Big banks to face questions about banking practices

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Banking industry has lobbied officials, MPs hundreds of times

Canada's big banks will be in the hot seat next month, facing questions about questionable banking practices revealed by CBC's Go Public.

Parliament's finance committee has decided to hold hearing into reports that bank employees are being pressured to meet sales targets. Over the course of three meetings, the committee is expected to hear from Canada's banks as well as government agencies that oversee banks.

The hearings will likely be held in June, sometime before Parliament rises for the summer.

Wayne Easter, chairman of the finance committee, said if the committee finds problems that need to be addressed, it can propose changes.

"We can make recommendations to the superintendent of financial institutions or to some of the other regulators of the banks if we find there are undue problems here and as a committee make recommendations to the authorities that have the responsibility in those areas."

Thousands contact Go Public

The committee's decision earlier this month to hold hearings into banking practices comes in the wake of revelations by Go Public that employees in a number of banks were being pressured to sell customers products and services they may not need. In some cases employees told CBC News they had increased lines of credit or overdraft protection to hit their sales revenue targets without informing the customer.

To date, thousands of bank employees have contacted Go Public, describing stress-inducing pressure to increase sales.

Easter said the reports sparked calls to members of the finance committee and questions from constituents.

"The question from constituents is along the lines of 'Are the banks overextending the authority they have under the Bank Act to push you as a customer to buy a certain product, and is there undue pressure being applied to an employee of the bank to push that product?"

'Well-served by their banks'

Robin Walsh, spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association, said the banks will participate in the hearings.

"The CBA and member banks regularly participate in Parliamentary committee hearings and we will be pleased to participate in these House of Commons Finance Committee hearings," he wrote.

"Canadians are well-served by their banks, which is reflected in the very high level of satisfaction they have with their own bank – over 90 per cent of Canadians having favorable impressions of their bank."

The proposal to hold hearings into bank practices initially came from New Democrat MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault.

"It was after the revelations of CBC/Radio Canada that a very high number of employees of banks have flagged some concerns about commercial practices of banks. I felt that this Parliament needed to do something about that."

Dusseault would like to hear from employees

Dusseault said he would like to hear experts on the Bank Act as well as from the banks and the superintendent of financial institutions.

"To make sure that the Bank Act is followed and is enforced because it was clear from this testimony that some employees felt the Bank Act was not respected in some cases."

If any bank employees are willing to testify, Dusseault said he would like the committee to hear from them as well.

Conservative 'very keen' on hearings

Dan Albas, a Conservative member of the committee, said he has received reports from people who shared their experiences of the kind of practices outlined by the reports.

"That's why I am very keen to hear from both the regulators – institutions that actually have oversight of this and also to ask the minister of finance directly what his overall perspective is in this case."

Albas said he also wants to make sure that the concerns about bank practices are being taken seriously.

"We would like to know a little bit more about the nature of these complaints. Obviously, these complaints were made anonymously by people who have said that they work in the banks versus consumers themselves. So we need to ask ourselves: Is there a process for those concerns to go forward?"

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca