Perhaps it's a sign that the worst days of the credit cycle are ending or perhaps it's just an attempt to change the topic, but in the past week or so there has been a resurgence in use of the "f" word by bank executives.

Not that the word (fees, of course) had gone out of style. Rather, the subject of how to build or grow fee-generating businesses had faded into the background a bit as investors and regulators bore down on credit quality and just enough corporate borrowers got into trouble to let the topic quiet down. When SunTrust Banks Inc. and BB&T Corp. reported earnings last week, both had problem loans to talk about, but the overall news at each company was mainly positive. Earnings at both were higher and each company had solid lending results. SunTrust had sold off a portion of its distressed debt, and BB&T's presentation left little doubt the company would continue looking for acquisition opportunities, especially in asset management - not the kind of talk one would get from an executive team fearing the near future.

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