TRYING to work out which banks are the world’s best is a bit like awarding the prize for prettiest war-torn village. It is a title that carries little kudos. It is also likely to prompt further shelling. Winners of industry awards in the past three years include Ken Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, for banker of the year (2008); Société Générale for its risk management; and Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, a failed mortgage lender, for a “lifetime of achievement”.
Still, the question is becoming more pertinent. After months of indiscriminate fear, widespread losses and government hand-holding, the banking industry is gradually stabilising. Money markets are steadily calming. American banks that got a clean bill of health in this month’s stress tests are queuing up to repay government money. A first wave of escapees is likely to include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase. Those banks that emerge from this crisis with reputations and franchises strengthened will find it increasingly easy to raise funds, win clients, attract employees and buy assets.