Irish bankers confident about financial systems


Bankers in Dublin yesterday expressed confidence that their financial systems would be able to cope with the new euro currency when trading starts. Financial institutions and central banks throughout Europe yesterday indicated that all systems would work smoothly on Monday, with the European Central Bank expected to issue a statement late tomorrow, saying that all its preparations are complete.

Most banks in Dublin are running through a series of tests of their computer systems over the weekend, to ensure that they are euro-compliant by first thing on Monday. Sources in a number of the major banking groups said that the changeover process was well underway by late yesterday, but that it would be Sunday before all the work was completed. Sources estimate that 1,500 to 2,000 people will be working for at least part of the weekend in Dublin's financial institutions, such as the Central Bank and the National Treasury Management Agency, as well as at some of the professional firms offering support services, such as computer consultants and accountants. Around 80 people are working in the Central Bank, changing over its computer system to deal with the euro and preparing to deal with the new TARGET bank settlements system in the euro area. The new system will mean that operations in the Central Bank will have to commence at 6 a m each morning, to fit in with the 7 a m start elsewhere in the euro zone.

It is essential that all systems in the financial institutions and central banks across Europe are euro-compliant by Monday, as a breakdown in any one area could lead to chaos by delaying the completion of financial deals or not being able to effect the planned payment for them. It will be Monday before the systems face the first real test. In Dublin, the Irish Bankers' Federation published a list of agreed exchange rates for the euro currencies, to ensure consistency amongst its members. Elsewhere in Europe, preparations are also intense. In London, staff working over the weekend on the project are estimated to total 30,000 as banks get ready for what has been seen as a great leap into the unknown. In Paris, at least 10,000 people are working.

Despite all the dry-runs, many bankers have said no one will have a real sense of how well the markets have adapted to the euro until then. As a result, some said traders in the first stages will be hesitant.

Dutch bank ABN-Amro earlier yesterday said it had done the first inter-bank euro deal in Indian markets, which were open while European markets were shut for New Year's Day.

Credit card company Visa said it did the first euro transactions seconds after midnight when the firm's chief financial officer bought a bottle of champagne from a Frankfurt hotel and 63.91 euros were deducted from his account.