SAN FRANCISCO -- BankAmerica Corp., stymied by the weak California economy, plans to cut up to 3,750 jobs, or 3.8% of its work force, by the end of next year.

The reduction, which will slash about $250 million in annual expenses, comes on top of 20,000 job cuts following the company's 1991 megamerger with Security Pacific Corp.

Chief executive Richard Rosenberg told employees on Thursday that the latest move is necessary to bring the bank's financial performance in line with that of other major U.S. financial institutions.

Slow Economy Cited

In a letter to "fellow BankAmericans," Mr. Rosenberg said a slow economy and heightened competition made it difficult for BankAmerica to keep pace with the industry.

"We need to aim at a higher target," Mr. Rosenberg wrote. He said the bank will review business units in deciding how to chop its $6.5 billion in annual expenses by about 4%.

The announcement came one day after the company reported flat earnings for the third quarter.

Half of Cuts by Attrition

Mr. Rosenberg said that 3,000 to 3,750 jobs would be eliminated over the next 15 months. The bank currently employs 98,000 people.

Kathleen Burke, executive vice president in charge of human resources at Bank America, said in a telephone interview that half the jobs could be eliminated through attrition.

Mr. Rosenberg was not available for comment. In a briefing for securities analysts in New York on Thursday, vice chairman Lewis Coleman said that BankAmerica would be taking steps to lower expenses over the next several months in light of the continuing recession in California. He did not specify layoffs, analysts said.

"We were told they are looking at this business by business," said John Leonard, an analyst at Salomon Brothers Inc. "If areas of investment can bring in revenues, fine, but if not, they are going to be looking hard at expenses."

Mr. Leonard said that he expects BankAmerica to invest in its Texas subsidiary, wholesale banking and investment services units, and credit card operation.

Areas likely to be cut include the California branch network.

BankAmerica's stock closed Thursday at $42.50, up $1.

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