North Fork Bancorp, one of the industry's hardest-charging acquirers, has launched an equally bold campaign to become a sales machine.
The effort teams a 20-year North Fork veteran with a former bond salesman to turn every transaction into an opportunity to sell more products and services to customers.
Tellers now routinely ask their family members to open accounts; back- office employees take mortgage applications in their spare time; senior executives jump to the front lines to show branch workers how to talk up customers.
"You can't just sit there," said Carolyn A. Drexel, the executive vice president who oversees the 108 branches North Fork operates in the boroughs and suburbs of New York City.
"We had to get the staff turned around, away from being order takers," said Ms. Drexel, who has been with the Melville, N.Y., banking company for more than two decades.
Her right hand in the effort is vice president Scott J. Skorobohaty, who sold bonds for First Interstate Corp. before he joined North Fork two years ago.
"This is about an entire change in culture," said Mr. Skorobohaty. "We have to be more like Macy's than a bank."
The goal, a key objective for banks today, is to cross-sell multiple products to boost income.
After looking at other banks that tried similar programs but failed to deliver, North Fork decided that a combination of rich incentives and a shift in its employee mix would produce results.
Now, job applicants for branch slots are routinely asked if they have selling and customer service experience, which North Fork prizes as much as - if not more than - banking acumen.
Once on board, employees are offered some of the juiciest incentives in the industry. Some staff members have boosted their pay by 50% over base salaries, which are around $50,000 for a branch manager and $20,000 for a teller, typical for the industry.
Staff members behind the scenes can also pull in thousands of extra dollars by going out into their communities and seeking mortgage business.
Right now employees attain an average of 1.78 products or services for each new customer. The ratio is below the gold standard of nearly 4.0 set by Norwest Corp., Minneapolis. But North Fork is up from only 1.3 a year ago.
North Fork paid out $1.8 million in incentives last year and saw business increase virtually across the board. Most notable was a $117 million nonmerger-related jump in no-interest deposits, a priority for the program.
"We have a lot more work to do, but this is a very solid beginning," Mr. Skorobohaty said. His next task: to have tellers, during down time, call customers with product ideas.
The bank aims for Mr. Skorobohaty's selling bent to complement Ms. Drexel's experience as a banker. "Without new ideas you can become very, very stale," Ms. Drexel said. "And the industry is changing."
North Fork executives are reminded of the pressure every time they look out their windows. Across the way is the shimmering Long Island headquarters of Fleet Financial Group, a savvy producer of fee income. To its right is the imposing head office of General Accident Insurance, which is also pursuing bank customers.
And just down the hall is chairman John Kanas, the demanding executive who built North Fork into a $10 billion-asset company through 12 acquisitions in as many years.
Mr. Kanas-known for buying other banks and then dramatically slashing their costs-is less involved in the selling effort.
"This used to be a one-person bank," Mr. Kanas said. "Now, I really have nothing to do with running daily operations."
The positioning may be one of his most canny moves yet, freeing Mr. Kanas to scout for purchases while the currency for acquisitions-the bank's shares-is boosted by the executive team's sales.
The executives, who come from banks like Chase Manhattan Corp., European American Bank, and National Westminster, say the hours and demands are tough but they are well rewarded for their efforts.
"You work incredibly hard for your money," said one former manager.
And woe unto the employee or acquired bank that fails to deliver.
"Just don't ever tell John what you can't do," said Frank A. Fattoruso, senior vice president and regional branch chief. "Tell him what you can do and then make sure you deliver."
Though top managers pull down solid salaries, the selling effort is largely focused on the branch employees. "They are where the rubber hits the road," Ms. Drexel said.
"It's a very proactive approach," said branch manager Patricia Dallas, whose office is filled with charts and lists of contest results in which tellers received money or extra days off.
But it's not simple, said Mr. Skorobohaty. "We don't want them to be perceived like used-car salesmen."
So far, North Fork appears to be handling matters well, observers said.
North Fork "has found its niche," said Robert Albertson, a banking analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. "The company's service culture exceeds the service at local thrifts, while its sale efforts surpass other commercial banks in its market."
And to keep the competition at bay, North Fork plans to hold its present course of snapping up institutions while increasing sales efforts.
The company's culture may be best summed up by a picture in Mr. Kanas' office, showing him with a freshly killed wolf during a recent hunting trip in the Yukon.
"He got too close to our camp," Mr. Kanas said. "We had to take him down."