Bank of America Corp., grappling with the slowing economy and preparing to integrate newly acquired Merrill Lynch & Co., purged about 20 high-ranking executives last week, including some longtime loyalists of Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lewis.

The cuts were the first among 30,000 to 35,000 expected over the next three years at the Charlotte, N.C. bank and underscore how widespread reductions will be as Bank of America looks to weather the financial crisis. It is also another demonstration of how careers are being ravaged for thousands of once fast-rising finance professionals, even at institutions like Bank of America that appear to be more successfully navigating the crisis than others.

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