Nearly half of bank officers who lose their jobs and find new ones do not return to the banking industry, the experience of one nationwide outplacement firm suggests.

Of 360 laid-off bankers referred to the Lee Hecht Harrison firm and placed in jobs in 1990 and 1991, "a surprising 47%" left the industry, said Penny Shaw, executive vice president.

Some of the job hunters had had it with the industry and wanted out. But others found they had no choice but to look elsewhere, because their skills had become outdated or potential banking employers were slimming down.

|Bankers in Transition'

New York-based Lee Hecht Harrison has issued a 26-page report, "Bankers in Transition," based on the experiences of 1,177 clients at its 19 offices around the country.

The job-change data covered 360 people who fell into one of three categories:

* Senior executives, whose mean salary was $141,000 and who had on average spent 8.9 years at the same bank. Of this group, 72% landed back in the banking industry. One-third of those who left the industry became self-employed, and 27% went to work for other financial services firms, including brokers, insurance companies, credit unions, and other nonbank competitors.

* Managers who generally had entered banking in the late 1980s, recruited not necessarily for banking-specific skills. Of these "new bankers," 58% found jobs outside banking - one third of them with financial companies and another third in other industries. Seventeen percent of those who found nonbanking jobs wound up self-employed; the rest went into the public and not-for-profit sectors and other areas.

* Back-office middle managers. A clear majority - 65% - went back into banking and tended to stay within their specialties. Typically in their late 30s or early 40s, they had worked for their previous banks for 7.2 years on average, usually in operations, financial accounting, and information systems. The average base salary before the layoff was about $61,000.

Easy Transfers

The "new bankers" had the easiest time finding new work, taking four months on average. And their salaries remained about unchanged.

Unlike the senior executives, "these people are wedded to their skills, not the institution," said Robert W. Bailey, a professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, who analyzed the Lee Hecht Harrison data.

The new bankers' functions included financial accounting, data processing, marketing, law, retailing, sales, and human resources. "They don't see themselves as bankers but as professionals who have spent time working in a bank," Prof. Bailey said.

Senior executives were far more likely than others to relocate to take other jobs, and they took an average $20,000 cut in annual base pay.

They are the stereotypical "gray-haired banker who is being replaced by a technocrat," Prof. Bailey said.

Many senior executives who returned to banking saw a reduction in prestige as well as pay. And they may suffer further upheaval as regional banks, where many of them landed, continue to winnow staffs, he said.

To survive another round of cuts, they will have to adapt their skills and styles to the new customer-driven and technology-driven culture in banking.

Foreign Banks

Many laid-off back-office managers who landed at banks were attracted by foreign institutions beefing up their operations. The bad news was that it took them longer than average to find a new position: 4 1/2 months. However, their salaries increased by $1,000 on average.

The back-office group, said Prof. Bailey, is "the most endangered species." It is tied to the areas where the most savings can be garnered in post-merger consolidations. As midlevel officers, they are not senior enough to go out and design a new system, yet not junior enough to start a new career easily.

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