With announced layoffs in the financial services industry this year in the tens of thousands, 1999 could be a year of new career paths.

Experts on outplacement say the job market is generally good but that economic uncertainty could complicate job searches.

"Today's job market is better compared with five years ago," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm. "But there is more vulnerability right now. The economy is not as safe as it was" a year ago.

Announced layoffs in financial services so far this year total 48,100, according to Challenger Gray.

Mr. Challenger said he expects the total to rise.

Many companies do not disclose their plans until after yearend, he said, and the ultimate total could exceed the 54,000 in 1995, the most in the past five years.

By his own admission, Mr. Challenger's number is conservative. It does not take into account, for instance, several large bank deals in which no job reductions have been officially announced. Among the largest are those involving Bank One Corp., National City Corp., and Firstar Corp.

Bank One alone could cut 9,000 employees, according to analysts' estimates. And Deutsche Bank's planned takeover of Bankers Trust Corp. is expected to result in the elimination of 5,500, although not all of those will be in the United States.

The outlook for finding a job in banking is not good.

According to Manchester Inc., a Philadelphia-area outplacement company, about two-thirds of bankers who lose their jobs in mergers or restructurings find work in other industries.

About one-third go to other financial services companies. But that could be difficult next year because these companies are also scaling back. Wall Street investment firms, in particular, are laying off thousands of employees in the wake of foreign trading losses.

"The numbers seem to be quite large," said John Seidler, a Manchester executive vice president responsible for New York and Connecticut. The typical layoff victim is a male executive 40 to 50 years old, according to Manchester.

Mr. Seidler said the recent layoff waves could reduce the age range of those affected because of the many young people who work in Wall Street firms. More women are also losing jobs, a consequence of the greater inroads they have made in financial services in recent years, he said.

People in technology and sales jobs are having the easiest time finding jobs, Mr. Seidler said.

For Wall Street employees, Mr. Seidler said, the biggest adjustment may be in taking a lower salary. "In many cases there will be people who have to take a couple of steps back to move forward again," he said.

The economy is still a wild card.

"If there is a recession, it's going to be hard for anyone laid off to get a job," said Clare Zempel, chief economist at Robert W. Baird & Co., Milwaukee, who predicted slowing job growth through mid-1999, when the economy would pick up as would the rate of job creation.

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