Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias I know we're all about to overload on Y2K stories (sometimes, I think it is actually possible to give out too much information on a certain topic) but I'll run the risk of burning out readers' mental circuits to share a unique angle that's developed on Y2K.

One of the institutions that's worried about possible public reaction to the approach of 2000 is the banking industry.

We've all heard stories about people who believe the end of the world will occur when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.

Airplanes will fall from the sky. Satellites will be lost in space. Phones won't work.

Deliveries of food, water and other essentials, like toilet paper (now that would really be the end of the world, wouldn't it??) will cease.

Yes, if the public's collective imagination begins to run wild, we may experience chaos when the new year arrives, despite the endless news stories we've had to endure this year assuring us all that computers, communications, transportation, and our plumbing systems all will continue working.

The banking industry hopes to reassure it's customers. And its not launching just another Y2K public relations campaign to meet that goal.

Instead, banks are calling on the nation's clergy to deliver the good news about banks from their pulpits.

Banks are worried that many people believe that our financial institutions' computer systems will crash when 2000 arrives. They fear that just before the new year, people will arrive in droves at automated teller machines (ATMs) and withdraw unusually large amounts of cash, because they believe their ATM cards will no longer work.

Philip Valvardi, president of Money Access Service Inc., told the Associated Press that consumers' ATM cards will work normally when 2000 arrives.

"There's no need to bury cash in your back yard. There's no need to stuff $20 bills under your mattress," he said.

The nation's bankers, meanwhile, are distributing a folksy sample sermon for clergy to help them debunk fears of a 2000 catastrophe.

"We wanted to reach out to the religious community," said John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, referring to the four-page homily which the group is distributing to bankers to share with their local clergy.

At a news conference, the ATM network executives advised consumers to treat the last weekend of the millennium as they would any long holiday weekend, withdrawing only the requisite amount of cash from automated teller machines. The network companies, which are members of the Electronic Funds Transfer Association, link banks and other financial institutions with hundreds of thousands of ATMs nationwide as well as point-of-sale machines used to pay for purchases in grocery stores and other retail locations.

Dennis Lynch, president and chief executive officer of New Jersey-based NYCE Corp., said all the ATM networks' computer systems have been fully tested and found "ready and compatible ? Consumers should have complete confidence that their services are going to work normally." Contingency plans also have been prepared, Lynch noted.

Stan Paur, president and CEO of Houston-based Pulse EFT Association, had this message: "Stay calm on Y2K ? The ATMs will work. The point of sale (machines) will be available. The sky is not going to fall."

The sample sermon provided by the bankers' association makes the same point. "Things will work," it says. "Hospitals will be open. Police and fire departments will be prepared. Power companies will be fully staffed. Banks will keep your money safe. They're backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the FDIC, and the federal banking regulators have examined every bank in the country for Y2K readiness.

Aiming to counter the belief fostered in some religious and survivalist literature that the Year 2000 will bring an apocalypse that will topple the banking system, the sermon urges: "We want to go into the new millennium with hope, eagerness and faith in this new century of promise. We don't want to be crouched in our basements with candles, matches and guns. There are, after all, two ways to cross the Red Sea. With Moses, who with God's help, led the children of Israel into a bright, hopeful future. Or with Pharaoh, who in trying to preserve the old, hurled his chariots, his officers and his army into the sea."

Amen.

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