Taking advantage of rumored unhappiness in the corporate banking group at the newly merged First Chicago NBD Corp., BankAmerica Corp. has hired three former First Chicago commercial lenders.

The highest-ranked of the group is Julia A. Bristow, a vice president and 17-year First Chicago veteran. Ms. Bristow has been named senior vice president at Bank of America Illinois, where she will provide financial services to middle-market companies.

The other two new hires were also in middle-market commercial lending - Daniel A. Lange, vice president, and Dianne K. Banta, a corporate banking officer. They also joined BankAmerica last week. Mr. Lange will be a vice president in commercial lending, and Ms. Banta will be an assistant vice president in structured finance.

"It's transition time" at First Chicago NBD, said Marcus Acheson, executive vice president in charge of commercial banking at Bank of America Illinois.

The First Chicago-NBD merger will provide other hiring opportunities for BankAmerica as well, he added. "When there's a merger in town, it means a lot of people have to learn a new system," he said. Those people "might as well look at other banks."

Right now, "there are more resumes on the streets of Chicago as a result of merger activity than I can remember."

Thomas Kelly, a First Chicago spokesman, downplayed the significance of the moves, and said BankAmerica officials may be making an issue of the hires because many of their employees defected after the California bank acquired Continental Bank Corp. in 1994.

Mr. Kelly said a number of Chicago banks, including First Chicago, raided Continental during that time of uncertainty, when employees didn't know whether they would keep their jobs.

Mr. Acheson, a former Continental employee, rejected that notion. "They're frustrated," he said of First Chicago. "We're growing and they're not."

Responding to the BankAmerica announcement, First Chicago chief executive Verne Istock said in an interview that most of his employees apart from branch staff should already know whether their jobs will be spared. He added that he expects little disruption.

BankAmerica is trying to boost its middle-market business not only in Illinois, but in seven other Midwestern states. It is targeting as customers companies that generate between $10 million and $500 million in annual sales.

In addition to its Illinois effort, BankAmerica is trying to attract more corporate business in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

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