Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig is a hero to bankers.

"In the sweep of history, Gene will go down as one of the outstanding comptrollers," said John G. Medlin, chairman of Wachovia Corp., Winston- Salem, N.C. "He has continued to balance safety and soundness with doing some very courageous things to permit banks to expand their businesses."

This month, Mr. Ludwig continued to push the envelope by allowing national banks to underwrite municipal revenue bonds through operating subsidiaries.

In doing so, Mr. Ludwig made good on his oft-repeated promise to help banks keep up with nonbank competitors and diversify income streams.

But the year also was punctuated by warnings from Mr. Ludwig, who has been worried that the strong economy may have lulled bankers into a false sense of security. The comptroller repeatedly told the industry to prepare for an inevitable downturn by tightening underwriting standards.

With little more than three months left in his term, most observers do not expect Mr. Ludwig to sign on for another five years as comptroller. Mr. Ludwig, however, is not tipping his hand.

"I don't know why you are trying to count me out so quickly," he said.

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