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Stress and job cuts take toll on bankers

Workers at every level in the sector are suffering under increased pressure, with health problems on the rise

Sir Hector Sants' decision to take almost three months away from his top-level role at Barclays may be the latest high-level example, but banker bashing, fears of job cuts and increased pressure at work are taking a toll on bankers at every level, according to an international study just released.

The report, published by Swiss-based global financial union UNI Finance, said that during the last two years, 193,000 banking jobs have been axed in the 26 countries it covers.

Sir Hector, 57, who headed the former City watchdog for five years before joining Barclays at the start of this year as its head of compliance, government and regulatory relations, has been put on sick leave until the New Year after being diagnosed with exhaustion and stress.

UNI Finance found that more than 80 per cent of the of the world's 26 banking and finance unions cited deteriorating health as a major problem for their members and that it had increased considerably over the last two years.

The report said stress was a key factor with bank staff reporting "unfeasible sales targets, lower salaries and having to handle the same workload with fewer members of staff".

It also highlighted job fears as many banks replace older members of staff with younger people on lower pay and often on temporary contracts.

Lynn Mackenzie, author of the report Banking: The Human Crisis, says bankers in the glass towers of finance were often blamed for the global financial crisis, but this finger pointing also impacted on bank workers lower down the pay chain.

"Bank employees are having to face angry customers, sometimes on a daily basis, whose lives are falling apart and they blame the banks," says Ms Mackenzie, adding the survey was one of the widest pieces of research looking at bankers' health.

"But on top of this, managers at banks are putting pressure on staff to meet often unrealistic sales and performance targets. This can be the tipping point into health problems."

Marcio Monzane, head of UNI Finance, says: "This is a crisis that has affected us all in so many ways. While we are rightly pointing the finger at bank owners for their role in the crisis, there are millions of honest, hardworking finance employees whose working lives have been ruined by the unstoppable wave of changes affecting their industry."

In the UK, the Unite union said bank employees were suffering as banks removed their old nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday contracts, cut final-salary pension schemes, reduced redundancy terms and increased use of performance measures to threaten staff.

Unite national officer Dominic Hook says: "Since 2008 the big four banks have cut around 180,000 jobs worldwide. Banking staff up and down the UK are under massive pressure, often working unpaid overtime and struggling to meet targets.

"Staff numbers have dropped dramatically, leaving those left behind struggling to cope with the increased workload," he adds.

Sir Hector's near three months away from his compliance and regulation job at Barclays echoes the six-week break Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, was forced to take in 2011 after he too suffered exhaustion.

UNI Finance also highlighted the suicide of Zurich Insurance chief financial officer Pierre Wauthier and the death of Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt who was found dead in his London lodgings having worked through the night several days running.

Mr Monzane says: "Hundreds of thousands of jobs have, and continue to be, lost. The pressure on staff to deliver with tighter human resources is immense, and it is being reflected in the deteriorating health and lifestyle of bank workers worldwide."

Ms Mackenzie adds: "Pressure to cut costs and sell products has created a climate of fear at many banks and workers are too worried about their jobs to speak out or admit they are suffering mentally, fearing it will jeopardise their job."

UNI said that job losses are accelerating in seven European countries including France, the Netherlands and Greece, as well as in Asia, the Americas and Africa. Losses are slowing down in nine other European countries such as Ireland, Spain and the UK, but from a very high level.

The union called on banks to take a fairer approach to restructuring, limit payments to shareholders and asked managers to do their utmost to preserve jobs.

Under pressure: Financial jobs cuts

HSBC 4800; July 2011

Lloyds 4000; July 2011

RBS 6000; July 2011

Barclays 2000; July 2011

RSA 400; July 2011

Aviva 1200; 2013

Axa 2000; 2013

Co-op Group 900; 2013

Diligenta 470; 2013

Direct line 2000; 2013

UK total 30,000; 2011-2013

Source: Uni Finance