How do you know when your bank is slipping toward the brink? If you want to be vigilant, consider ordering information from one of the many services that specialize in bank evaluation. Listed below are some oriented toward corporate clients:
* Cates Consulting Analysts, Washington, D.C., 202-659-8300. Drawing on federal bank data, Cates tracks about 2,000 of the country's 12,000 or so banks. Its quarterly reports evaluate earnings, liquidity, asset quality, and capital adequacy. For $110 a year per bank (less for information on more than 10 banks), you get a report with a one- to two-page summary, the quarterlies, and phone access to the firm's analysts. For $50 you get a one-shot summary.
* Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, Washington, D.C., 202-357-0177. If you prefer your data straight (without the commentary), you can order one of the federal government's Uniform Bank Performance Reports. A 13-page report on every federally insured bank is generated by computer every quarter. The price is $40 per bank. For an additional $25, you'll get a guide to interpreting the reports; for another $60 you can get a report that compares your bank with its peers.
* Thomson BankWatch, New York City, 212-510-0300. Thomson's premium service, which is available for the 450 biggest banks worldwide, costs $100 per U.S. bank and $200 per international bank per year. BankWatch gives you quarterly reports as well as a direct line to trained analysts. If you're interested in one of the thousands of smaller institutions, Thomson has a more basic service. For $50 per bank, you'll receive a two-page synopsis of an institution's ratios and peer comparisons.
* Veribanc, Wakefield, Mass., 617-245-8370. Veribanc's computers spit out color-coded reports on any bank, savings and loan, or credit union within days of the release of quarterly federal data, but the analysis is sketchy. For $10 you can get a rating over the phone ($3 for additional banks). A 50-page research report costs $45 per bank. For $110 Veribanc offers a report that rates every bank in a single state.
* Weiss Research, West Palm Beach, Fla., 407-684-8100. Priding itself on being more conservative than other rating services, Weiss sets very stiff "safety" standards that many banks don't meet. Its six-page reports cost $45 each; phone ratings are available for $15. -- Researched by Chris Caggiano* * *