The top-performing banks in the $2 billion-to-$10 billion asset class are a diverse group made up of traditional commercial lenders, mortgage powerhouses, serial acquirers and fee generators. But one common characteristic is that they are unafraid to invest in their growth. This is especially striking given the pressure all banks are under to control expenses these days.

Last year the median spending increase for those in the top 20 was 10.92%, compared with 6.33% for all 238 banks that qualified for this ranking. Not coincidentally, the standouts generated stronger growth in both interest and noninterest income than the peer group and, despite higher overhead, had lower efficiency ratios. Most notably, their median return on equity — at 14.30% for 2016 — was a whopping 558 basis points higher than that of their peers.

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