Edward A. O'Neal, the head of Chemical Banking Corp.'s national consumer banking group, resigned Tuesday to take the top retail banking post at Bank of Boston Corp.

Mr. O'Neal, a 23-year veteran of Chemical, was a senior executive vice president in charge of credit cards, mortgage services, technology, consumer finance, and transaction services at the New York company.

Highest-Ranking Defector

The 48-year-old executive, formerly a vice chairman of Chemical, is the highest-ranking person to leave the company since it merged with Manufacturers Hanover Corp. Dec. 31.

At Bank of Boston, which he will join Aug. 10, Mr. O'Neal will be an executive vice president in charge of the New England banking group.

As group executive, he will oversee 234 retail branches as well as the bank's mortgage unit and private banking group. Mr. O'Neal will replace Peter C. Read, executive vice president, who will retire in August.

Bank of Boston, with $32 billion in assets, is the nation's 20th-largest banking company. Chemical, with $142 billion of assets, is third-largest.

Mr. O'Neal lost his vice chairmanship and director status at Chemical after the merger but retained almost all his operating responsibilities. He said his resignation was not prompted by his loss of title.

"I wasn't a director or a vice chairman after the merger, and I would have preferred otherwise," said Mr. O'Neal. "But it wasn't something I took professionally or personally."

A Gleaming |Parachute'

As a member of Chemical's top management team, Mr. O'Neal will get a hefty farewell package, said to be in seven figures, under a "golden parachute" plan that Chemical adopted in 1989.

The plan, which expires at the end of this year, includes a cash payment of 1 1/2 to three times base salary and bonus, as well as accrued unpaid retirement-plan bonuses.

Mr. O'Neal qualifies for the parachute because of his loss of titles.

Though bank sources believe that other senior executives may also take advantage of the parachute in coming months, Mr. O'Neal said he had not actively sought a new job. He said he was recruited by Ira Stepanian, Bank of Boston's chairman and chief executive, through a headhunter.

Bank of Boston's Recruits

"I was not looking," Mr. O'Neal said in an interview. "I got the phone call in June after the integration [of Chemical's and Hanover's funds-transfer system]. I had a personal objective to make sure that was going to work, and with that behind me, I was ready to listen when the call came."

At Bank of Boston, he will join a cadre of immigrants who have been recruited from other big banks in recent years. The Boston bank last year hired Newton Merrill, a top corporate banking executive, from Bank of New York. The previous year, it had recruited operations guru Michael Simmons from BankAmerica Corp.

Analysts said that Mr. O'Neal is a highly regarded executive who performed well before and after the merger.

"It's a significant loss to the company," said Judah S. Kraushaar, an analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co., "especially if it slows the growth toward achieving operating efficiencies."

Chemical insiders said Mr. O'Neal is not expected to be replaced. People who reported to him have been told that their new boss is vice chairman Edward D. Miller, a Hanover veteran who, in effect, beat out Mr. O'Neal for the top retail post.

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