Mergers. Consolidation. "One size fits all" banking services, thanks to technology, the Internet, and interstate banking laws. Foreign banks such as Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale building up their U.S. presence in a drive to provide full service around the globe. Boutiques encroaching on investment banks, with New York commercial banks in the middle. It's hard enough to keep up with banks and financial services, much less find and fetter the best people at the top to lead the way. No wonder executive compensation levels have gone astronomical and recruiters become comet- catchers.

"The financial services industry is changing so rapidly in terms of technology, product delivery, and consumer preference that the greatest challenge is to have senior people who can understand the changes and be at the leading edge, not get blindsided," says John Platte, managing director of the banking practice at Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. He points to the Advanta experience with the almost overnight deterioration in consumer credit quality as an example of what can happen if you blink. "CEOs want no surprises like that," he adds.

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