and customer service representatives from the country’s largest commercial banks will rally Monday outside office towers in Minneapolis to call attention to their own low pay and to consumer-harming sales policies they say are imposed on them by management. As part of the demonstrations, workers will ask to meet with executives at Wells Fargo to deliver a petition calling for the bank to do away with high-pressure sales quotas for its customer service staff.
In a new report from the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), one teller “says she has to ‘practically chase customers out of the door hawking unwanted credit and debit card accounts'” or face reproach from her manager, despite corporate policy that ostensibly prohibits disingenuous or high-pressure tales tactics.
The CPD report details how the largest banks exacerbate inequality on the macro level and prey upon trusting customers on the micro-level. It argues that the largest American consumer banks are contributing to economic inequality and mining huge profits while freezing tens of millions of un-banked Americans out of basic financial services.
The kinds of basic banking products that are essential to working people trying to save for their retirement or their children “are what industry insiders consider ‘low-value’ or ‘low-margin’ services,” CPD notes, and “are not currently a priority for the big banks.” Instead, banks have put tellers and call center employees under ever more pressure to sell people credit cards and additional bank accounts regardless of whether those products suit the customer’s real needs. At one bank, customer service staff must “make 40 percent of the sales of the top seller to avoid being written up.”
For providing this warped version of “customer service” and surviving the high-pressure work environment the banks create for them, frontline workers are rewarded with falling pay. Pay for tellers fell by more than 5 percent from 2007 to 2013 after adjusting for inflation. Bank workers who conduct interviews for people requesting loans have seen their wages drop by 3.2 percent, and customer service reps have gotten a 2.5 percent cut in that same window.
Out of every 10 bank tellers in the country, three are enrolled in food stamps or another public assistance program. Considering that most such programs have far fewer people enrolled than are eligible for them, it’s likely that the ratio of tellers who qualify for public aid is even higher. Taxpayers spend nearly $900 million a year providing benefits to bring bank tellers and their families up to a subsistence-level income, which means everyone in the country is helping to subsidize bank profits.
Those profits are massive, as the CPD report notes. For every dollar in revenue that the 10 largest consumer banks in America bring in, they manage to keep 20 cents as pure profit after paying workers, overhead, and taxes. That large profit margin leaves plenty of room to pay workers enough to avoid poverty.
First, let's point out that worldwide millions of people work in banks as tellers, loan advisers and customer service representatives as well as all the ancilliary staff employed as technicians, security personnel, cleaners etc., and they are all workers. Similarly workers are employed at all levels in insurance companies, in legal services, in all manner of work which produces nothing of use to us but simply moves money about physically and electronically, giving loans, making investments, whilst aiming to make profit all along the line.
As noted above many of these workers are employed on salaries that fall short of meeting family budgets and have to resort to welfare of one sort or another to keep their heads above water.
Socialists see this as a strong point in getting our message across to countless workers who haven't yet recognised the logic of doing away with money and the monetary system as a whole. People who work in such industries are workers of the world, along with farm workers, factory workers, scientists, health workers, teachers, construction workers, haulage workers, food industry and restaurant workers, chefs, waiters and washing up employees. Whether brain surgeon or nurse, artist or road sweeper, designer or technician, rocket scientist or fisherman, we all seek employment to satisfy our daily and ongoing needs.
Why not just tweak this a little bit? We may not be happy with our particular employment for a variety of reasons - the most common being to do with pay and conditions - but we accept the need to work at something. Take away the stress of having to make enough money each month to make the payments and feed and clothe the family, etc., and enter into mutual agreement with our fellow workers that from now on we are all joint stewards of the planet and all its wealth and natural resources. We are all equally free to contribute our 'work' for the common good and equally free to take from what we collectively produce.
Now, back to all those millions currently working in banking and similar occupations - if we were to make them redundant at a stroke, they, plus the many millions currently unemployed, would all be free to enter into other, different fields of occupation ensuring that our communities could at last be well served in all areas important to us, the ones who do the work, not to profit seekers. A system organised in this way would undoubtedly also give us all more of the free time that we crave to spend with family and friends in our self-determined activities.