After 65 years in the banking industry, Mary Eiffler may be nearing the end of her career.

The 83-year-old works about 30 hours a week examining statements that don't balance at First Midwest Bank's Waukegan, Ill., office.

She would keep her job if it weren't for First Midwest's decision to move her department to Joliet this summer as part of a corporate restructuring.

"I don't see how I've been able to be so lucky to do something all my life and really enjoy it," said Mrs. Eiffler.

She measures her career by recalling major banking and financial events. She entered the banking business 20 days before Black Friday, Oct. 29, 1929, and persevered through the Great Depression.

Mrs. Eiffler, who spent her entire banking career in various positions at several Waukegan banks, retired for the first time at age 65 for a little more than a year before joining First Midwest in 1976.

What's kept her in the industry so long?

A love of working with numbers and people - and the fact that she can dress up. "Would you believe it, I'm still wearing high heels," she said.

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Community banks, it turns out, are serving their customers just about better than anyone.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index found that small banks showed the only marked increase in customer satisfaction in the fourth quarter last year. Just about every other sector of the economy, including large banks and other financial services, showed marked drops in customer satisfaction.

The quarterly index covers 200 companies and government agencies. The index is compiled by the University of Michigan Business School

"Customers told us they liked what they saw in small banks, but were less satisfied with the performance of large banks, insurance companies, and retail outlets," said Jack West, chairman of the American Society for Quality Control, which sponsors the index. "Because small banks have shown an increase in customer satisfaction, they could be valuable sources of information on quality methodologies, and could be good benchmarks."

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The five names that a North Carolina community bank trade group has had in its 92-year existence could be used as a history lesson on the evolution of the banking industry in this century.

In January the group unanimously voted to scrap the cumbersome North Carolina Alliance of Community Financial Institutions - which had survived as the group's moniker for only four years - in favor of the punchier Community Bankers Association of North Carolina.

"It's indicative of what's happened in the industry," said Thad Woddard, president of the association, which has had four different names in his 17- year tenure. "This is another step in the metamorphosis of banking."

The most recent change stemmed from the acknowledgement that the distinction between commercial banks and thrifts is becoming increasingly blurred.

The association's name at its founding in 1903 was the Building and Loan League, which was subsequently changed in 1941 to the Savings and Loan League. In 1983, it became the League of Savings Institutions, but when the group admitted commercial banks in 1990 because of the loss of members in the '80s through consolidation in the state, another name was needed. It became the Alliance of Community Financial Institutions, which was dropped earlier this year.

- Barbara F. Bronstien, Terrence O'Hara, and Christopher Rhoads

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