WASHINGTON:

REGIONAL DIFFERENCES in profitability have shrunk considerably, FDIC data show. In the first half, midwestern banks had the highest annualized average return on assets, at 1.41%. Page 2

CHRISTINE CUMMINGS, the guru of risk assessment at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, could change the face of bank examinations. Page 4

FINANCE:

FIRST UNION chief executive Edward E. Crutchfield Jr. is ready and willing to defend his bank's history of acquisitions. They are absolutely necessary for the superregional to compete against nonbanks, he insists. Back page

RATING AGENCIES and investors think most bank holding companies are weaker than their banks, so holding company debt carries higher yields than bank debt. Whether the difference is justified has become a subject of debate among fixed-income analysts. Back page

REGIONAL BANKING:

WASHINGTON MUTUAL is reporting some success with its year-old effort to market free checking. The aim is to add customers and try to sell them other products. Page 5

UMB FINANCIAL CORP., hoping to fill a niche and boost its revenues, has created a subsidiary to provide consulting services on regulatory issues. Page 5

COMMUNITY BANKING:

THOUGH small banks are losing market share to their larger competitors nationwide, the reverse is true in the Fed's 11th district, which includes Texas. Page 7

MISSOURI's state banks are drawing battle lines to decide the fate of its branching and deposit concentration laws. Page 7

COMPLIANCE:

SOFTWARE from Inasyst Inc. in use at Minnesota banks and being tested by federal regulators aims to reduce the burden and cost of bank exams. Page 9

THE NEW Suspicious Activity Report - the filing banks will use to alert federal officials to questionable transactions - will not be ready on Oct. 1 as expected. Page 9

MORTGAGES:

FLEET FINANCIAL GROUP is launching mortgage programs with a big piece of the $207.5 million it is committing to Connecticut under an agreement with the state's attorney general. Page 12

GE CAPITAL Mortgage Corp. said despite a drop in wholesale lending in the first half, it has no plans to exit the business, and said its volume has already rebounded. Page 13

INVESTMENT PRODUCTS:

THE ABA is raising a red flag about a proposal by federal regulators that would require bank trust departments to disclose information about their profitability. Page 14

AETNA LIFE and Casualty Co. has taken a major step to boost its paltry sales through banks by entering a selling agreement with Invest Financial Corp. Page 14

TECHNOLOGY:

INTUIT INC. is expected to launch today its on-line banking service - which more than 20 major banks and financial service companies already have ordered. Page 18

SURFING THE NET has won wide popularity among providers of financial products and services. Lawyer Steven J. Eisen offers a whirlwind tour of the Internet, how it is used, and what it has to offer. Page 16

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