International Business Machines Corp.'s top two financial industry executives have left the company.

Robert M. Howe, general manager of the worldwide banking, finance, and securities group, and Anette Kolenda, who reported to Mr. Howe as general manager for North America, took new jobs this week at privately held technology companies.

It was unclear whether the simultaneous departures reflect any specific trouble in IBM's financial services business, which in 1996 accounted for about $13 billion, or 17%, of the computer giant's total revenues.

"Although I would think the departures are a loss, financial services is still a major industry for IBM and will remain a major industry in hardware, services, and software," said Gary Helmig of Soundview Financial Group, Stamford, Conn.

Ian Colley, a spokesman for IBM, said the timing of the two resignations was "purely coincidental. Our performance is more robust than ever, and we're winning more business than before."

IBM named successors:

Jerry Cole, general manager for the travel and transportation industry, will succeed Mr. Howe.

Mr. Cole, 47, has worked four years at IBM and previously was at American Express Co. and Booz-Allen & Hamilton.

Wirt Cook, 50, succeeds Ms. Kolenda.

He started as an IBM salesperson in 1970 and was head of core banking solutions on the West Coast before this promotion.

Mr. Howe will be president and chief executive officer of Scient Corp., a Silicon Valley start-up with venture capital funding from Sequoia Capital, Benchmark Capital, and Stanford University.

He said he continues to regard IBM's finance group as "world-class" and called the timing of his and Ms. Kolenda's departures "unfortunate."

"I always wanted to start a business that would focus on emerging technologies," said Mr. Howe, 53.

"It is the autumn of my career, and it was a combination of a fantastic opportunity and the time in my life to do it now."

Ms. Kolenda is joining OptiMark Technologies Inc., a transaction services company in Durango, Colo.

She will be senior vice president of account relations.

Before joining IBM in November 1996, she was managing director for business development in the global emerging markets division of Chase Securities Inc., a unit of Chase Manhattan Corp.

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