Securities firms spent more than $7 billion in 1996 on year-2000 and related computer maintenance projects, according to research from Tower Group of Newton, Mass.

The finding is part of a study presented at the Securities Industry Association's annual conference in New York last week.

Financial services companies generally have been slow to address the year-2000 problem, which is rooted in computer code that causes systems to misread computer date references to the year 2000.

But the study's findings suggest that more companies are beginning to swing into action.

"The year-2000 project is estimated to consume 5,048 person-years and billions of dollars industrywide," said Diogo Teixeira, president of Tower Group.

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