Bankrate.com uses a 1 to 5 scale for its Safe and Sound CAEL (which measures capital adequacy, asset quality, profitability, and liquidity) rating. 1 represents a Superior rating; 2 is Sound; 3 means performing; 4 is Below Peer Group; and 5 is the lowest rating.
Net worth: $362.7120 million
AnchorBank, FSB (Madison): 4
Net worth: $431.0660 million
Associated Bank (Green Bay): 2
Net worth: $2.5695 billion
Bank of Brodhead: 2
Net worth: $14.2850 million
*Bank of Juda: 2
Net worth: $5.2670 million
Bank of Monticello: 3
Net worth: $8.0730 million
Bank of New Glarus: 2
Net worth: $12.5740 million
Citizens Bank (Flint, Mich.): 4
Net worth: $1.1644 billion
First Banking Center: (Burlington): 3
Net worth: $68.1680 million
First Community Credit Union (Beloit): 2
Equity: $6.8727 million
Gratiot State Bank: 3
Net worth: $4.5090 million
Park Bank (Madison): 2
Net worth: $59.7710 million
Wisconsin Community Bank (Madison): 4
Net worth: $43.2170
Woodford State Bank: 2
Net worth: $14.4400 million
All figures based on data from March 31, 2008
*Figures are from before merger of Bank of Juda with Sugar River Bank.
Just look at IndyMac. Federal regulators seized the Pasadena, Calif.-based mortgage lending giant, once part of Countrywide Financial, July 12 after it was crippled by a growing number of mortgage defaults - which raised questions that in turn spurred a run on deposits. It marked the third-largest bank failure in United States history, according to U.S. News and World Report.
But that was a big bank in California. How can the average resident of someplace like Green County know their bank is rock solid?
Fortunately for banking consumers, access to information gets easier all the time. Unfortunately, how much stock to place in that information is debatable.
Bankrate.com, for example, makes it easy for the average financial consumer to get a snapshot of a bank's performance online. The site lists detailed information about all banks, thrifts and credit unions. Information includes total assets, loans receivable, mortgage-backed securities, investments, deposits, borrowings, equity, new interest income, fee income, overhead, net operating income and net income. It also lists profitability ratios, such as return on assets and return on equity. Details also include asset quality; capitalization; and liquidity.
If that's too much information, Bankrate.com offers a simple rating system. The site's Safe and Sound CAEL (meaning capital adequacy, asset quality, profitability, and liquidity) rating ranks banks from one to five, with one being best. Financial institutions can be searched by name or geographic location.
But consumers should be wary of placing too much emphasis on the rating. Bankrate.com advises people to use the rating as one factor in their banking decision. "A CAEL rating of 4 or 5 does not suggest that we believe direct regulatory action is imminent or even likely. A CAEL rating of 4 or 5 only indicates that certain below average performance factors have been found during the applicable rating cycle. Quarterly updates of CAEL ratings allow us to monitor changes that may occur and CAEL ratings may fluctuate on a quarterly basis," the site says.
Ratings such as Bankrate.com's and others are nothing new. "They've always been around," said Jim Finley, president of Wisconsin Community Bank in Monroe.
Banks are regulated by the FDIC and the state of Wisconsin Commission on banking, he said, so consumers can feel confident their money is safe. Still, there is a lot of concern that banks, including local banks, may be on less than stable ground.
Some of the factors that are causing trouble nationally - such as the epidemic of foreclosures and downward spiraling real estate values - aren't really a factor here, he said.
"The local economy is stable" unlike in places such as Florida, Arizona and California, he said. "We're pretty much insulated."
Plus, he added, all accounts at FDIC-insured banks, such as WCB, are guaranteed. The FDIC has limits on accounts, which can get confusing, he said, but a personal banker can help customers structure accounts to make sure all deposits are covered.
Sites such as Bankrate.com may not always convey a complete picture. WCB, for example, had a ranking of 4 on the 5-point scale (1 being the best). Finley said the bank is on solid footing, and the lower score is likely the result of two new branch locations constructed in Madison. It takes three or four years to create a profit after building a new branch, he said, and the bank's overall financial snapshot may well reflect that.
Steve Schneider, market president of Amcore Bank in Monroe, said some bank customers are concerned about the safety of their deposits, but there is not any more concern than usual. "It's business as usual," he said of customers' confidence.
The Amcore network of banks, which received a ranking of 5 by Bankrate.com, is actually "solid and secure," he said. "We're well-capitalized," meaning the bank has a financial buffer that will allow the bank to be around long-term.
"Amcore is in a position to handle an economic downturn," he said.
Amcore puts more stock in ratings from the Federal Reserve and other ratings from regulatory agencies, than private Web sites such as Bankrate.com, which may use different criteria than official agencies.
And different sites do rank banks differently. Both WCB and Amcore received a rank of 3, or adequate, from Bauerfinancial.com. Additional information about the ranking was not available without paying a fee.
The FDIC has a Web site but does not make bank ratings and other information available to the public. The site includes links to several outside Web sites that list consumer information.
Bankrate.com, which is quoted in a variety of respected news organizations such as CBS, CNN, CNBC, the New York Times, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal, is one of the sites listed. It is one of the easier sites for consumers to navigate and full access is free and does not require registration.