Fed up with bad press about banks' year-2000 readiness, some Texans are taking the bull by the horns.

The Independent Bankers Association of Texas, along with state banking commissioner Catherine A. Ghiglieri, launched a media blitz designed to ease public concerns that banks will not be prepared. They said they hope the campaign will ultimately convince depositors to leave their money in the bank and ignore some national magazines' advice to withdraw.

The media offensive, which has included several press conferences, one- on-one interviews with reporters, and an upcoming op-ed piece for Texas newspapers, describes what banks have been doing to make sure their computer systems recognize dates in 2000 and beyond.

"I don't think people realize how much has been done in the banking industry already," said Ms. Ghiglieri, referring to banks' testing and contingency planning.

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On the subject of the year-2000 problem, one of the more humorous moments at this week's American Bankers Association conference in Orlando occurred during a panel discussion in which bankers, journalists, attorneys, and consultants debated its implications.

The panel was presented with a hypothetical story of a consultant who is spreading disaster stories of airplanes crashing and financial markets collapsing when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, 2000.

Asked how to deal with this doomsayer, the bankers said they are already meeting with individual customers to assure them that their money is safe in the bank.

That prompted one panelist, an Orlando television reporter, to ask why no one at his bank has told him how it is preparing for potential year-2000 glitches.

A banker in the audience had the answer.

"You need a bigger balance," he quipped. - Alan Kline

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The Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati's new homeownership initiative is so popular that the bank had to hold a lottery to choose the recipients.

The bank launched the "Welcome Home Program" this year to stimulate homeownership in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. Using 1% of its profits- $1.2 million this year-the Federal Home Loan Bank makes grants to member banks, which then use the funds to help customers with down payments and closing costs.

Response to the program exceeded expectations; nearly 90 community banks applied for grants, according to spokeswoman Melissa Dallas. But with each one applying for the maximum $37,500, the bank held a lottery to determine the 32 lucky winners.

The program is expected to help fund 600 homeowners.

- Alan Kline

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It is not uncommon for drivers to turn to their local banks for car loans. Now, in Wisconsin at least, car owners will soon be getting license plates at their banks as well.

About five Wisconsin banks and thrifts will test a new computer system that lets drivers bypass the state's motor vehicle agency and register or title a vehicle at the bank. The system, which is hooked into the Wisconsin Department of Transportation data base, is being provided by the Wisconsin Bankers Association and VINnet, an Annapolis, Md., software company.

Participating banks pay nothing for the software and are charged a per- use fee every time they tap into VINnet's data base.

"The idea is to provide one-stop shopping for bank customers," said Linda Strickland of the Wisconsin Bankers' Financial Institutions Products Corp. subsidiary. "Customers who are already receiving a vehicle loan from the financial institution will have their vehicle registered and titled in minutes."

Ms. Strickland said she hopes to make the system available to all Wisconsin banks by early 1999. - Louis Whiteman

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