Wall Street generally loves it when a banking company announces plans to cut costs, including layoffs. So what would analysts think when a banking company, as part of its sales- building effort, decides to spend $12 million to increase the sales staff by 60% over two years? In the case of Brenton Banks of Des Moines, the response was thumbs up. "To me, you have to be selling just to stay in the game," says Joseph Roberto, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. "The ones that are not doing this are not sophisticated." Mr. Roberto and other analysts speak admiringly of Brenton Banks' efforts to generate revenues. They like the steps the bank has taken to build a sales culture, including hiring a sales director and instituting a bank-wide system of sales training and special incentives for cross-selling. This effort has shown up on the bottom line. The bank's net income doubled from $10.3 million in 1996 to $20.3 million in 1998. Stephen Skiba, an analyst with ABN Amro in Chicago, estimates that Brenton Banks' earnings per share will fall 8% this year because of the costs of hiring 120 more workers and related expenses. But he views it as money well spent. "They have staffed up for purposes of creating this sales culture and hopefully, it will create long- term dividends for their shareholders,'' he says. - John Kimelman
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