James R. Bell, president of U.S. Central Credit Union, announced last week he plans to retire as soon as a replacement is found.

The 61-year-old Mr. Bell will step down before the end of 1995, said Charles M. Whitney, chairman of U.S. Central and president of the New York Credit Union League.

Although Mr. Bell came from an administrative and operations background with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mr. Whitney said investment experience would be a must for his successor. "We're looking for someone with strong financial credentials," he said.

Rumors have circulated that Mr. Bell was on his way out since early this year, when reports surfaced that U.S. Central invested $255 million in a troubled Spanish bank. Mr. Whitney denied there was any link.

"First of all, I think the Banesto thing was blown way out of proportion," he said. "The board was satisfied with the controls and the job he was doing."

Asked why Mr. Bell would want to retire, Mr. Whitney said Mr. Bell had back problems and his wife had medical problems.

"After a while you have to ask yourself if the aggravation of everyday business is worth it," Mr. Whitney said.

Mr. Bell could not be reached for comment.

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