Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK)typically isn't one of the first big banks investors think of when they decide to plunk some of their hard-earned cash into financial stocks, but maybe it should be. It puts up some great numbers and operates in about as conservative a fashion as you could hope for -- so not only do you get great returns, your money is also safe.

Without further ado, then, here are seven easy-to-digest metrics that will help you get you started with one of my favorite big banks.

1. Great 2012 share-price performance
Those smarties who owned BoNY shares at the start of 2012 and held onto them until the end were rewarded with a gain of 25.30%. Not too shabby. No, it's not Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), which rewarded its shareholders with a gain of 100.17% in 2012, but BoNY's performance comes with a lot fewer catches. More on that below.

2. Great 2013 share-price performance
BoNY shareholders are off to a strong start for 2013, with a year-to-date gain of 6.10%. B of A shareholders can only dream of a return like that this year; they've only seen a gain of 0.33% so far.

3. Attractive valuation
BoNY's price-to-book ratio is 0.94, which is right in the pocket. A P/B of 0.94 tells me the bank is a bit undervalued, but not too much -- not enough to raise any red flags. The idea here is, buy with a P/B of right around 1, and sell when and if P/B reaches 2.0.

B of A's P/B is 0.60. That's the kind of number -- especially post subprime-lending boom -- that raises red flags for me.

4. Great fourth-quarter performance
BoNY grew its 2012 Q4 earnings by 25.70% year over year, on revenue growth of just 4.6%. Now that's bang for your banking buck. This is very comparable to Citigroup's (NYSE:C) fourth-quarter performance: a 25.10% increase on net earnings on 5% earning's growth. Citi is another big bank that's underrated as an investment.

5. BoNY pays a decent dividend
JPMorgan Chase
(NYSE:JPM) may pay 2.4% -- lovely for one of the big banks -- but BoNY's 1.8% is respectable, and easily beats B of A's 0.3%, Citi's 0.1%, and even Goldman Sachs' 1.3%.

6. Fabulous stress-test results
The Federal Reserve has just released the first results of its 2013 stress tests: The Tier 1 common-ratio results, which measures capital as a share of risk-weighted assets. This ratio tells you how well the bank would perform in a severe economic downturn.

The Fed's minimum Tier 1 ratio is 5%, and BoNY's was a whopping 13.2%, easily surpassing JPMorgan's 6.3%, B of A's 6.8%, Citi's 8.3%, and even Wells Fargo's (NYSE:WFC) 7%. 

7. Increased asset-servicing and investment-management revenues
As increased post-crisis regulation begins to bite, and banks have to find new and less risky ways to make money, some -- including Goldman and Citi -- are turning to old standbys such as asset and investment management.

With a fourth-quarter 7% year-over-year increase in asset-servicing fees, and a 17% year-over-year increase in investment-management fees, BoNY is taking making significant progress down this increasingly important revenue trail. 

Final Foolish thought
There you have it -- seven easy metrics to help get your head around BoNY, a big American bank that doesn't get the attention it deserves. 

Fool contributor John Grgurich owns shares of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. Follow John's dispatches from the bleeding heart of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurich.

The Motley Fool recommends Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a gripping disclosure policy.