Bank One Corp. is restructuring its retail banking unit into four regional markets and cutting management positions to give more autonomy to local managers and improve customer retention.

The moves come a month after R. Michael Welborn, in being named retail chief for the Chicago-based banking company, vowed that he would make changes.

Bank One’s retail group, which accounts for one-third of its revenue and profits, had been subgrouped by size. The company now says a regional breakdown better suits its retention efforts.

In a Dec. 5 memo, Mr. Welborn said, “This structure simplifies our organization, reduces management layers, and creates within each Bank One market a unified team that can focus on attracting, retaining, cross-selling, and serving customers.”

The company’s metropolitan market, community market, and business-banking units will also be folded into the four markets.

Mr. Welborn, who had been head of middle-market corporate banking, took over the retail operations from Kenneth T. Stevens, who resigned to pursue other interests.

Under the leadership of chairman and chief executive officer James Dimon, Bank One has been cutting costs and realigning in a broad efficiency program. It stumbled last year with service problems that drove customers — and revenues — away from its First USA credit card business and precipitated successive quarterly profit warnings.

Mr. Dimon has said he is determined to improve service companywide. Each bank branch has been made responsible for its own revenues and profits, and employees on the regional level have been given a mandate to work more closely with clients, Mr. Welborn said. “We need to simplify our organization and get our management team closer to the customer,” he said.

Other banking companies are considering similar moves. Wells Fargo & Co., for example, is pushing decision-making and profit accountability to the local-market level in California, its biggest market, after years of operating on a more centralized model.

Bank One’s retail operation counts eight million individual customers and 450,000 small-business clients in 14 states, with 1,800 branches and 7,000 automated teller machines.

The restructuring is a step in the right direction, said Sandra J. Flannigan, an analyst with Merrill Lynch. “With a new management team, it is a reassessment of the overall company,” she said. “In the short run, one still has to fix the service problems and develop a sales culture.”

Denis Laplante, an analyst with Fox-Pitt, Kelton, said the retail-unit restructuring is a necessity. “It is still a work in progress,” he said, adding that Mr. Dimon “continues to make changes where he sees fit. He is beginning to realign the whole organization and make it more responsive.”

Mary Navarro oversees the East region, which covers Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana; Larry West leads the West, covering Arizona, Utah, and Colorado; Mike Ballases the South, covering Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Florida; and Chuck Shoemaker is responsible for the Midwest, covering Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

All four regional managers report to Mr. Welborn, and all of them have worked in business-banking and retail banking at Bank One. Mr. Shoemaker was a regional manager in the metropolitan markets group; Ms. Navarro has experience in the business-banking unit; and Mr. West and Mr. Ballases come from the middle-market banking group.

Three executives are leaving the company as part of the reorganization: Ron Baldwin, retail delivery general manager, and Dave Renke, metropolitan markets general manager, are retiring, and Jeff Gaia, business-banking manager, is moving to Phoenix.

Analysts said such a revamping at the nation’s fourth-largest retail network should come as no surprise. “This is a more effective way to manage the organization,” Ms. Flannigan said. “Any time you have a new management team at the top, a change of direction is not a shock.”


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