Ezekiel S. "Zeke" Ketchum put in his last day as president and chief operating officer of Meridian Bancorp this week, handing his title over to Samuel A. McCullough, chairman and chief executive of the Reading, Pa.- based bank.

But Mr. Ketchum's retirement, after 37 years in the banking business, did not pass uneventfully. The 60-year-old's voice cracked as he addressed shareholders at the company's annual meeting last week. And in the days that followed, he canceled an appointment because, he said, he "had one or two glasses of Chardonnay too much and (said) one or two words too many."

Since January, Mr. Ketchum had been overseeing Meridian's "59.9" program, an effort to get the bank's ratio of expenses to revenues under 60%. (It is now at an embarrassingly high 66.1%). Like other banks, Meridian's restructuring will mean layoffs, though it is unclear how many. The bank expects to make the numbers known by the middle of June.

"We spent the last six months looking at everything in the institution, what value that output has to the end user - whether it be a regulator, a customer, or someone else in the bank. We're trying to eliminate all work that has low value," said Mr. Ketchum, who started at the bank in 1978 and will remain a Meridian director until 1997.

Having helped guide Meridian through a series of acquisitions, Mr. Ketchum knows as much as anyone how important it is for the bank to take out expenses. But it is still a painful process.

"There is tremendous change happening in the industry . . . (We are) competing in a market where there are investment banks, department stores, I can hardly think of anybody that's not in financial services. The once protected franchise that we had as an industry is gone," Mr. Ketchum lamented.

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