Edward O'Neal, a former vice chairman at BankBoston Corp., is about to take the reins of Australia's fifth-largest bank.

Mr. O'Neal, 53, has been named chief executive officer and managing director of Sydney-based St. George Bank with a mandate to integrate the operations of an institution that has undergone a spate of mergers recently.

He will begin his new job May 21, replacing Jim Sweeney, who died in November.

"There are tremendous similarities between the Australian and U.S. banking systems," Mr. O'Neal said. "The big issues - from technology to mergers and integration - are all happening there."

If anything, he added, banking is changing even faster in Australia because it has fewer banks.

Mr. O'Neal is the first senior U.S. banker to join an Australian bank since Robert Joss, former vice chairman at Wells Fargo and Co., joined Westpac Banking Corp. in 1993.

Although several U.S. bankers have joined foreign banks in recent years, such moves are "still fairly unique," said Gregory Coleman, an executive recruiter with Korn/Ferry International in New York.

St. George, with $28.6 billion of assets, is seeking to integrate its systems with Advance Bank, which it acquired in January. Advance Bank recently merged with Bank SA, or Bank of South Australia.

Mr. O'Neal, who left BankBoston in January of last year after it decided to sell its national consumer finance businesses, said his main goals in his new job are to "rebuild momentum" after the mergers, complete integrating the four banks' systems, and "decide in which direction the bank can go."

St. George handles mainly retail and small-business banking.

Mr. O'Neal noted that though the new bank has a strong market share in the states of New South Wales and South Australia, its product line "tends to reflect its past." He named asset management, new lending products, and mutual funds as among the new lines of business St. George may explore.

Mr. O'Neal said he will be dealing with issues similar to those he faced at BankBoston, which spent several years acquiring and integrating local banks and helping build that bank's retail business.

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