As marketing ploys go, this one was a home run.

When Seattle's Viking Financial Services Corp. decided to guarantee seniors would get their Social Security payments even if there was a year- 2000 computer snafu, bank officers were only trying to assure their customers that the bank was prepared. A few months after the announcement, they have convinced the entire country.

As word of the pledge circulated in the press, the company has become the poster child for small-bank readiness.

Viking Financial's plan has been profiled locally in the Seattle Times and nationally in American Banker. Donna A. Tanoue, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., cited the bank as a role model in her speech at the Independent Community Bankers of America annual convention in San Francisco.

And on April 13, bank president Pat Redmond was called to Washington to testify at a House Banking Committee hearing on Y2K.

"We started out trying to build confidence in us, not to be nationally recognized," Mr. Redmond says. "But in the end, all of this is doing exactly what we wanted, showing our customers they can trust us."

All that without spending a penny on advertising.

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