Originally created 01/02/00

Banks sail into new century without problems



WASHINGTON -- America's banks and savings and loans reported no problems as the calendar flipped to a new century. But they had an army of computer experts working at facilities around the country Saturday to make sure that all the sophisticated financial accounting equipment kept working.

Most of the effort at the nation's 10,300 financial institutions was done behind the scenes by special teams rechecking their account reconciliation procedures to verify that the rollover from 1999 to 2000 did not cause any mixup in customers' deposits.

A handful of banks opened for business on New Year's Day just to allay depositors' fears about whether they could access their accounts.

Summit Bank opened more than 400 of its branches in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut as a confidence booster, but officials reported no unusual worries or large withdrawals by customers.

Federal regulators reported that three years of efforts and $9 billion spent by banks to make sure the nation's financial system was ready had paid off.

"On the first day of the Year 2000, the nation's banks, thrifts and credit unions are conducting business as usual," five federal regulatory agencies said in a joint statement Saturday. "No significant disruptions from the century date change have been detected."

The Federal Reserve reported that its check-clearing operations, which process 68 million checks on a typical day, were operating normally. Currency supplies, which had been increased by $80 billion to meet unexpected demands since October, were "more than adequate to meet demand," the Fed said.

The nation's automated teller machines, primed with extra cash, were reported to be operating normally as well.

To highlight the smooth transition, Donna Tanoue, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which insures deposits at the nation's financial institutions, showed up at 8 o'clock Saturday morning at one ATM a block from the White House to withdraw a $20 bill for the benefit of waiting television cameras.

"I am here to demonstrate what we said all along -- that years of hard work by the banking industry is paying off," she said. "We are having a solid transition to the year 2000."

And if someone finds that one of the nation's 227,000 ATM machines is not working, Tanoue's advice was not to worry. She said 1 percent of ATM's at any one time are not working.

"If people encounter an ATM that is down, they should do what they normally do -- go find another one," she advised. "Don't assume it's a Y2K glitch."

Tanoue said that FDIC bank examiners would continue visiting individual banks and receiving reports throughout the weekend, but that so far her agency and the other federal banking agencies were finding nothing but a trouble-free changeover.

The U.S. banking industry, which spent an estimated $9 billion updating computer systems so they would not misread 2000 as 1900, had to meet a target of having its systems ready six months ago. Federal bank examiners aggressively went after stragglers to ensure 100 percent compliance by December.

While there had been concerns that banks in other nations could experience problems that might have an impact in the United States, officials said that as of Saturday no serious problems had developed.

Citigroup, the nation's largest financial service company, reported Saturday that its 450 branches in the United States and operations in 100 countries were all proceeding without Y2K troubles.

Federal Reserve officials at the central bank's command center wore special red Y2K T-shirts to commemorate the event, presenting one to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who stopped by for an update on New Year's Eve.

Red was also the color choice for the T-shirts worn by bank tellers at City National Bank in West Virginia, proclaiming "We're not afraid of Y2K." The bank elected to keep 10 branches open through the night.

"We went through the night with no problems. Everything worked according to plan," reported Jeff Legge, City National's Y2K information systems director.