We're Not That Big

Since it has about $280 billion in assets, there's just no getting around the idea that U.S. Bancorp is a big bank. But in the current political climate, Chairman and Chief Executive Richard K. Davis plans to do everything he can to keep his company from being thought of that way.

Acknowledging that the Minneapolis company likely will have to shoulder new burdens, such as the financial crisis responsibility fee, because of its size, Davis reminded analysts last week that U.S. Bancorp deals only "in the very basic business of banking and payments."

"So I'm going to continue to be outspoken," he said on a fourth-quarter earnings conference call. "I'm trying to keep U.S. Bank in the family of what's right for the industry, but I'm going to continue to distinguish us from not being cast with the masses when it comes to things like fees, reputation, impact and taxation. I'm against it, and I don't think it's right."

No Back-Seat Driver

C. Dowd Ritter, who this week hosted his final quarterly conference call as head of Regions Financial Corp., said he prefers quick exits — and others should, too.

Ritter, 62, was asked during the call about his decision to retire and to explain why he would not remain as chairman for a traditional transition period. Grayson Hall will take over as CEO on March 31, and board member Earnest Deavenport Jr. will become nonexecutive chairman.

"I think after 41 years no one should be surprised with my decision" to retire, Ritter said. "I'm a big believer in proper corporate governance, and I don't think there's any worse practice that a large corporation can have than to have an outgoing CEO stay on the board."

Some Rare Kudos

Tough times test relationships, and the past year has done exactly that for many banks and their clients. As institutions have tightened lending, they've been catching flak from clients, prospective borrowers and politicians.

But a survey by Greenwich Associates shows that some banks have at least managed to keep their customers happy. In a survey of 13,000 middle-market companies, Zions Bancorp., BB&T Corp., Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and Toronto-Dominion Bank all received top marks in multiple categories, such as willingness to lend, flexibility of terms and pricing.

The list of honors is long, with 33 institutions receiving mention out of a total of 750 banking firms.

The other "winners" include HSBC Bank USA, Regions Financial Corp., Synovus Financial Corp. and Capital One Financial Corp. The credit policies of all were "meaningfully better than the average," Greenwich consultant Pete Garrison said in a news release.

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