Lloyds Bank: Can service be sustained after another round of layoffs?

Customers are increasingly banking online or over the telephone, but banks like Lloyds still need to demonstrate they have the capacity to effectively look after them as they swing the axe

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The Independent Online

Death by a thousand cuts, is how unions serving Lloyds Banking Group staff described the latest 1,200 plus job losses announced by the company. 

Net role reductions, is the term it preferred. That isn’t quite as bad as describing killing your own troops as “friendly fire” but it comes from the same playbook of using anodyne or comforting terminology for unpleasant occurrences in an attempt to draw the sting from them. 

The redundancies, Lloyds tells us, are part of a pre-existing programme of 12,000 cuts. Some 9,000 of those were announced a couple of years ago. Another 3,000 were unveiled in July alongside the bank’s half year results in an attempt to divert some of the attention away from them. 

The unions’ unhappiness is quite understandable. They have to deal with the fallout, which involves talking to worried members with mortgages, families and other commitments that have been threatened by the announcement. It doesn’t matter that these are reductions that have already been announced.

It still hurts when it’s confirmed that it’s your neck on the line. 

Lloyds, which also owns Halifax, has come up with the usual guff about simplifying processes and better serving the customer to justify the move.

However, it also says that the reductions are an inevitable consequence of changes in the way those customers do their banking.

In other words it’s the fault of you and me. 

Unfortunate though it is for the affected staff, it might have a point. The modern Lloyds branch is a million miles from the type of branch previous generations will have been familiar with. It’s friendly, comfortable, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a free coffee and some sweeties when you go in. 

Trouble is less and less people are going in, including those from previous generations who grew up when bank tellers sat behind reinforced plastic windows and customers filled out forms while standing at a shelf, seats being reserved for those waiting for uncomfortable interviews with bank managers. 

More and more people are choosing to bank online and by telephone which, in theory, requires less employees. 

Where questions need to be raised is whether there will be enough staff to effectively look after Lloyds customers banking through these channels or via a diminished number of branches after the axe has finished swinging. Will the bank be able to guarantee an acceptable level of customer service? That is open to debate. 

Lloyds says its customer service numbers are improving, but you’ll struggle to find any business willing to publicly admit that it’s getting worse at this. It is only in executive la la land that staff cuts lead to better outcomes for customers, however many “processes” are simplified. 

The huge scale of the layoffs at Lloyds raises real questions about whether the service numbers it talks about can be sustained let alone improved. 

The problem faced by the banking customer is that all the big banks are doing much the same thing. Opportunity knocks for the so-called challenger banks, then? 

Perhaps, if they have the staff on board to exploit it.