In one swoop, Banc One Corp. not only transformed its banking operation earlier this month by announcing plans to buy credit card specialist First USA Inc., it also signaled a new direction of bank merger and acquisitions.

The big mergers of 1996 - Wells Fargo & Co.'s purchase of First Interstate and NationsBank Corp.'s marriage to Boatmen's Bancshares - reflected the two strategies that big banks have pursued for years: expanding within their own market or buying into new ones.

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