Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Industry notes: Banking

U.S. Bank's online site earns salutes

By Jeff McKinney
The Cincinnati Enquirer

U.S. Bank's beefed-up online banking site - a result of its merger with Firstar - helped it win big kudos from an independent research firm that monitors such financial services.

U.S. Bank's Web site moved up to second place, behind Wells Fargo, this year from 17th a year ago in an annual ranking of consumer Internet offerings by large financial institutions in the Western Hemisphere, according to Speer & Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based financial-services consulting firm.

After its $23 billion merger with Firstar was completed in February 2001, U.S. Bancorp made big changes to its Internet offerings in June 2002.

Those changes included allowing consumers to access accounts by nicknames instead of just numbers; access to special Spanish-speaking functions; and an enhanced checking account and other new banking services.

The latest survey, completed in December, examined sites from 109 financial services companies, including 68 from North America and 41 from Latin America.

Another bank with Tristate operations - Huntington Bank - ranked first for online banking among peer banks of assets of $25 billion to $50 billion and 26th overall in the same analysis.

Moreover, Huntington's network of about 900 automated-teller machines ranked first out of 13 ATM networks nationally, according to the Gasper Availability Index. That study included an examination of more than 50,000 ATM nationally.

PNC retail wins top investment award

The retail investment arm of PNC Bank has won a top award.

PNC Investments has been named the top retail investment program among the top 100 global entities by the Bank Insurance and Securities Association, the nation's largest bank broker/insurance trade group.

PNC won the group's 2002 "Award of Excellence" based on several criteria, including revenue growth, sales force productivity, program profitability, education and technology.

PNC Investments sells products via PNC Bank's 750 U.S. branches. including 47 locally. It's a unit of J.J.B. Hilliard Lyons Inc., a unit of PNC Financial Services Group.

American banks saw profits double in 2002

U.S. banks doubled their increase in profits in 2002, relying on low interest rates and a strong housing market to weather the slow economy, a banking regulator said.

Net income for banks supervised by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency rose 28 percent in 2002, up from a 14 percent increase in 2001, the OCC said.

Return on equity increased 15.85 percent, the OCC said in a report on the condition of the banking industry released Tuesday. Return on assets, a measure of profitability derived by dividing net income by total assets, rose a record 1.51 percent.

"Banks are managing this economic cycle well," Nancy Wentzler, deputy comptroller of global banking and financial analysis, said. "The low interest-rate environment was a large source of the gain."

Banks benefited as consumers took advantage of the lowest mortgage rates since the Kennedy administration to buy homes or refinance, Wentzler said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.


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