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No New Year holidays for Thai bankers


IN Thailand the critical time to watch out for Y2K problems begins at 6 pm on the last day of the year, when midnight strikes in New Zealand, according to the president of Thai Farmers Bank (TFB). Y2K experts will be paying close attention to that country's computers to get a preview of the effects of the millennium bug.

Thailand will meet its own test when the clock strikes midnight here. Then at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, or 7 am on Jan 1 in Bangkok, Y2K experts will once again monitor computers for any appearances of the Y2K bug.

''These are the critical times that we have to watch out for,'' said Banthoon Lamsam, president of Thai Farmers Bank.

Banthoon, who is also chairman of the Thai Bankers' Association, will be celebrating the New Year with his family on the evening of Dec 31st before heading to the bank's headquarters.

He will spend the night there along with the bank's top technical staff. Banthoon is taking no chances with the Y2K bug. TFB has invested in a command centre, fully equipped with communication and data systems. There are beds for 30 people.

All technical staff has been placed on alert and must be able to reach headquarters within one hour of being called in.

''This means that we cannot go anywhere on New Year's eve. Even if we want to stay at home. Sometimes it takes more than an hour to travel to headquarters,'' laments one staff member.

TFB's emergency communication system relies on a centrally operated paging system. Once the paging operator makes a call, it will reach all staff simultaneously.

''The effective communication system is very important under this kind of emergency scenario,'' said Banthoon. ''We don't worry that much whether some of the computers may break down, but we must have the means to communicate with each other and to give instructions. If the communication system does not work, then you really cannot do anything.''

The Bank of Thailand has been working particularly hard to ensure that all Thai banks are Y2K-compliant.

''We have been preparing to cope with this Y2K situation for two years. I think we're quite ready,'' Banthoon noted.

The bank is prepared for all scenarios, he said. On Christmas Day the bank printed all customer accounts to ensure a hard copy of all information. It will not close its computer system after midnight as it has the print-outs in case anything goes wrong.

In the event of a power failure, TFB has secured its own generator, as well as the fuel to run it.

Vichit Amonviratskuk, senior executive vice president of Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), pointed out that the most serious concern facing Thai banks during the beginning of the new millennium is not potential computer glitches but depositor panic.

A 16-year veteran of the bank's information-technology department, Vichit confidently assures people around him that there is nothing to worry about at year-end. Only a few minor inconveniences may occur, he said.

''I would suggest only that people withdraw a little more cash than usual in anticipation of Y2K. My mother asked me whether she should do anything in preparation, and I told her not to worry too much. If you worry too much and nothing happens, you will laugh about it later,'' Vichit said.

Thailand does not face as great a threat from the millennium bug as other countries because computers are not as widespread here, he explained. Moreover, vendors selling software to cope with Y2K may have exaggerated the potential problems in order to boost sales, he said.

Some bank staff may attempt to defraud banks and customers under the cover of Y2K glitches, Vichit said. Consequently, banks must recheck or cross-check any problems to make sure that they are really related to Y2K.

''The most frightening thing about Y2K is panic withdrawals from banks. That would certainly create problems,'' Vichit said.

Vichit's wife shares his confidence in Thailand's banks. ''My husband is responsible for the bank's Y2K problem. I'm not worried about it, because I am quite confident of the computer system,'' she said.

The family will be celebrating the New Year normally, she said. She has purchased the usual amount of food and other necessities for the New Year holiday without hoarding, she said.

She has been following media reports about Y2K concerns and noted that a recent TV programme reported that Thailand was well prepared for the millennium bug.

However, she thinks it will be safer to stay at home and avoid travel during the New Year holiday.





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