Montana's push to set up Swiss-style banking got another boost when state officials gave the go-ahead to draft legislation.

The decision to push forward with implementing numbered-account banking followed a two-day meeting late last month in Helena, the state capital.

"It's a mixture of relief and trepidation for me," said Stephen Maly, legislative research analyst for the state, who will handle much of the draft legislation work. "I'm glad we've gotten this far, but we've got some real work ahead of us in drawing this up."

Don Hutchinson, Montana commissioner of banking, said he was impressed by the amount of work done by numbered-account advocates to date. But he questioned whether any financial institutions would actually participate.

"I haven't seen anyone representing a banking or trust organization step forward to express interest," he said. "You can draft legislation and build the box, so to speak, but you have to have someone step forward."

Montana has been debating the merits of establishing a Swiss-style banking system for several months.

Swiss banks have long been renowned for their confidentiality and anonymity. Account ownership is veiled from both outsiders and most bank employees. Accounts are identified by numbers only, and identities are often further cloaked through offshore transactions.

Such numbered accounts, proponents say, offer protection from political instability and frivolous civil litigation. Foes, however, claim that the concept can be an invitation to illegal activities, such as money laundering.

Several entities besides Switzerland already feature secret banking, including Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Panama, and the Cayman Islands.

Proponents say Swiss-style banks could bring in considerable revenue for Montana, which would be the first state in the nation to embrace the concept. Also, Montana's relatively lean bureaucracy makes the plan more viable in Big Sky Country than in other states that have larger governments.

The original concept has since been modified somewhat, and the idea now being contemplated would involve an operation run by a private entity, open to nonresidents only.

Once draft legislation is created, Mr. Maly said there will be at least one more meeting, which will be open to the public.

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