THE COMPTROLLER's office is developing a set of "best practices" guidelines governing banks' sales of insurance. The guidelines were one subject of the agency's summit meetings Tuesday with state insurance officials.

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AS PRESIDENTIAL hopefuls climb onboard the flat-tax bandwagon, mortgage lenders are worried about how these plans will affect the deduction for mortgage interest. They appear to have an ally in Sen. Phil Gramm, whose flat-tax plan preserves the deduction.

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SKIPPING the middlemen, mortgage brokers are going straight to borrowers to generate business, effectively edging out real estate agents, according to a study by the Mortgage Brokers Association. "The main question is who is the gatekeeper?" asks MBA president Paul Reid.

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LOW VOLUMES and thin interest margins last year seemed not to hinder Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Each announced another year of record earnings and spectacular portfolio growth.

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BANC OF BOSTON chalked up a 17% increase in fourth-quarter profits. KeyCorp suffered as a result of the high cost of restructuring. Bankers Trust wrapped up a sour year by posting a 25% gain for the quarter.

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THREE OHIO BANKS posted strong performance. Fifth Third and Star Banc reported revenue gains of 20% and 18%, respectively. Huntington is apparently back on track now that it has restructured a money-losing mortgage company.

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CU BANCORP is finally realizing a longstanding wish to expand. The Encino, Calif., bank announced a merger with Signal Hill-based Home Interstate. The resulting company would have 22 locations in Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange counties.

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SMALL BANKS have fallen further behind in cost per customer, according to the ABA.

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BANKS HAVE a long way to go to make brokers an integral part of their business, according to a group of 50 brokerage chiefs. Failure could lead to a drain of talented brokers in years to come, they warned. "It could be disastrous," said one.

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PHOENIX DUFF & Phelps hopes to widen bank sales of its annuities with the help of a leading marketer. Page 11


DALLAS-BASED First USA plans a public offering of shares in a newly formed a company housing merchant services and commercial card operations.

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MASTERCARD named a 12-year marketing and membership veteran from its own staff to take over as senior vice president of U.S. debit products. Sheila Scarry will succeed Art Kranzley Jr., who left MasterCard in October.

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SANWA BANK CALIFORNIA, hoping to get the jump on its competitors, is introducing check imaging for corporate customers during the second quarter. The next step would be retail image statements during the third quarter.

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PMI GROUP launched the Spanish-language translation of its automated hot line for mortgage lenders. The company says the device should give lenders a toehold in new market segments while opening the borrowing process to Hispanics.

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THE SENIOR risk management officer at Bankers Trust's derivatives unit has quit. Observers said the move could trigger an exodus among middle managers.

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FOR ONE ADMIRER of Wachovia, the bloom is off the rose. Citing disappointing fourth-quarter results, analyst George M. Salem said, "Barring a merger announcement with SunTrust, the outlook for the stock seems unexciting."

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