To meet the looming deadlines for year-2000 and euro conversions, Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. has created an organization with its own staff, budget, and accountability.
The move indicates the magnitude of the multifaceted computing task facing large European banks as they race to meet the first deadline for adopting the unified currency on Jan. 1 and the 2000 deadline a year later.
Though CS First Boston-the investment banking arm of Credit Suisse Group, Zurich-has distinct projects under way within the single organization, this structural approach is not universally favored.
"We believe it is very dangerous to merge year-2000 and euro projects," said Nick Jones, research director of Gartner Group Europe.
The temptation to combine the efforts may be strong, especially for banks that are late in starting, Mr. Jones said. But this is "likely to result in perhaps neither being completed satisfactorily or when needed."
It would be more sensible, he argued, to assign completely separate organizations to the tasks.
"Careful, selective merging may be appropriate if the area of overlap is small, is strictly defined, and offers a significant reduction in cost or time," the researcher said.
CS First Boston set up its global program office Jan. 15, based on recommendations from the parent bank's board and external auditors.
"We did not want any impediment due to any other major development project to allow these two projects to slip," said Caroline Watteeuw, the special group's chief coordinator.
Separate activities are under way within it. For example, different teams are carrying out the year-2000 and euro software changes, but the same team is testing the changes made in both projects.
Four hundred software developers and testers, 250 of them newly employed, are working in London, New York, Zurich, and Singapore. In addition, the investment bank has assigned a European Monetary Union coordinator to each of its more than 50 offices worldwide.
In hiring, "we have been very creative," said Ms. Watteeuw. "We've brought in resources from other countries."
All other nonmandatory, nonstrategic projects have stopped in what Ms. Watteeuw called "the big freeze." For example, an effort to upgrade fixed income and trade processing systems is on hold.
"This is one of the most complex programs ever undertaken by Credit Suisse First Boston. The program spans every business line and all locations globally," said Ms. Watteeuw, who moved from Bankers Trust Corp. to Credit Suisse First Boston last August.
It has become apparent that the year-2000 conversion is larger than the euro changeover because it involves testing in every branch, as well as end-to-end testing of 1,800 systems shared between New York and London.
The euro, on the other hand, "is more systemic and goes deeper within the system," said Ms. Watteeuw.
It is driven by the business units; by contrast, the year-2000 fix is purely a technical initiative.
Fixing the year-2000 software glitch, which is related to the coding of dates, will cost three times as much as accommodating the euro, she added.
"Regulators in Europe and the United States are focused on year-2000 and not on the readiness of any corporation toward" the European Monetary Union, she said.
Euro conversion rates were locked in May 2 at a meeting of the European Council of Ministers on economic and financial affairs.
"The timetable, as we view it, is very, very tight," Ms. Watteeuw said.
The first of two major euro efforts Credit Suisse First Boston has under way is to modify transaction systems in the Americas, Europe, and Asia- Pacific. During the transition years of 1999 to 2002, banks must offer dual currency statements to their customers.
The second effort, a massive conversion at the start of next year, has become known as "le weekend." No employees will be granted time off in the month before or after the conversion-from Dec. 1, 1998, to Feb. 1, 1999-Ms. Watteeuw said. "Of course, we will adequately compensate them," she added.
The investment bank is addressing the euro across numerous business lines, including fixed income, foreign exchange, money markets, equities, derivatives, corporate banking, private banking, asset management, and insurance.
As a result, all major systems and most vendor packages are affected. The investment bank has identified 125 major projects and 184 "important" projects in connection with the euro conversion, which is to occur simultaneously worldwide.
One project is to adopt a general ledger and accounting system from PeopleSoft Inc., Pleasanton, Calif. The system allows for accounting in multiple currencies.
Martin Mackay, industry strategy director for PeopleSoft's financial services business unit, said the multiple-currency feature caters to the desire of most organizations to maintain dual sets of books for external reporting requirements and internal reporting in euros.
"The problem is the transition phase and how that is handled," said Mr. Mackay.