For Wally Zook, leaving his 27-year career in banking 12 months ago was a mixed bag.

On one hand, Mr. Zook regretted leaving the employees and customers he had long worked with at First Colonial Bankshares of Chicago. But the company was being purchased by Firstar Corp. and the deal was good for shareholders, he reasoned.

"Leaving those folks was not a happy time, and leaving those customers in other hands bothered me, too," Mr. Zook said.

At age 51, Mr. Zook saw no future for a veteran banker in a consolidating industry. So, he and his wife, Diane, a former community reinvestment officer at another Chicago bank, decided to go into business together. They formed Zook Pilot Services Inc., an aircraft finance broker and insurer, in May.

Mr. Zook is not alone. Across the country, executives with 20 or more years' experience in banking are suddenly finding themselves out of work.

"My advice," said Mr. Zook, "is take a look back at your career and figure out where you can use your experience outside of banking or to go into business for yourself."

So far, the full effect of industry layoffs hasn't been felt. Details of last year's megamergers are still being sorted out. First Chicago NBD Corp., for instance, plans to eliminate 1,700 jobs in two years.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports that there were more full- time employees in the third quarter of 1995 than in the second quarter. In the 10-year period beginning in 1985, the banking industry has experienced only a 5% loss in employment.

But with the consolidation that swept the industry last year, it's likely a lot more bankers will be out of jobs this year.

"The industry was able to absorb the layoffs in the past," said Sharon Corbitt, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. "Now, if you look at the data, after a while it can't absorb the jobs any longer."

Peter Crist, president of Crist Partners Ltd. in Chicago, said he has observed bankers going into three areas: investment management, corporate finance, and insurance. He said he believes the biggest demand for bankers may be as corporate treasurers and chief financial officers.

A Philadelphia-area consulting firm found that 61% of displaced bankers surveyed last year found jobs in other industries.

The study by Manchester Partners International said bankers are getting new jobs - 73% found jobs before their severance pay expired - but a fourth of the jobs were in other financial services businesses, such as insurance, brokerage, and mortgages. Other bankers went into unrelated fields. For instance, 7% went into health care.

But Leo Mullin, whose job as president and chief operating officer of First Chicago was recently eliminated, says it is not necessarily a bad thing to leave the industry.

"It's an exciting world out there," said Mr. Mullin, now vice chairman of Unicom Corp., a Chicago utility. "You just have to think about all the possibilities."

Mr. Mullin, 53, said he could have remained in banking, but Unicom was more attractive because it involved corporate strategy. It also made it possible for him to remain in Chicago.

In some cases, bankers go to work for their own companies as consultants. Don Hollis, former executive vice president in charge of technology at First Chicago, discovered in early November that his job would be eliminated. So he started a technology consulting business, DRH Strategic Consulting Inc.

"At 60, I don't think I'm going to go out and look for a full-time job," Mr. Hollis said.

Although he lost his job, Mr. Hollis is a shareholder in First Chicago NBD, and said he thinks the merger was good for investors. The bank became Mr. Hollis' first customer, but he also works for AT&T and Swift, the global bank telecommunications network.

Leonard M. Carroll, president and chief operating officer of Pittsburgh- based Integra Financial Corp., has decided to form a private investment partnership once National City Corp. acquires his bank.

Mr. Carroll, who has 25 years of banking experience, was to be vice chairman of retail banking at National City, but he surprised observers in January when he announced that he would leave the bank. Cleveland-based National City said it would be among his new firm's first investors.

Mr. Carroll's situation differed from many others because he was to have a job with the acquiring bank, but he turned it down. "I'm 53," he said. "I just got to the point in life where I wanted to do something else."

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