U.S. Banker magazine has named Zions Bancorp. the top performer for 1997 among the nation's 100 largest publicly traded banking companies.

The magazine, with the help of investment banking firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, annually ranks the nation's leading banks by measuring their performance in six key categories during 1996: non-performing assets, loss reserves as a percentage of chargeoffs, return on shareholders equity, productivity, and capital strength.The 1996 rankings are published in U.S. Banker's May issue. The publication covers the nation's banking industry.

Zions' composite score of 80 in the six categories bested second- place Valley National Bancorp's score of 122 by a whopping 42 points. The rankings reward the lowest composite score.

Lawrence W. Alder of the Utah Bankers Association said Zions' ranking was "a remarkable accomplishment and evidence of a strong management team in this very, very competitive financial services industry that we have here in Utah."

Alder pointed out that Zions and First Security Corp. are the two largest independently owned financial institutions between the Mississippi River and the West Coast. "And the fact that one of those is number one in the country is very significant."

He said it also indicates the overall strength of Utah's banking industry, noting that the state's community banks also are often cited as being among the top echelon of small banks.

Harris H. Simmons, president and chief executive officer of Zions Bancorp., credited his employees, hard work "and a pretty good economy" for Zions' strong showing.

"It's not widely known in Salt Lake," he told the Deseret News, "but we have some interesting lines of business even beyond the Intermountain Area, including Small Business Administration lending, agricultural lending and municipal finance . . . some specialized lines that have been good for us."

Simmons chuckled at the prospect that Zions now has nowhere to go but down in the U.S. Banker rankings.

"This (top ranking) isn't something that we were focused on per se, it's a derivative of doing what we do pretty well. We'll just try to keep doing that."

Of the 100 banking companies ranked by U.S. Banker, 70 have assets of less than $25 billion and 30 have assets of more than $25 billion. Banks received two rankings, one overall and one in their asset category. The $6.5 billion Zions came in first in both its categories: overall, and those with under $25 billion in assets.

Among other banking companies operating in Utah, U.S. Ban-corp was ranked 41st among all banks and eighth among those with assets of more than $25 billion with a composite score of 230.

First Security Corp. was ranked 54th among all banks and 44th among those below $25 billion with a score of 251.

Banc One Corp. was ranked 63rd overall and 14th among the largest banks with a score of 267.

Norwest Corp was ranked 71st overall and 18th among the largest with a score of 277.

BankAmerica Corp was ranked 84th overall and 22nd among the largest banks with a score of 324.

KeyCorp was ranked 88th overall and 25th among the largest banks with a score of 328.

Wells Fargo & Co. was ranked last in both categories (100th overall and 30th amongh the 30 largest banks) with a score of 456.

U.S. Banker noted that although Zions Bancorp is listed last alphabetically on the top 100 list, it earned a "resounding first" in the rankings due to a balanced scorecard with placings from fourth in return on equity to 32nd in efficiency ratio. Although Zions did not come in first in any of the six categories, it scored well in all of them.

U.S. Banker credits "persistence and hard work" for Zions' top ranking. In 1994, Zions was ranked 14th (for its 1993 performance). In 1995, it slipped to 55th then rebounded sharply in 1996 to finish third. This year it finished first with the highest cumulative score since the magazine revamped its formula four years ago.

The magazine termed Zions' victory "no fluke" because in many ways it is "the epitome of the well-run bank. It lends money carefully, earns its shareholders an excellent return despite having one of the industry's strongest balance sheets, and is very efficient."