First Commerce Corp. investor relations executive Holly E. Hobson was one of the lucky ones. Or so she thought.

Shortly after Banc One Corp. agreed to buy First Commerce of New Orleans last October, Ms. Hobson was slated for a high-profile post at the acquirer's Columbus, Ohio, base.

She sold her home in New Orleans and began dividing her time between the two headquarters.

Then came last month's announcement that Banc One had agreed to merge with First Chicago NBD Corp., creating a $230 billion-asset company to be based in Chicago. Suddenly, Ms. Hobson's job in Columbus was no longer a sure thing.

Uncertainty has become a watchword at First Commerce as employees up and down the organizational chart await word about how they will fit into the new Banc One. It typifies the human-level dramas unfolding as acquisitive banks pull off one deal after another.

Many integration-related questions have gone unanswered since the management team at $9.5 billion-asset First Commerce agreed to sell seven months ago. The deal's closing date also has been repeatedly pushed back.

Employees and customers alike are said to be feeling increasingly uneasy. Among employees, "morale is in the toilet," said one.

Gia Rabito, a First Commerce spokeswoman, acknowledged the confusion and nervousness but played it down.

She said that, as two sizable companies combine, "it is an absolutely impossible job to know who's on first."

Banc One initially said it expected to complete the First Commerce deal in February. That was changed to late April, then to the current target of June 15, but "it might slide, I think, to the 30th," said Banc One spokesman Dean Angel.

It took Banc One five and a half months to close its acquisition of $10.9 billion-asset First USA Inc. last summer. The merger with $114 billion-asset First Chicago, announced April 13, is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Banc One officials attributed the First Commerce delays to regulatory concerns.

"When you are completing in-market mergers, the Justice Department and the feds take very in-depth looks," said Banc One spokesman John Russell.

Analysts said they are not concerned about Banc One's ability to integrate First Commerce successfully. But they said the dealmaking with First Chicago probably shifted Banc One's attention away from the much smaller First Commerce.

"You would have expected, perhaps by this point, a lot more decisions in terms of responsibilities and assignments," said Anthony R. Davis, an analyst at Dillon Read Inc. "But given all the planning and analysis that has gone into First Chicago, I'm not surprised that all the details with First Commerce still have not been completed."

Mr. Davis and others said that this piling of deal upon deal- increasingly common in banking-may ultimately lead to trouble.

"I suspect there will be a series of acquisitions and there will be a slip-up, and it will be significant because of the size of the deals we're seeing," Mr. Davis said. "Unless you really are very focused and concentrate on what you're doing, things can slip between the cup and the lip."

Kathryn Bissette, an analyst at Atlanta-based Sterne, Agee & Leach, saw the delays in completing the First Commerce deal as "a sign of the times." The flurry of consolidation, she said, is making integration issues "more hectic than normal."

To be sure, not all is chaos, and some decisions are being made.

This month, for example, Banc One said it would sell 25 branches to address antitrust concerns. And some members of the First Commerce executive team have secured posts in Banc One.

R. Jeffrey Brooks, executive vice president in charge of card services, has moved to Phoenix to be chief operating officer of Banc One Credit Co., an indirect lending subsidiary.

Howard C. Gaines, another First Commerce executive vice president, was named president of the governmental and military division of First USA Partners, an affinity card division.

The roles of Ian Arnoff, First Commerce's president and chief executive officer, and Ashton J. Ryan Jr., president and CEO of the lead bank, were set early. Mr. Arnoff is to take the transitional title of chairman of Banc One's Louisiana operations, and Mr. Ryan would be vice chairman of Banc One Louisiana.

Long-term titles and responsibilities are not known for Kimberly Y. Lee, chief internal auditor; E. Graham Thompson, chief credit policy officer; Joseph V. Wilson 3d, senior executive vice president; and Michael A. Flick, chief administrative officer.

Having that many top executives in limbo has affected morale down the line.

But Ms. Hobson remains sanguine about her own situation. "There is no resolution yet," she said. "But I've always heard First Chicago is a great corporation."

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