Steven R. Schroll knows how midwestern bankers see the world because he was one himself.

In between two stints totaling 12 years as a bank and thrift analyst at Piper Jaffray Inc. and Dain Bosworth Inc., both in Minneapolis, he worked for two and a half years in corporate planning, money management, and investor relations at First Bank Systems.

"I talk to people in corporate planning and investor relations who do the things I used to do," said Mr. Schroll. "Being in the shoes of various other positions helps provide different perspectives."

Now a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray Inc., Mr. Schroll most accurately predicted thrift earnings this year in the American Banker's survey of equity analysts, prepared by Zacks Investment Research.

He points to his experience as a banker, and his roots in the Midwest, as two of the more significant influences in shaping the style and substance of his analysis.

For their part, thrift executives laud the way Mr. Schroll has applied his experience.

"Understanding the banking business from the inside definitely gives him a leg up," said Bill Cooper, president and chief executive of TCF Financial.

Mr. Schroll was able to put his bank experience to the test just after returning to the sell-side at Piper Jaffray.

"In 1989 and 1990, when the worst part of the bank and thrift crisis was hitting, banks and thrifts were failing by the day," he said.

"In the hinterlands, there were definitely companies with bad loans, but they were not going to go out of business," said Mr. Schroll confidently.

Living and working farther away from the eye of the bank-failure storm, Mr. Schroll said he was able to separate his opinions from the prevailing concerns about financial services that was hitting the Northeast.

"It's hard for Wall Street analysts to be living in the core part of that horrendous debacle going on around them and not believe that the same thing had to be happening around the country - and it wasn't," he said.

"We had a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity to pick up extraordinarily cheaply valued companies in the West that were in far better shape," he asserted.

Indeed, thrift executives have noted the Piper Jaffray analyst's ability to separate himself from his competitors on the East Coast.

"Steve focuses on the fundamentals," said Mr. Cooper. "He doesn't get wrapped up in what's on the front page of the Wall Street Journal."

Mr. Schroll said that such great disparities between performance and expectations are harder to find now, especially since the "wind is at the back of the thrift industry." Nonetheless, he remains generally bullish on the industry.

He currently has a strong buy rating on First Financial Corp., TCF Financial, and Washington Mutual.

He maintains buy ratings on Commercial Federal, Roosevelt Financial, and Washington Federal, while he carries a market perform on St. Paul Bancorp.

The average 6.7% equity to asset ratio for the thrift industry provides a solid cushion for the industry, said Mr. Schroll.

He figures that all the thrifts make potentially appealing takeover targets in the next 10 years.

In the next two or three years, he said, any number of them could be appealing targets - from names as big as Washington Mutual on down to the smallest thrifts in various communities around the country.

"Bigger banks are looking at the thrifts and seeing that they have as good a franchise as the bank next door but can be bought at a premium less than the bank," said Mr. Schroll.

A native of Storm Lake, Iowa, Mr. Schroll has a bachelor's degree from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and a master of business administration degree from the University of Minnesota Graduate School of Business.

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