March 30, 2017 / 7:43 PM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 1-Canada's TD Bank launches review of sales practices

* Bank hires firm to help with review

* CEO does not believe bank has widespread problem

* Reports said staff under pressure to hit targets

* Expects to conclude review in less than 6 months (Recasts, adds comments from CEO)

By Matt Scuffham

TORONTO, March 30 (Reuters) - Toronto-Dominion Bank is reviewing its sales practices following reports that staffers were pressured to meet targets, Chief Executive Officer Bharat Masrani said on Thursday at the bank’s annual meeting.

Canada’s financial watchdog is investigating sales practices at the country’s banks and expects to conclude its investigation by the end of the year.

TD branch staffers have said they moved customers to higher fee accounts and raised their overdraft and credit card limits without their knowledge, CBC News, Canada’s public broadcaster, reported on March 10.

Masrani told around 400 shareholders that the bank has hired a professional services firm, which was not named, to assist with the review. He expects it to be concluded in less six months.

He maintained that he did not believe the bank had a widespread problem with its sales practices.

“People behaving unethically in order to achieve these (sales) goals would be inconsistent with who we are as an institution, and I don’t believe we have a widespread problem with that type of behavior,” Masrani said.

He said experiences described by some TD employees of facing pressure to sell to customers “go against the very fiber of our culture.”

Employees at Canada’s other big banks have said they were similarly pressured, CBC News subsequently reported on March 15, raising questions about whether the industry was being properly scrutinized by regulators.

The issue has prompted debate on television and radio call-in programs over the past three weeks.

One TD shareholder raised the issue at the meeting, offering support to management and praising staff at his local TD branch in Hamilton, Ontario.

“Whenever I enter that branch they say ‘Welcome Mr. Saunders. Can we help you today?'... I think TD is doing a very good job, both as a shareholder and a depositor,” the shareholder said, sparking a round of applause.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Masrani declined to name the firm that would assist in the review.

“If there are opportunities to enhance our existing processes we will do so,” he said. “I want to make sure that it is done thoroughly and that we do it right but I also want to see it done over a reasonable period of time.”

Masrani said he was not sure if the bank would use ‘mystery shopping’ exercises, using undercover checks where inspectors pose as regular customers to see if staffers were using questionable sales practices. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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