Extraco Banks in Temple, Texas, has taken the opposite tack of large banks such as Bank of America in several ways.

Where big banks are starting to charge debit fees to make up for interchange income lost to the Dodd-Frank Act's Durbin amendment, Extraco has rolled out a debit rewards program that shares some of the interchange income that remains. Extraco has also been investing in branch technology and in the hiring and training of branch staff.

"What got us started was inefficiency in our bank lobbies," says James Geeslin, vice chairman and chief sales officer at Extraco Banks, who spoke with Bank Technology News at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery conference in Chicago. "It was somewhere south of a library and north of a funeral home." Employees learned the job from the person who preceded them, and over time the job designs changed.

Geeslin looked at retailers such as Starbucks to see how their employees go about their work and how they're able to multitask.

"We wanted to make sure the customer experience was great, that we touched customers within a few seconds of walking in the door, that we didn't have people hiding behind the counter while people in other parts of the branch were swamped," Geeslin says. "Sometimes the lobby tellers were really busy, while relationship bankers were sitting behind a desk figuring out what to do."

The bank decided to consolidate the relationship manager and teller jobs and develop "universal" bankers. It beefed up its hiring process, requiring applicants to provide 15 references each and go through three to nine interviews, including participating in role-play exercises. Then all the employees were put through 12 weeks of training given a test to be certified as universal bankers.

The first result of all this was an elimination of wasted time, Geeslin says. Branch lobby traffic has been falling 10% a year for the past four years.

The bank bought several pieces of technology to complement this effort and drive efficiency in the branches. It implemented cash recyclers that count and deposit money, so that the tellers don't have to. Tellers don't miss the cash counting and drawer balancing they used to have to do at the end of the day. "I'd be strung up in the lobby if I tried to take those away," says Sandy Dixon, executive vice president and group executive for operations at the bank. This automation allows the tellers to come out from behind the teller window and "swarm" customers.

"When you get swarmed by wasps, they own you," Geeslin says. "We want to touch people within three to four seconds of entering the branch."

The tellers can be stationed at open pods and walk customers around to other parts of the branch, such as the self-service kiosks and phones. All the employees wear headsets so they can fill in for and assist one another when needed.

Apparently customers like being swarmed; customer satisfaction is up 20% at Extraco, employee retention is up and transaction times have been cut in half.

Jack Henry software called Vertex helps the tellers work efficiently by providing speed keys for specific transactions and by providing image deposit capture, letting any disputes take place while the customer is present (this also eliminates the back-office check processing work).