After a substantially rewarding 17-year career at Citicorp, Glenn Schenenga decided he was ready for something different. The 45-year old manager asked for and got a generous early-retirement package.

But Mr. Schenenga didn't really retire. Today, the former vice president, director of management development, and manger of 24,000 employees is an entrepreneur, running a small computer company.

Although his responsibilities range from balancing the books to cleaning the bathroom, he is enjoying his new life.

Nevertheless, many bankers who are asked to take early retirement fret at the prospect.

And with consolidation and cost-cutting rocking the industry, more and more bank employees will be facing the early-retirement decision.

Early-retirement packages make good business sense for banks, said Diane Thrailkill, a former banker.

"They've been massively overstaffed for a million years," she said. "So many people at every level had 'make work,' it's a wonder there haven't been more and larger layoffs and E.R. programs sooner."

A Delicate Balance

Obviously, early-retirement programs weed out workers from overstaffed banks. The big question is: How can a bank prevent its best employees from leaving?

The answer is far from conclusive.

"Although the final results are not in yet on how many people and which people at each level of the organization are taking the early-retirement package, our human resources people gave this matter a lot of though," said John Meyers, a spokesman for Chemical Banking Corp.

"We are offering this package because the two organizations that have merged, Chemical and Manny Hanny, are both rich in power and talent. We feel that we can afford to absorb some loss in this area."

Early-retirement packages offer hard choices for candidates, some of whom are in their 40s and years away from being able to afford to stop working, said John Concor, a consultant with Noble Lowndes, a benefits consulting firm based in Newton, Penn.

Their fears are of the Catch-22 variety, he said: if they accept the early-retirement package, they may not be able to find another job because of the completion.

Tailoring the Package

If they don't accept the packaging, they may be laid off, without the benefits the package offers.

"My experience with big companies is that, typically, they meet their targets for the number of people they want to take early retirement but it varies."

If they don't get what they want, they get more aggressive in terminating people on performance issues or large-scale layoffs.

For many people, early retirement "feels like a tin parachute," said Mr. Connor.

Indeed, bank employees who are thinking about early retirement might see a substantial plunge in inocme and should assess their future with a lawyer and an accountant or financial planner, advised Alan Herman, senior vice president of Retirement Sy tems Group Inc.

His New York-based company provides retirement-plan services to several banks and thrifts, including Crossland Savings, American Savings Bank, and Lincoln Savings, all in New York City; and People's Westchester Savings Bank, Hawthorne, N.Y.

Budgeting, he says, may make early retirement feasible for workers who would otherwise plan to retire within five years.

On the other hand, younger folks should expect to find other work, he said.

George Dey bears out Mr. Herman's analysis. He had 17 years of service with the New York-based National Westminster Bancorp when he took early retirement in 1990.

Mr. Dey, now 48 years old, never considered his early retirement as hobby-filled days of leisure.

"I have three kids to put through college, and that should tell you where I'm coming from," he said.

Mr. Day, with broad-based experience in commercial lending, sees himself as a banking generalist but believes that employers are looking for specific skills.

Since leaving NatWest, he has had a stint at the Resolution Trust Corp. and is currently at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, a position he found through a newspaper advertisement.

Although Mr. Dey accepted the early-retirement package when it was offered to him, his feelings about it are probably characteristics of others: He describes his early-retirement package as "okay, but I would have liked more."

Ms. Piturro is a business writer based in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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