A tip for bankers: Restaurant employees consider you tightwads.

Only lawyers and doctors ranked ahead of bankers on Bartender magazine's 16th annual poor tippers list, for which the trade publication polled 144,000 readers. Teachers and "computer people" followed bankers.

In fact, bankers have made the "Tightwad List" for at least 12 years, publisher Ray Foley said in an interview. "They're always in the top five," he said. "I don't know why."

John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, says his informal market research of cab drivers at ABA functions indicates bankers aren't all that stingy.

"I often get compliments, because they (cabbies) recognize the bankers as good tippers," he said.

"I wouldn't have expected the bankers to be the most generous, but I don't think we want to appear cheap," said Bill Wilkening, president of $143 million-asset Citizens Independent Bank in St. Louis Park, Minn.

The magazine probed tipping habits based on professions and other identifying factors, such as country and western dancers and groups of women splitting the bill (bad tippers) and smokers and blue-collar workers (good tippers).

The very top tippers included gratuity-oriented professions: bartenders, waiters, and hairstylists.

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Even as Cole Taylor Bank president Bruce Taylor wrote a recent article in Bank Management about community banks building customer relationships, the bank's parent company, Cole Taylor Financial Corp., was exploring a possible sale.

In the article, Mr. Taylor stressed the $42 billion-asset bank's more than 60 years as an independent community bank and discussed how to improve customer service and retention and growth opportunities in light of increasing nonbank competition.

However, times could be changing for Cole Taylor.

After members of the company's two founding families expressed differing opinions over what its future should be, Cole Taylor in October retained investment banks Chicago Corp. and Sandler O'Neill & Partners to investigate its strategic alternatives.

Analysts have said the company could sell everything at once; sell either the bank or the subprime auto lender, Reliance Acceptance Corp.; sell both separately, or do nothing.

Rumors of talks with Ohio's Banc One Corp. and Minneapolis' First Bank System have swirled recently, but there is no consensus about the outcome in the speculation.

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