Jonathan J. Palmer, Barnett Banks Inc.'s technology guru and retail banking head, has resigned to take the helm of a start-up consulting company called Wellspring Resources.

Barnett spokesman David Palombi said Barnett would immediately begin searching for a replacement for Mr. Palmer, who had a team of executives reporting to him from both the technology and retail banking areas.

The departure of the highly regarded Mr. Palmer, who is 53, came as a surprise, given Mr. Palmer's key role in helping improve Barnett's technological capacity and operating efficiency. During his six years at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett, Mr. Palmer built a first-class customer information system and strengthened the bank's alternative delivery channels. In that period, Barnett's overhead ratio fell from 71% to 61%.

"He's been an important figure at Barnett and really put them on the map," said Dean Witter analyst Anthony R. Davis. "He's sort of been on the cutting edge of where banking is going."

Wellspring, which is also based in Jacksonville, announced late Tuesday it had hired Mr. Palmer as its chief executive. Wellspring is a provider of employee benefits outsourcing services jointly owned by State Street Boston Corp. and the consulting firm of Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Mr. Palmer, in a telephone interview Wednesday, said he was attracted to Wellspring by the opportunity to run his own show in a young, fast-growing industry. "It's an opportunity for me to make a significant contribution, help to grow a company by orders of magnitude, and be CEO," he said.

"I am in some ways taking a risk," Mr. Palmer added. "But this is an opportunity for me to get in on the ground floor of an industry that really is in its infancy."

He also said he is leaving Barnett on friendly terms.

Mr. Palombi said bank executives are sorry to see Mr. Palmer go but added that the bank has a strong enough staff to continue on the same course. "The technological foundation and the delivery strategy that Mr. Palmer has helped build is something that we think will serve us well as we move into the future," Mr. Palombi said. "There are a lot of people in position here to carry that forward."

Mr. Palmer, formerly with First Fidelity Bancorp. and American Express Co.'s Shearson Lehman Brothers unit, joined Barnett in July 1990 and became chief technology officer in early 1991. He was made responsible for retail banking in November 1994.

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