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Firms stealthily prepare for currency revolution

POLITICIANS MAY be cautious about the euro but the British high street is already conducting its own quiet revolution to accommodate the new currency system from next year.

An Independent snapshot survey found exporters and finance houses were among the leaders planning for the change, but some of the country's most famous names admitted they had no plans for dealing with the euro when it comes into operation.

Some banks and building societies already offer euro savings accounts, euro debit cards and chequebooks and euro mortgages and current accounts for businesses. NatWest opened the first corporate euro accounts in March for businesses to invoice and settle accounts in euros; 4,500 British businesses have signed up. .

Yesterday Citibank unveiled consumer products including current and deposit accounts.Euro account-holders will get a euro debit card, Internet banking and instant money transfers between seven European countries - provided the applicant's income exceeds pounds 30,000.

Abbey National customers who are paid in euros will be able to take out mortgages in euros from January. The Halifax said it was adopting a "wait and see never-say-never approach" but had no real concrete plans for any financial euro products.

The Asda supermarket chain has embraced the euro. It will be able to invoice or accept payments from January, when its IT systems will have been prepared for euros. Marks & Spencer said it would offer dual pricing in the Netherlands but there would be no change for UK customers. "We are still a sterling retailer. We will review our position when the UK's policy changes," said a spokeswoman.

Rover leads the manufacturing industry and has told suppliers they must have parallel accounts systems in place by 1 January to invoice and settle accounts in euros. The move was ordered by its parent, BMW. Rover's internal accounts will ultimately use the euro as standard.

But Ford UK said it would only deal with the euro on a "supplier-by- supplier" basis responding to demand where necessary. It saw no customer demand now for big changes. "We will not be adopting the euro as a standard."

Tarmac has had a committee examining the issue for some time but said it would remain dealing in local currency for the time being. But if customers needed to be billed, invoiced or tendered in euros, it would comply.

Texaco is preparing but will not force or ask clients to do anything, a spokesman said. "We'll be ready to transact in euros if need be, but we're not changing our accounting."

The Arjo Wiggins Appleton paper-maker said that as an Anglo-French-US company it had put huge effort into preparing for the euro. From January, French employees will have their salaries stated in euros as well as francs on their payslips.