Where have all the bankers gone?

Many who lost their jobs because of mergers and downsizings are landing on their feet - but a recent survey suggests bankers increasingly are taking their skills to other industries.

Manchester Partners International indicates that 61% of displaced bankers find new jobs outside of banking. About a quarter end up elsewhere in financial services - often with insurance firms, mortgage companies, or credit unions.

Worried bankers may find some solace in the results of the survey of 355 displaced employees. Nearly three-quarters were hired at a comparable or higher level. A similar number were working again before their severance packages were exhausted. And a full third of the former bankers found a new job in less than 10 weeks. The average search lasted 17 weeks.

But Manchester said the high rate of executives leaving banking suggests the industry can no longer absorb the volumes of displaced workers. And the prospect of more mergers and layoffs may mean the worst is yet to come.

"There's a lot of angst in here with guys in large organizations," said Dwight Foster, executive managing director of Foster Partners, an executive search firm in New York.

But he added that bankers often have skills and contacts that are valuable to companies in other industries, such as service and information technology firms. And executives who worked at superregionals and money- centers are often able to find new positions at U.S. offices of international banks. Others take jobs at smaller institutions, said Mr. Foster.

"How much can the market absorb?" he asked. "The market always absorbs people."

Indeed, while many big banks have announced massive layoffs, industrywide employment hasn't changed all that much in recent years. Overall commercial bank employment at the end of the third quarter of 1995 was 1.48 million - virtually unchanged from a year earlier, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Perhaps more surprisingly, industry employment since 1990 is down only 2.3%, or 35,000 people.

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