BankAtlantic Bancorp said Tuesday that it would fire 185 people, or about 17% of its employees, to cut costs.

The company also said it would exit the mortgage servicing business, possibly spin off its real estate finance operation, cease production in indirect auto lending, and close three of its 70 branches.

And it said it will freeze "the present status of its pension plan" and explore alternative employee benefit programs.

The company said the restructuring "will result in a charge in 1998," but said it would not offer specifics until February.

BankAtlantic is a $3.7 billion thrift that has become the largest financial institution based in Florida thanks to rapid internal growth and the sale of its competitors to out-of-state banks. It blamed a $9.5 million loss in the third quarter on mortgage servicing and trading.

Earlier this year, BankAtlantic bought Ryan, Beck & Co., an investment bank, in one of the few examples of a thrift buying a securities firm.

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