As recently as two years ago, Deutsche Bank was buying up talent on Wall Street in an aggressive bid to build a top-tier U.S. investment bank. The effort eventually fell victim to rising costs and culture clashes.

Now the European giant is at it again with a plan to acquire Bankers Trust Corp. for $9 billion in cash. Though that would buy a credible presence in key areas of U.S. corporate finance, it would not bring the "bulge-bracket" status Deutsche once craved.

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