surprised the $621 billion-asset company gave president Kenneth D. Lewis the additional title of chief operating officer.

Mr. Lewis, 52, has "been running a large part of the bank anyway," said Henry C. Dickson, an analyst with Salomon Smith Barney. "It's just a reflection of reality."

In addition, Mr. Lewis was elected to the company's board, along with vice chairman and chief financial officer James H. Hance Jr.

Both Mr. Lewis and Mr. Hance, 55, are often named as possible successors to Hugh McColl, Bank of America's chairman and chief executive officer. Some analysts said they felt giving Mr. Lewis the chief operating officer's title gave him a slight edge in that race.

"Any time a company appoints a chief operating officer that puts him in the No. 2 position," said Raphael Soifer of Brown Brothers Harriman.

Lawrence Cohn of Ryan, Beck & Co. agreed. "The most likely successor is the No. 2 guy in the chain of command. Chief operating officer is the No. 2 guy."

But because Mr. McColl, 64, has said he will stay on until at least June 30, 2002, many analysts are hesitant to make predictions about who will be next to lead the nation's second-largest banking company.

"Since there's no timetable for succession, anything can happen," Mr. Soifer said.

As part of his new responsibilities, several executives who formerly reported directly to Mr. McColl will now report to Mr. Lewis. They include Mike Murray, president of global corporate and investment banking; Bill Vandiver, who is in charge of the company's risk management; and Lynn Drury, head of corporate affairs.

Mr. Lewis had been president of NationsBank Corp., which merged with the old BankAmerica Corp. last year. He joined a NationsBank predecessor company in 1969 as a credit analyst and has climbed the corporate ladder steadily since. -- Jacqueline S. Gold

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