Wachovia Corp., the fourth largest U.S. bank, announced on Thursday that it is separating the roles of Chairman and CEO, with Ken Thompson retaining his chief executive role and board member Lanty Smith now serving as non-executive Chairman, effective immediately

The bank, which this week said its first quarter loss was 80 percent bigger than previously stated, says the move will strengthen the independence of the leadership roles. Thompson, 57 will report to the full Board of Directors and will be responsible for the management of the company.

At this challenging time for the financial services industry and for Wachovia, my management team and I are pleased that Lanty agreed to assume the role and responsibilities of Chairman, freeing me to focus 100% of my time and attention on guiding the company through the current environment and building and delivering enhanced value for the benefit of our shareholders, customers and employees, said Thompson in a statement.

Smith has been a director on the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank's board of directors since 1987 and its lead independent director since 2002. He is also head of the bank's Executive Committee.

Lanty's deep knowledge of Wachovia and his commitment to our shareholders and other vital constituencies have made him an extremely effective lead independent director, Thompson said. He will be a highly constructive Chairman of the Board as we all work toward our common mission of building value for our shareholders.

The change in roles is effective immediately.