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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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Post Office announces plans to launch current account

Category : Business

Customers want ‘simplicity, transparency and good value for money’, says Post Office director of financial services

Post Office has announced plans to re-enter the current account market with a new banking deal for consumers over the next few weeks. Details of the account are scant, but it is thought that the combination of a well-known brand and a large branch network could make it a serious challenger to the big four banks, particularly when new rules making it easier to switch accounts come into force later this year.

Nick Kennett, director of financial services at Post Office, said that research into the current account market had suggested customers primarily want “simplicity, transparency and good value for money”.

He added: “With over 11,500 branches, which is more than all the UK banks combined, we can provide this through the most convenient and accessible retail network in the UK.”

Post Office already offers a range of financial services including savings, credit cards and travel money, and recently introduced in-branch mortgage advice for consumers. Kennett said that the launch of a current account was part of the “significant transformation” of the brand.

The account will initially be launched in a small number of branches, before a wider-roll out next year.

Kevin Mountford, head of banking at comparison website MoneySupermarket, said the launch was “big news” for consumers. “The fact that the Post Office is a popular trusted brand, already has a large savings account portfolio, and has over 11,500 branches throughout the country means it can be a serious challenger in the current account market,” he said.

Michael Ossei, personal finance expert at, said the banks should see Post Office as “a serious threat”, with those in rural areas especially likely to be attracted by its branch network.

However, Andrew Hagger, director of, cautioned that more detail is needed, pointing out that the excitement surrounding Marks & Spencer’s entrance to the market last year quickly subsided when it emerged the accounts had fees of up to £20 a month.

This is not the first foray into current account banking by Post Office, which was the home of the state-owned Girobank for two decades until its sale to Alliance & Leicester building society in 1990. At that point, it was the sixth-largest provider of current accounts in the UK. It comes at a time when competition in the market is heating up, with Tesco and Virgin Money known to be working on their own launches, and existing providers enhancing their deals to attract consumers.

Post Office staff go on strike

Category : Business

Thousands of staff at Post Office Crown offices go on strike in a row over jobs, pay and branch closures.

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Exposed: bank’s high-pressure sales culture continues

Category : Business

A Halifax insider describes how the push to ‘sell, sell, sell’ continues, despite the regulator’s finding that such incentive schemes contributed to recent mis-selling scandals

An employee of Britain’s biggest banking group has described a “disheartening and demotivating” sales culture that pressurises staff into selling financial products to customers in order to meet strict points-based daily targets.

The man, who did not wish to be named, but we will call David Elliott, works as a financial consultant for Halifax. He says his job chiefly entails trying to sell insurance to customers. “I’ve been a counter clerk, banking adviser, financial adviser and now I’m a financial consultant – so I’ve been at every level there is in a retail bank. It gradually gets worse the higher you climb the ladder and now I’m at the highest seller point in banking and the pressure is abnormal,” he says.

Sales targets are everywhere, and products translate into points which are added to a branch total, he adds. Loans and home insurance attract the most points, and there are also points for generating new leads from customers.

On Friday, Lloyds Group, which owns Halifax, said in its annual report that it was “Reviewing and developing incentives continually to ensure they promote colleagues behaviours that meet customer needs and regulatory expectations”.

The bonus pool for employees has been cut, and Lloyds said the average pay out was £3,900 last year, but Elliott suggests there is still a big focus on sales. He told us how, throughout the day, staff discuss how much they have sold and how they can sell more. He outlined to The Observer a typical series of meetings – up to four a day.

■ Meeting one, 9am to 9.35am

“All sellers and managers sit at a table with the customer information that is in each seller’s diary for that day. Each seller is grilled about which products customers can be cross-sold. Either that or they are referred to another seller to sell them something. That leaves people so disheartened and demotivated it’s untrue. How can you know a customer’s needs without ever speaking to them?”

■ Meeting two, 11.30am (15-20mins)

“A check-in, in the same room with a member of counter, banking hall, sales and management staff. We all write on the board what sales have been done that day. These are transferred into “points” and the branch roughly has to do 5,000 points per day. If we are behind, everyone at that check-in is grilled on how to get more points .”

■ Meeting three, 12.30pm (15-20mins)

“The same as meeting two. If sales aren’t being met, all advisers who don’t have appointments are forced to cold-call existing customers about potential products they could want.”

■ Meeting four, 3pm (15-20mins)

“Pressure is put on staff again to find more points from customers before 5pm.”

The revelations come almost six months after the Financial Services Authority told banks and building societies to clean up their act following a review of the sales culture at Britain’s biggest financial firms.

The regulator concluded that many, if not all, of the recent mis-selling scandals had dysfunctional incentive schemes at their root.

At some banks there are signs the culture could be changing. Co-operative Bank, Barclays and HSBC have all removed sales targets from staff pay. Elsewhere, however, it seems to be more of the same. Although Lloyds Group has made some changes and introduced an element of bonus linked to customer services, Elliott says he feels like “part of a used-car salesman sketch” and is unhappy with the way the bank seems entirely focused on making sales. “They tell colleagues ” sell to a need”, but they can’t because they have to sell, sell, sell,” he says. “Any product from mortgages to bank accounts could be the next PPI, because of the pressure to sell.” He says he has complained to line managers and has been told to “like it or leave” and he says he has done the job required of him. But, he says, after several years at the bank: “I’m just infuriated.”

Job adverts for similar roles on the Lloyds Group site talk of “delivering the highest standards of customer service and suggesting the right products in each situation”, but the mention of sales targets is not far away.

An advert for a personal banking adviser in Peterborough, paying £16,020-£19,700, describes the ideal candidate as someone able to “meet and exceed personal sales, cross sales and quality referral targets, contributing towards the branch team’s service and sales targets”. Excellent customer service and experience are also named as key, but come after sales in the job description.

A Halifax spokeswoman said branches had short meetings throughout the day but these “are designed to review all aspects of the customer experience”. She added: “This includes looking at whether there are opportunities to make customers better off.”

The spokeswoman said: “We have a clear reward framework for colleagues that ensures we recognise behaviours that are focused on achieving correct customer outcomes and excellent service. Branch targets for both service and meeting customer needs are set on the basis of the local market and resource levels in that particular location.”

She added: “We have taken steps in the past year to ensure as much as possible that there is no product bias in our framework. We also have a number of quality controls in place. This includes monitoring sales to ensure that colleagues have met customer needs appropriately and communicated important information clearly … We also have clawback mechanisms in place for any colleagues who make inappropriate sales.”

Charges in £35m HBOS loans probe

Category : Business, World News

Eight people are charged in connection with business loans worth £35m made through a branch of HBOS in Reading.

See more here: Charges in £35m HBOS loans probe

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Rise of the dark store feeds the online shoppers

Category : Business

Supermarkets divided on the merit of dotcom-only stores, warehouses or picking from high street shelves

Branches of Waitrose are usually found in only the most chichi of neighbourhoods but its west London branch is in such a grim area – on the edge of the Hangar Lane gyratory system – that even the buildings apologise to passersby.

Its neighbour, another squat 60s-style council block occupied by the posh catalogue firm Boden, has a sign hanging outside saying “ugly building, beautiful clothes”.

It’s just as well no shoppers will ever wheel their trolley over the threshold. It’s one of a new breed of so-called “dark stores” or dotcom only stores springing up around the country to satisfy Britons’ insatiable demand to shop for groceries from the comfort of their sofa rather than make the weekly shlepp to the supermarket.

For foodies who seek out Waitrose for its butcher’s counter where the assistant can wax lyrical about the best cut for your Sunday’s roast or who love to sniff the racks of freshly baked artisan bread, the soulless “dotcom fulfilment centre” would offer all the aesthetic joy of a Soviet-era supermarket with dingy strip lighting and austere shelving racks. “We are very low-tech,” said branch manager Noreen O’Meara unapologetically. “We are a branch without customers or rather we’ve got customers we can’t see. The face of the brand are the drivers – they’re the only people who see the customers.”

When the five-storey utilitarian building, originally used by sister chain John Lewis as a carpet warehouse, was deemed surplus to requirements Waitrose moved in last year. “We thought we could make it work as our first foray into dotcom,” said Waitrose e-commerce director Robin Phillips. “It’s pretty basic as a layout and we recycled a lot of old kit.”

The round-the-clock operation boasts a mock “shop floor” with aisles presented just as you would find them in a store open to the public. The usual temptations are there, particularly in the seasonal aisle, where boxes of Heston Blumenthal’s new hidden sauce figgy pudding nestle beside rows of panettone, mince pies and stollen. The only tweaks are a nod to the “virtual shopper” with extra rows of toilet paper, bottled water and baby food reflecting that online shoppers use home delivery services to transfer the pain of getting heavy and bulky items home.

There are also more hoodies and bobble hats in the aisles than in your average branch of Waitrose as an army of pickers wraps up warm to swarm through the aisles, picking six orders at a time. “We call ourselves personal shoppers,” said Susie Shackleton, one of the 180 partners working on the (virtual) shopfloor. “Accuracy is the most important thing,” she said. Bags of sugar and flour are placed carefully in cellophane bags “so it looks like we’ve gone the extra mile to care for the customer” – whose name she often recognises although she has never met them.

The shelves are replenished by the night shift and from 4am the operation cranks up again for the day ahead, with the first vans trundling out of the car park well before 6am. “I can’t believe people want their shopping at 6.30am but they do,” said O’Meara. Despite the antisocial hours the main gripes from staff are over which radio station plays over the loudspeakers. Divisions between fans of Capital, Absolute and Magic FM are bitter.

During the heady days of the dotcom boom when Webvan delivery vans were zipping around US cities, internet gurus predicted that by now we’d have temperature controlled lockers bolted to the side of our houses. But fast forward through a cruel decade that saw Webvan consigned to the dustbin of e-commerce history and meaningful profits continue to elude Ocado, the industry is still casting around for the right model.

Store bosses remain divided on the merits of filling orders from large, specialised warehouses – most notably Ocado’s super hi-tech base in Hatfield, north London – or getting staff to pick products from the shelves of their stores as Sainsbury’s does. Tesco and Asda do both, using dark stores to pick up the slack in the densely populated areas such as the south-east.

Despite having more than 3,000 stores, Tesco chief executive, Philip Clarke, has made investing in dotcom-only stores a “clear priority”. The market leader has four dark stores ringing London, in Enfield, Croydon, Aylesford and Greenford, with another three in prospect in Didcot, in Erith, near Dartford, and in Crawley. In a recent interview its internet boss, Ken Towle, said it aimed to build a national network and was scouting other cities, including Birmingham and Manchester, for locations.

Arch-rival Asda is also targeting online shoppers: it has two dark stores in Leeds and Enfield and recently announced plans for a third in Nottingham. Ocado, meanwhile, is ploughing £210m into a second distribution centre in Dordon, Warwickshire which opens next year. Sainsbury’s says it favours picking from store because it takes advantage of its existing network and makes for punctual deliveries, as drivers deliver to customers living nearby.

When the Acton centre opened last October the fleet of Waitrose vans was delivering about 2,000 orders a week but that figure will hit 7,500 by Christmas as its fledgling online service racks up growth of 100% year-on-year in London. For Waitrose the big win is that the price transparency of the internet is encouraging Britons to do more of their shopping with them. “They are doing a full weekly shop [with Waitrose] which they were not necessarily doing before,” said Phillips. “Our multichannel shoppers spend three times as much with us.”

Analysts at IGD, the grocery industry thinktank, estimate the online food and grocery market will almost double in size over the next five years to be worth £11.1bn. Last year internet home shopping accounted for £5.6bn out of the £156.8bn spent on groceries in 2011. “Although online grocery is still in its infancy it is evolving at a blistering pace,” said IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch, pointing to increasing smartphone and tablet use together with 4G mobile technology. “Although online only currently represents 3.4% of the overall UK grocery market, it is the fastest growing sector.”

Virgin ‘interested in RBS deal’

Category : Business

Virgin Money is “very interested” in Royal Bank of Scotland’s bank branch sale and there has been “informal” contact, the BBC understands.

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Virgin ‘interested in RBS deal’

Category : World News

Virgin Money is “very interested” in Royal Bank of Scotland’s bank branch sale and there has been “informal” contact, the BBC understands.

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Holden Roofing Going Strong After Over Fifty Years

Category : Stocks, World News

SAN ANTONIO, TX–(Marketwire – Oct 10, 2012) – Family owned Holden Roofing has been a staple in the Texas roofing business since 1961, and are showing no signs of slowing down. Holden has succeeded by avoiding the temptation to branch out into various other areas of construction. They are a roofing company only, and their installers are roofing specialists with over 30 years of experience in some cases. With a highly trained sales staff, 400+ installers, and five Texas locations, Holden Roofing can take on any project you have.

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REPEAT-Media Advisory: BMO Bank of Montreal Celebrates Grand Opening of McKenzie Towne Branch in Calgary

Category : Stocks

- New BMO branch represents a $1 million investment into the community

- ‘Making Money Make Sense’ in nine different languages

- Offering customers extended banking hours; seven days a week

- BMO Economics forecasts 120,000 new jobs to be created in Calgary and Edmonton over the next four years

Original post: REPEAT-Media Advisory: BMO Bank of Montreal Celebrates Grand Opening of McKenzie Towne Branch in Calgary

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REPEAT: BMO Bank of Montreal Opens New Full-Service Branch in Lethbridge-Open Six Days a Week

Category : Stocks

- New BMO branch represents a $1.6 million investment in the community

- Offering customers extended banking hours, including Saturdays

- BMO has introduced various tools and resources ‘Making Money Make Sense’ for Canadians

Read more here: REPEAT: BMO Bank of Montreal Opens New Full-Service Branch in Lethbridge-Open Six Days a Week

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