The longtime head of Norwest Corp.'s correspondent banking division has handed off the job and will take long-planned early retirement from the company at yearend.

John Sampson, 56, has been senior vice president and division manager for correspondent banking since 1986.

Vice president William Meyer, 48, will now oversee Norwest's 2,250 correspondent relationships. Mr. Meyer has worked for Mr. Sampson for 10 years.

Mr. Sampson will remain with the $78 billion-asset company as a consultant until yearend.

One Norwest correspondent customer, C. Paul Lindholm, chairman and chief executive of Bank of Maple Plain, Minn., expressed concern about the future of Norwest's relationships with smaller banks.

"So many banks are pulling away from correspondent banking," said Mr. Lindholm, who previously held Mr. Sampson's job at Norwest. "My question is: What is the focus of senior management?"

But Mr. Meyer said he does not expect to alter dramatically Norwest's approach to the business.

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Sampson added that Norwest may have to enter into more alliances with specialty companies, particularly technology firms, to offer products to its correspondent banks it cannot afford on its own.

"Banking is changing," Mr. Sampson said. "It's hard in 1996 to sit here and predict what's going to happen in 1998."

Norwest has substantially increased its correspondent lending during the past 10 years, from $42 million in 1986 to $292 million through the first half of 1996. However, it has also eliminated some products, such as data services for small banks.

Meanwhile, the number of relationships with other banks has increased. Norwest had correspondent relationships with 11% of the nation's banks when Mr. Sampson took the job, but that proportion has since doubled, the company said.

James Campbell, executive vice president and head of commercial banking services, credited Mr. Sampson with establishing business ties in small communities. "His hard work has helped us establish profitable relationships in many smaller communities - communities that represent the core of our businesses."

Mr. Sampson, a South Dakota native, began his Norwest career in 1975 in the strategic planning department. He was previously a vice president of Keith-Stevens Inc., a management consulting firm in Minneapolis.

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