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As chief operating officer of the government's newly created office of student financial assistance, Greg Woods' mission is to make the federal student loan program more efficient. But critics claim an electronic access loan program is another attempt by the Education Department to wrest student loan business from banks. Page 2


Community bankers eager to calm customers' fears about the year-2000 problem are about to get some help. Page 5

A shareholder who controls 9% of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Damen Financial initiated a proxy fight as part of his yearlong effort to force the company to sell. Page 5


John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance is considering buying Essex Corp., industry sources said. Page 6


SMART CARDS: With no takeoff in sight for the North American smart card market, Giesecke & Devrient is directing some of its energies elsewhere. Page 8


PNC's decision to sell its credit card business seems further confirmation of the squeeze that middle-tier card issuers are feeling. Page 9

General Motors has begun consolidating its charge cards for employees into a single, multifunctional card. Page 9


HOME EQUITY: The home equity industry hit several potholes in 1998, as equity disappeared and firms cut costs and in some cases closed shop, but observers are cautiously optimistic about 1999. Page 10


Two community banks want to supercharge their consumer lending by outsourcing it to a new entrant in that field. Page 12


Rising prices in the secondary loan market and a new deal led by Credit Suisse First Boston suggest that institutional buyers are back in the market for leveraged syndicated loans. Page 21


MBNA's recent downgrades from two top ratings agencies is expected to impact its debt and funding costs as the company's ratings move closer to junk, market experts said. Back page

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