More than 1,200 banks and thrifts have heard from federal regulators who are displeased with their preparations for the year- 2000 computer change.
Many more institutions are expected to be contacted over the next 19 months.
The regulators' moves - in the form of a variety of enforcement notices - have served as a wake-up call to the institutions.
"We're not saying we agree with the examiner's findings," said one bank president whose institution was found year-2000 deficient. "At the same time, I'm not sure our urgency factor would have been as great without the agency's intervention. This was just a good way to make sure we did our testing and other preparations early."
Few of the enforcement actions have been made public.
In November the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve Board announced that they had issued cease-and-desist orders to three Georgia banks and their holding company. In April officials at Washington Federal Savings Bank, Washington, Iowa, and the Office of Thrift Supervision signed a 15-page agreement requiring the thrift to address specific year-2000 problems or be subject to tougher enforcement.
Otherwise, all the actions to date have been confidential. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, for example, has sent warning letters to the 232 national banks that examiners rated as "needs improvement."
"It's an initial shot across the bow," said Daniel P. Stipano, the agency's director of enforcement and compliance.
But as year-2000 deadlines loom and banks' deficiencies become more severe, the number of public actions are expected to increase. Mr. Stipano said the OCC has notified two banks that, unless they rectify their year- 2000 problems soon, it will issue safety-and-soundness orders, which are public.
The FDIC has completed 160 informal, or confidential, enforcement actions so far and has 74 more pending. These include board resolutions and memoranda of understanding. But it has issued so-called "transmittal letters" to nearly 750 banks, or all those that were rated "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" on their year-2000 exams. The Federal Reserve Board, meanwhile, has targeted 80 banks with year-2000 problems.