A major regional bank on each of the coasts hopped on the restructuring bandwagon last week, announcing changes in upper management with an eye toward keeping pace with local and out-of-state competition.

First Virginia Banks Inc. and Sanwa Bank California thinned out their executive ranks, creating more direct lines of authority between regional and business-unit heads and the chief executive officers.

Their goals, like those of other institutions facing tougher market conditions, center on having leaner management teams that can respond more quickly to changes in the economic and competitive landscape.

"Prudent management clearly is looking at the potential for new competition and at a business slowdown and how to stay flexible in the face of that," said William R. Katz, an analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. "These changes will speed decision turnaround as well as cut out some salary expenses."

Los Angeles-based Sanwa's 2,700 employees were told Friday of the elimination of two executive vice president positions and 28 less senior posts. The two EVPs were Dougley Stewart, in charge of marketing and product delivery, and Gordon J. Wahlgren, commercial banking.

Central marketing functions have been dispersed into lines of business.

Vice chairmen Howard Gould and Larry Layne were put in charge of two new units: community/retail banking and commercial banking. Sanwa also formed a corporate strategy unit headed by vice chairman Kazuyoshi Kuwahata.

Those three executives report to president and CEO Tom Takakura.

The $8.4 billion-asset subsidiary of Sanwa Bank Ltd. of Japan hopes to boost revenue and strengthen its retail, commercial, and small-business operations, Mr. Takakura said in a memo to staff members.

"Large community banks and some out-of-state banks are challenging us from behind, and major banks in California are attacking our territories with renewed focus," he said. "It is critical that we reposition ourselves in order to continue to be our customers' No. 1 choice."

Sanwa, the third-largest commercial bank with headquarters in California, also will retool its 108 branches. Nineteen of its 33 commercial banking branches will be expanded into so-called business banking centers, catering to a wide variety of companies. The remaining commercial branches would continue to focus on upper-middle-market companies, the bank said.

"Margins are under pressure, loan growth is slowing, expenses are rising, and credit costs are going up," said Van Kasper & Co. analyst Joseph K. Morford. "Sanwa isn't immune to this. They're trying to preserve their bottom line."

The $9.3 billion-asset First Virginia announced late Thursday that it had eliminated six executive positions overseeing regional operations centers and sales at the company's 15 subsidiary banks.

Under the new structure, the chief executives of each bank-10 in Virginia, three in Maryland, and two in Tennessee-will report to executive vice president Raymond E. Brann Jr.

The four Virginia operations centers, in Falls Church, Richmond, Roanoke, and Annapolis, will report to Shirley C. Beavers Jr., executive vice president in charge of information technology, electronic banking, and support services.

The changes were made to "eliminate redundancy and improve corporate efficiency," the Falls Church-based banking company said.

"First Virginia's community bank chief executives will be better able to take advantage of emerging business opportunities and concentrate at an even higher level on sales and service in their local markets," said president and CEO Barry J. Fitzpatrick.

Observers said that First Virginia, the largest remaining independent holding company in the state, is facing increasing competition from Wachovia Corp., First Union Corp., and SunTrust Banks Inc. The streamlining would give more authority to the heads of the individual banks, allowing them to be more responsive to local conditions, said Mr. Katz of Merrill Lynch.

"The competition in the Virginia market is basically all from outside the state," he said. "Localizing and decentralizing decision-making will allow First Virginia to be more competitive."

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