It won't be the end of the world

But it's best to be prepared for the Millennium Bug, says Melanie Bien

Astronauts may seem to have very little in common with bankers, insurers or computer technicians. But all of them are worried about the Millennium Bug.

Despite claiming that its equipment is Y2K-friendly, Nasa is taking no risks, bringing its space shuttle Discovery back from its mission to repair the Hubble space telescope today.

So if those with advanced technical equipment are worried, should investors and savers be panicking about the safety of their money?

The official answer is "no". Margaret Beckett, Leader of the Commons, told MPs that there was no "identified risk of material disruption" over the millennium period, although she could not say whether mobile phone networks will be able to withstand the extra volume of calls as the clock strikes midnight.

Insurers and investment companies are doing their best to reassure the public. All have been running tests so that it will be business as usual. Banks have made a concerted effort to persuade customers that their computer systems will be able to cope and that accounts are not at risk. Some 30,000 IT consultants will be on hand in the City to deal with any problems that might arise. However, for peace of mind, it is worth getting a print-out showing how much cash you have in the bank on New Year's Eve. Savers should also keep hold of a couple of recent statements detailing how much money they have on deposit.

As far as investments are concerned, get an up-to-date statement from your fund manager giving details of your investments. Pensions should be treated in a similar fashion; this could very well be your biggest investment, so it is important to keep an up-to-date record.

There is little reason to withdraw all your money and put it under the mattress until the celebrations are over. Indeed this could be very unwise, given the possibility of an increased number of burglaries over the festive period. Householders should ensure their alarm systems are millennium compliant, especially as many people will be away for at least part of the festive period.

Although a run on cash is expected, it is unwise to withdraw large amounts of money from automated teller machines (ATMs) on the back of rumours that they will run out of cash on New Year's Eve. The Bank of England has foreseen the problem and is making an extra pounds 20bn in notes available to cope with demand.

As most high-street banks will be closed for an unprecedented length of time, keeping ATMs topped up with those notes could be a problem. But banks are taking measures to ensure that there will be plenty of cash available over the four-day millennium weekend.

Lloyds TSB is causing controversy by giving computer staff pounds 1,030 per call- out to do this. Most banking staff will be on call 24 hours a day anyway in case of glitches.

Nor can banks allow ATMs to break down: a broken-down cash machine might make panicky customers think that the bank's main computer system is affected by the Y2K Bug.

The biggest risk is likely to come not from within the UK but from other countries that have taken less comprehensive precautions. These may destabilise even the most robust financial markets. This has already been apparent in the currency markets, where the euro has weakened recently as investors have moved into the dollar and the yen.

CHECKLIST

Keep bank statements.

Get an up-to-date statement from your fund manager and pension fund.

Don't panic and withdraw large amounts of cash.

Check your insurance policy to ensure your household goods and computer equipment are covered.

BANK OPENING HOURS

Banks are closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, 27 and 28 December, as well as 1 and 2 January. They open at normal hours on 29 and 30 December.

A limited number of branches will be open on New Year's Eve and 3 January.

Most banks in Scotland will be closed on 4 January because of the extra day's holiday. Elsewhere, normal trading will be resumed.

Most telephone and internet banking services will be unaffected during the millennium period, operating as normal.

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