Great Western Financial Corp. said Monday that it had hired A. William Schenck 3d from PNC Bank Corp. to head its consumer banking business.

Mr. Schenck, 52, had been with Pittsburgh-based PNC for 26 years. He departs as the bank prepares to expand rapidly through acquisition of Midlantic Corp. of New Jersey and Chemical Bank's Pennsylvania branches.

As head of retail banking since 1991, Mr. Schenck played a key role in PNC's increasing emphasis on consumer services. As executive vice president of Great Western, he will aim to complete the transformation of a traditional thrift into more of a full-service consumer bank. He will draw on recent experiences that include an aggressive self-service banking strategy and a revitalized credit card program. "Bill Schenck's consumer banking background and his experience in reducing operating costs, investing in alternative delivery channels, and at the same time increasing revenues will be invaluable," said John F. Maher, Great Western's president and chief operating officer.

Mr. Maher, to whom Mr. Schenck will report, is scheduled to become chief executive officer at yearend, replacing James F. Montgomery, who will retain the title of chairman. Great Western had been searching for a head of the 298-branch retail banking division since March, when Curtis J. Crivelli stepped down to take early retirement.

In an interview, Mr. Schenck said he told PNC chairman and chief executive Thomas O'Brien last Friday that he decided to make the change.

His last day at $62 billion-asset PNC has not been set. But he plans to relocate to California with his wife in August. Great Western is based in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth.

In a sense, Mr. Schenck is taking a smaller job. With 598 offices, PNC's branch network is much larger than that of Great Western's and will exceed 900 after pending acquisitions. Great Western's asset size, $42 billion, is one-third smaller than PNC's, though it ranks as the nation's second- largest thrift company.

"We've put together what I think is a leading-edge consumer operation at PNC," he said. "It's been an exciting time doing that. Now I've got an opportunity to do it again with some wonderful people at Great Western."

Mr. Schenck added that he will be paid more at Great Western, although he declined to detail his compensation plan at either institution.

Mr. Schenck said his departure is unrelated to PNC's acquisitions. According to a PNC spokesman, the head of PNC's post-merger consumer banking operation is expected to report to the chairman and chief executive of Midlantic, Garry Scheuring, who would become a PNC vice chairman.

The PNC spokesman also described Mr. Schenck's departure as "friendly."

Mr. Schenck said under his stewardship, consumer banking - including retail branches, mortgages, credit cards, student lending, and indirect automobile lending - increased its earnings contribution to 56% of PNC's earnings from about a third.

On his watch came both cost reductions and revenue increases; the decision to take an equity participation in Electronic Payment Services Inc., the multibank venture that operates the MAC automated teller machine network; the hiring of the Cohen & Brown consulting firm to help improve sales through branches; and a unique partnership with First Data Corp. and former Wachovia Corp. executive Jerry Craft to accelerate and manage credit card growth.

PNC also has conducted innovative trials of video-equipped kiosks for selling banking services and is in the process of expanding its telephone banking center to a 24-hour, seven-day operation. Mr. Schenck said by the year 2000, he expects PNC to get a third of its revenues from telephone services.

High on the priority list at Great Western, which has been driving explicitly to become more "bank-like," is selling more mortgages and other consumer loans through its branches in California and in Florida. Great Western also wants to increase the proportion of deposits in transaction accounts, now running at about 45%, a spokesman said.

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