Y2K Surveys Show Concern Isn't Passing

Two surveys show U.S. citizens aren't feeling confident about how financial institutions are handling the millennium bug.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Just when you thought it was safe to climb out of your survivalist bunker ...

Year 2000 experts are starting to gauge evidence of what they call the millennium bug's "second-order effect," the problems caused by an overreaction to computer breakdowns when dates switch to 2000. Even as the financial industry has been praised for aggressively preparing for potential problems come Jan. 1, two separate surveys show that more than half of respondents are concerned enough that they plan to withdraw cash from their banks by year's end.

The surveys come at a time when the White House is taking steps to foster a grass-roots campaign to quell local concerns about the Y2K crisis in communities around the country.

A

Gallup

poll released Friday of 1,606 adults portrays a skittish view of the nation's attitudes toward Y2K. That poll reported that 64% those polled expect to set aside extra cash in the days before New Year's, but 52% said the amount will not exceed what they spend for weekday, weekend or holiday.

Echoing that finding,

Market Partners,

a Pennsylvania-based Y2K consulting firm found that:

56% of the respondents reported that they would withdraw cash before the year 2000.

52% indicated they "will" or "may be" changing their investment strategies because of Y2K.

49% reported concern about the ability of their primary financial institution to properly prepare for Y2K.

49% said their primary financial institution "had not provided information on its Year 2000 readiness."

Market Partners surveyed 2,700 U.S. residents with a questionnaire that drew respondents with ads on the Web. Although the survey's findings have been shared in private with a few federal agencies and banking associations, the results will not be released to the public until later this week.

"Banks were looking at this problem in the wrong context," says John McIsaac, president of Market Partners. "They are concerned with their internal preparedness but they should be more concerned about the external vulnerabilities of the bank."

Even if a bank has rid its own computer systems of the computer bug, many customers will want to withdraw cash before year's end because they fear that ATM machines, credit/debit card machines and other parts of the financial services infrastructure won't work when the century switches over, says McIsaac. Customers are also likely to withdraw cash because they fear that businesses might be loathe to accept other forms of payment beside cash, he says.

Anticipating a Y2K-induced run on the banks, the

Federal Reserve

plans to increase the reserve stored in government vaults to $200 billion, up from the $150 billion normally held in reserve. A total of $460 billion in notes are currently circulating in the U.S. and abroad.

But Jack Gribben, spokesperson for the

President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion

, said the federal government is confident that the banks are in good shape. "We really do feel that the banking industry has been in the forefront of communicating with its customers," said Gribben.

Nevertheless, the council is launching Monday a nationwide campaign to spark awareness campaigns led by local industry and government leaders.

For his part, McIsaac argues that the government's effort is coming too late. "They're going to try to do a mad-rush education and this is not a simple issue," said McIsaac, who says the government should have launched the program a year ago. "It's going to create some divisions in the community between those who believe and those who don't believe."

"I don't know that it would have been more useful to do it earlier," responded Gribben, who says a year ago companies and the government did not have enough information to share with the public. "I think it's a more appropriate time because people have done more work."