David A. Coulter's anointment in August as the next chief executive of BankAmerica Corp. may go down as one of the most surprising in modern banking.

Though well regarded as a vice chairman, Mr. Coulter was chief of wholesale banking, which is not considered the forte of BankAmerica or its soon-to-retire chairman, Richard M. Rosenberg. The 48-year-old Mr. Coulter had little visibility outside the institution and was on nobody's list of likely successors.

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