If the leaders of Chase Manhattan Corp. and Chemical Banking Corp. are right - that they are laying the groundwork for the global financial services enterprise of the future - then they are also presenting a somewhat scary prospect for the banking work force.

Projecting a decline of 16%, or 12,000, in their combined work force of 75,000, they are pointing toward a much less populated future.

The banks, which announced their $10 billion merger agreement on Monday, are being encouraged all the way by analysts and consultants who see good news in the cost reductions and in the opportunity to restructure and reengineer.

But there will also be a human toll, particularly in branches and back offices, as the new Chase moves toward an expense-reduction target of $1.5 billion within three years. And managers may have morale problems on their hands as the ax hangs over a sizable percentage of their workers.

"Two years from now, when you look for some Chase executives, you won't find them in New York," said David Partridge, director of the financial institutions consulting practice at Towers Perrin. "It's going to get bloody."

Mr. Partridge said that the layoffs, coming gradually over three years, would probably prove less painful than some post-merger housecleanings in the early 1980s that left "bodies in the street." Nevertheless, he said, the new Chase must pare down fast enough to retain momentum.

Chemical, the dominant partner in the merger, which cut its consolidation teeth on the Dec. 31, 1991, acquisition of Manufacturers Hanover Corp., is considered up to the task.

"They are the best in the industry in terms of large-scale integration," said James McCormick, president of First Manhattan Consulting Group. "You're going to see the same skills of the Manny Hanny deal applied to Chase."

In the next three years, bank executives anticipate shutting down about 100 of the more than 400 Chemical and Chase branches in the New York metropolitan area. Mr. Partridge said he expects these cuts to go even deeper, reaching up to one-third of the branches, while operating costs will go down by perhaps 20%, exceeding the stated target of 16%.

Although tellers and managers at redundant branches will bear the brunt of the cuts in retail banking, the more senior management levels will not be spared - in part, Mr. Partridge said, because the merged bank will seize the opportunity to recast the delivery system in forms other than bricks and mortar.

"If you were ever going to change your basic delivery (toward computer- based and other electronic alternatives), wouldn't this be the time?" Mr. Partridge said.

At the top management levels, the new team is already pretty clearly defined. Chemical chairman Walter Shipley, as Chase's new chairman and chief executive officer, and Chase chairman Thomas Labrecque, the new president, will be joined in an "office of the chairman" by Edward D. Miller, senior vice chairman for regional banking, consumer services, and technology; William B. Harrison Jr., vice chairman for global wholesale banking and private banking; and E. Michael Kruse, vice chairman overseeing market and credit risk management, finance, and information and transaction services.

Denis O'Leary, Chemical's chief information officer, will retain that position after the merger, reporting to Mr. Miller. Mr. O'Leary's job, in concert with retail strategists like Mr. Miller and Donald Boudreau, the vice chairman of retail credit products, is likely to take on greater importance as the emphasis shifts toward electronic delivery.

"Both Chemical and Chase are aware of the power of self-service banking," said Mr. McCormick of First Manhattan.

Mr. Partridge pointed to Chemical's successful Bank at Work program as a model for the retail banking style the new Chase will embrace.

And he predicted the combined bank will set up a collection of "investment boutiques" to play on Chase's strength in mutual funds and Chemical's in insurance sales.

Such niche-oriented branches would give the new Chase a leg up in the private banking market, in which it is expected to show an increased interest. It would also arm the country's biggest bank for competition against potent nonbanks like Charles Schwab & Co. and Fidelity Investments.

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