Banks Brace for Next Y2K Test: A Disaster Movie

Article excerpt

It's only a movie.

That's what the bank industry, from community bankers to national trade associations, is urging NBC-TV to tell viewers Sunday night during its much-hyped broadcast of the disaster film "Y2K: The Movie."

In the film, a computer glitch causes power outages, nuclear meltdowns and -- here's the real horror -- automated teller machine malfunctions when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1.

Fearing a potential run on cash machines and teller windows on Monday morning, bankers and trade group representatives are asking for airtime on local affiliate stations after the movie to reassure customers they are ready for 2000.

"I don't want to see two and a half years of hard work and considerable dollars unraveled by a two-hour television movie," said Mark G. Field, president and chairman of the Farmers Bank of Liberty (Ill.).

"I hope the naysayers and goofballs don't get people stirred up into a frenzy," said Steve Scurlock, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas.

Many bankers would rather the film didn't run at all. Mr. Field sent letters to his local affiliates, asking them not to show the movie.

Trade groups in Washington went straight to the top. The Independent Community Bankers of America sent a letter to Robert Wright, president and chief executive officer of NBC, urging him to pull the movie. And the American Bankers Association contacted the movie's producers to offer assistance in making the film more true to life, and to offer to make experts available should the network want to produce a news story to accompany the broadcast.

NBC stations say the banks and other industries are overreacting.

In a response to Mr. Field's letter, the general manager of WGEM-TV in Quincy, Ill., pointed out that the movie is "a purely fictional thriller. ... This program does not suggest or imply that any of the events depicted could actually occur."

However, a consultant specializing on year-2000 issues said that bankers are correct to be concerned. …