Veteran retail banker Edward A. O'Neal will step down as vice chairman of Bank of Boston Corp. by the end of January, the company said.

Also leaving is William Ott, group executive for consumer lending, according to a memorandum distributed to bank employees early last week.

The departures, which observers had predicted, come as Bank of Boston Corp. wraps up a strategic review of its businesses. In the memo, chief executive officer Charles K. Gifford said the two were leaving because their current assignment - reviewing the value of national consumer finance businesses that the company was considering selling - has been completed.

Mr. O'Neal, 51, joined the company in 1992 after 23 years with Chemical Banking Corp., first managing Bank of Boston's retail banking operations and then its consumer finance businesses.

But last summer, when he and Mr. Ott, 44, were put in charge of assessing the value of the consumer finance businesses, the assignment was widely interpreted as foreshadowing the executives' eventual departure.

Last week, Bank of Boston agreed to sell one of these businesses - Fidelity Acceptance Corp. - to Mercury Finance for $453 million. The other units, Ganis Credit Corp. and the bank's $978 million credit card portfolio, are expected to be sold in coming months.

Neither Mr. O'Neal nor Mr. Ott could be reached for comment Friday, and their plans were not explained in the memo.

Mr. O'Neal had been considered vulnerable to reshuffling at Bank of Boston since the $62 billion-asset company bought BayBanks Inc. last year. BayBanks, a retail powerhouse, brought with it much expertise in consumer banking - notably its former chairman, William M. Crozier, now chairman of Bank of Boston.

In July, when Henrique de Campos Meirelles was named Bank of Boston's president and Mr. Gifford's second-in-command, observers said Mr. O'Neal's fate was sealed.

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