Derivatives. Credit default swaps. Proprietary trading. Market making.

Listen to some industry leaders, and you may think this is what modern-day banking is all about. But that would be a mistake, and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) is all the proof you need. 

Yes, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) has the largest derivatives portfolio of all U.S. banks, and yes, Citigroup (NYSE:C) has operations in over 90 countries. Even Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), a bank that, five years later, still struggles to deal with a pre-crisis acquisition spree, ranks among the top performers in the S&P for 2012.

But if you boil it down, of the largest U.S. banks, only Wells is truly outperforming. Wells leads these banks in growth, in return on equity, and in return on assets. And it is doing it the old-fashioned way, with deposits, loans, and cash management.

Fool contributor Jay Jenkins has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America 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 disclosure policy.