Banks' efforts to improve efficiency are paying off. At the top 100 bank holding companies, efficiency ratios - a measure of how much it costs a bank to generate $1 of revenue - have been improving dramatically.

The average for the group is 57.40% for the first nine months of this year, compared to 59.44% in 1995. (See chart below.) And that's down from nearly 62% in 1994.

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