Not long ago, Placer Savings Bank, a 27-branch thrift in Northern California's Gold Country, wondered whether its brokerage business would ever pan out. Today, the $465 million-asset thrift boasts one of the most profitable investment subsidiaries of any community bank in the nation.

Still, the Auburn-based bank's executives say they feel as though they're falling short. The reason? Every bank's age-old problem of getting front-line employees to refer customers to the investment department.

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