CHICAGO -- Roger L. Fitzsimonds, the chairman and chief executive of Firstar Corp., isn't satisfied with his company even though it is one of the best performing banks in the nation.

The executive told analysts last week that Firstar is "below average at cost management," and promised to boost efficiency at the Milwaukee-based company.

Speaking before the Investment Analysts Society of Chicago, Mr. Fitzsimonds said Firstar will trim the number of back-office processing centers to 11 from 28 this year.

He added that the company, which has $12.9 billion of assets, has nearly finished "a major reduction in unnecessary product and service permutations."

A Profitability Leader

Firstar was a leader in profitability in 1992, posting a 1.33% return on assets that was the third highest among the 50 largest U.S. banks, according to data from Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

It continued the trend in this year's first quarter, posting a 1.59% return on assets and a 19.21% return on equity, ranking it second and seventh respectively among the 59 largest banks tracked by the American Banker.

Trails in Efficiency

However, Firstar ranked 26th in efficiency last year. Though respectable, its 63% ratio of operating expenses to operating income did not compare with Keefe's three leaders, whose ratios were below 55%.

Mr. Fitzsimonds said he is aiming for a 1 percentage point reduction in Firstar's efficiency ratio this year, followed by an additional 13-point reduction "as soon as possible."

One sticking point, he conceded, is his opposition to the cost-saving move converting subsidiary banks to branches. Firstar operates 194 offices through 38 bank charters in six states.

Mr. Fitzsimonds said "there still is a marketing advantage to having bank presidents in places like Green Bay, Wis."

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