BestBank of Boulder, Colo., is living up to its name.

The tiny consumer lender is the best performer among U.S. banks with assets of less than $50 million. BestBank's chief executive, Edward Paul Mattar 3d, was out of the office and couldn't be reached for comment.

BestBank has just $16 million of assets, but it puts them to such good use that it earned a 4.64% return. Its net interest income, as a percentage of total assets, was 7.07%, almost double the national average. And its noninterest income was a huge 19.3% of assets.

BestBank typifies banks on the list of the top 100 small community banks. These institutions are the curios of the industry: They put their small capital base and tiny staff to such freakishly good use that they accomplish profit rates beyond the imagination of a NationsBank middle manager.

Take, for instance, Bank of Salem, Ore., a young bank (another recurrent feature among the top 100 small banks) and No. 15 on the list. Each of its seven employees generated an inhuman $210,000 of pretax operating income in 1994.

Then there's Newberry State Bank, a $30 million-asset community bank in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The parent Newberry Bancorp. is run by Stephen Lange Ranzini, 27, who claims to be the youngest bank holding company CEO in the country.

Newberry earned a 3.95% return on assets in 1994, making it second on the list.

Finally, banks on the list are almost all hefty lenders, with an average 54% of their assets in loans. The $7 million-asset Unita County State Bank, Mountain View, Wyo., was the only anomaly, with just 1.01% of its assets in loans.

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