In a dramatic about-face, the head of BankAmerica Corp.'s hard-charging loan syndications desk rejoined the bank only days after tendering his resignation.

Keith Barnish, senior managing director for BankAmerica, was set to join Societe Generale later this month to head the French bank's U.S. loan syndication effort. But late Friday, BankAmerica executives said they had persuaded Mr. Barnish to stay.

The move demonstrates the lengths to which major banks are now going to keep their corporate lending talent. Chase Manhattan Corp. and NationsBank Corp. also recently took steps to prevent some high-level lenders in their shops from jumping to Morgan Stanley & Co., industry sources said.

"It's a sign of an overheated market," said T. Lee Pomeroy, a recruiter with Egon Zehnder International in New York. "This is a sign of a market that has needs for many more people than there are, and the prices have been bid up."

"The only way a person can get re-valued is to leave or threaten to leave," he added.

Syndicated lenders had a record year in 1996, originating $888 billion worth of loans, according to Loan Pricing Corp. That was up nearly 9% from 1995, itself a banner year.

With numbers like that, the market has attracted a wealth of new players, including deep-pocketed foreign banks and Wall Street powerhouses. Many of these entrants have looked to big U.S. commercial banks for the skills they need to staff their efforts.

"The talent pool at the top of the syndications market is getting thinner," said John Rogan, a recruiter with Russell Reynolds Associates. "All of the chairs have been taken with the exception of Bear Stearns and Societe Generale. There are limited players that have the tenure in the business and leading market reputation of Keith Barnish, Bram Smith, or Peter Nnightingale."

Mr. Smith left Bankers Trust New York Corp. to head Morgan Stanley & Co.'s new loan syndication effort last year. Mr. Nightingale recently resigned from Chase Manhattan to run syndications at Fleet Financial Group, Boston.

Five U.S. banking giants, led by Chase Manhattan, commanded a 61% share of the syndicated lending market in 1996, according to Loan Pricing Corp. San Francisco-based BankAmerica's market share was 11%.

Mr. Barnish, who could not be reached for comment, is a widely respected corporate banker who survived Security Pacific's acquisition by BankAmerica. Competitors speculated that he had accepted an offer to join Societe Generale because he was unhappy with his compensation package at BankAmerica.

Societe Generale, for its part, is willing to pay big bucks to staff its U.S. corporate banking effort, market observers said. France's third- largest bank boasts $325 billion of assets.

"Societe Generale is on the track that Union Bank of Switzerland was on seven or eight years ago," Mr. Pomeroy said.

Lenders said BankAmerica was sending an important message to talent- raiders that big banks would go to the mat to keep movers and shakers in tow.

"At some point, these institutions are going to draw a line and defend their people," said Tom Bunn, head of syndications at NationsBank Corp.

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