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.