Fleet Financial Group Wednesday named Robert J. Higgins president and chief operating officer, ending weeks of speculation about its succession plans.

As second-in-command to chairman and chief executive officer Terrence Murray, Mr. Higgins, 51, will oversee commercial and consumer banking. The veteran Fleet executive most recently presided over commercial banking as vice chairman.

Market watchers said Mr. Murray, 57, had been pressured by Fleet's board to name a clear successor.

H. Jay Sarles, 52, another vice chairman who was thought to be Mr. Higgins' chief rival to be second in command, was promoted to chief administrative officer. He will continue to oversee strategic development, the bank said.

Mr. Higgins' reputation as a hands-on manager might explain why he prevailed, said market watchers.

The move is part of a broader realignment within the ranks of top managers, the bank said. The remaining vice chairmen, Michael R. Zucchini and Gunnar S. Overstrom Jr., will join the newly created office of the chairman. The new office will streamline decision-making, the bank said.

Observers said by naming a probable successor, Mr. Murray underscored the company's determination to remain independent.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.