NationsBank Corp. vice chairman James W. Thompson said he will take early retirement, effective Wednesday.

Mr. Thompson, 56, said he had been considering the move for "about a year." As head of NationsBank's global finance businesses, which combine large corporate and capital markets, he had been one of the bank company's top five officers, along with chairman and chief executive Hugh L. McColl Jr.; president Kenneth D. Lewis; vice chairman and chief financial officer James H. Hance Jr.; and Fredric J. Figge 2d, chairman of corporate risk policy.

"He has earned the privilege of taking early retirement and has my support for his decision," Mr. McColl said in a statement this month that praised Mr. Thompson's "legendary contributions" to the company.

Mr. Thompson will be replaced as president of global finance by F. William Vandiver, currently president of specialized finance. The post of vice chairman was left unfilled.

Mr. Thompson, a 33-year employee of NationsBank and its predecessor organizations, was probably best known for his role in helping weather a liquidity crisis in 1974. As manager of the bond department at what was then known as NCNB Corp., Mr. Thompson helped secure the funding that kept the company afloat.

Despite his prominence, Mr. Thompson was never considered a likely successor to Mr. McColl, who is now 60. Most observers assert that Mr. Lewis, 48, is the heir apparent, and the company has never tried to discourage that assessment.

A native of Dunn, N.C., Mr. Thompson earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1961 and joined NCNB as a management trainee two years later. He joined the bond department in 1964.

Mr. Vandiver, a 53-year-old native of Spartanburg, S.C., joined NCNB as a management trainee in 1967. He spent most of his career as a corporate banker, and has been in charge of that area at NationsBank since 1991.

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