By Ron VandenBoom
Those expecting the worst from the Y2K computer bug may believe the millennium change-over is a time to be dollar wise instead of gigabyte foolish when it comes to looking out for their hard earned savings. Local financial institution officials, however, are confident their customers have nothing to worry about.
"We're ready for Y2K," said Alan Pearson, president of Norwest Bank in Havre. "We've been working on it for two years and we have fixed what needed to be fixed."
Pearson said Norwest has had several "dry-run events" at the local and regional banking centers to insure its computers and other equipment are ready for the change-over. And, as an extra precaution, a team of bank employees will be on site Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, 2000 to insure a smooth transition.
The team will spend its time going through a checklist of 50 items that range from insuring the building's lights work to checking the bank's computers. The findings of the team will then be reported to the regional events center.
Pearson said millions of dollars had been spent by the industry to prepare for the Y2K conversion and he feels confident that customers have nothing to worry about. He also noted that copies of all computer records and documents also exist in hard copy and all bank accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
"If anything, I've been surprised we haven't had any inquiries this week," he said.
All banks have, according to Pearson, increased their reserve of cash just to accommodate people who may feel a need to withdraw extra amounts of cash during the Y2K event, adding that ATM machines have also been fully stocked to accommodate withdrawals.
"Whatever the customer feels comfortable with," Pearson said, when asked what he felt would be a safe amount of cash to withdraw.
Al Vukasin, president of Bear Paw Credit Union, said Bear Paw is prepared to accommodate those who may want to withdraw money due to Y2K. He does, however, advise customers to be aware of the dangers associated with keeping large sums of money in their homes or on their persons.
"Money can be lost or stolen," he said, noting that money taken from the credit union will not be earning interest and like the banks, funds deposited in the Credit Union are also insured by National Credit Union Association (NCUA).
Vukasin said the credit union has also been preparing for Y2K for more than two years and was fully compliant as of this January. This included everything from the computers to the phone system.
As a safeguard, however, Bear Paw will be going through what Vukasin called a "testing schedule" on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. Once tested, the credit union employees will then contact the NCUA to verify that they are up and running and that no problems were encountered.
Vukasin suggested customers who have concerns about Y2K pick up the brochures at the credit union.
Norwest Bank also has a brochure available to its customers and information is also available at the Norwest Bank web site at www.norwest.com.