Last-minute learning amid 'panic' over EMU readiness

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As a result, poor and potentially disastrous decisions are being made on everything from systems specification to grand strategy, while other decisions which need to be made are not being addressed at all.

But several groups, including banks, are running courses to redress the problem.

The IRR Group is the largest organiser of EMU conferences globally and has been running them for more than two years. It is the parent company of the International Faculty of Finance, which has a specialist division running training courses on the practical implications of EMU and the introduction of the euro.

IFF uses independent expert speakers with a track record in advising on a wide range of related issues. It started these training sessions and courses last month.

Courses address issues such as the redenomination of bonds, equities and derivatives, asset allocation and portfolio management in Euroland together with a legal guide to EMU. One of the courses covers the structures behind EMU and the euro, highlighting the entrance criteria and timetable for EMU and examining the two-year transition period and the impact of the 'no compulsion, no prohibition' principle. The course outlines the launch of the euro and assesses its significance for the capital markets as well as the changes to risk assessment and credit ratings in the euro zone. The main payment and settlement systems are covered, plus the changes to fund and portfolio management, accounting and tax treatments under the euro.

Insiders say the courses are well attended, mostly by senior management or decision makers. But most of the banks want in-house training sessions, so IFF tailors a large number of its courses for them. One insider said that whereas the people on one course started off being just moderately interested, this has turned into fear verging on panic the closer we get to EMU.

Another company, BPP, also has been running dedicated training courses for EMU. Tom Prior, who runs some of the courses, says: 'The UK has woken up to the implications of EMU rather late, with the exception of the central banking authorities and the Bank of England, which has been exceptional and is well ahead of most people in Europe.' Paul Fegan, who also runs BPP courses, says: 'During the last six months, we have been swamped with calls requesting training on EMU and the euro.'

BPP has run three training courses so far this year, and intends running another two before the summer. Most are targeted towards middle management and operational professionals. 'A lot of the learning involved is very technical stuff and people do find it dull, but they are having to be switched on about it,' says Prior.

The British Bankers Association has been running courses and seminars since the end of 1995. It has run a series of workshops focusing on legal payments, tax implications and settlements. It does not organise in-house or tailored training and all its courses are sold out, with up to 100 delegates each day, all senior decision makers at their City offices.

Roger Bates, director in charge of the EMU project team at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in London, says DMG's Frankfurt office initiated the preparations for the euro back in 1995 and it is a priority issue under constant examination. Two-and-a-half years ago the Bank of England recommended that all banks should form EMU steering committees. DMG complied and now has 14 offices globally where there are committees overseeing EMU issues.

DMG is not only educating its own professionals about issues of technical compliance and the processing of contracts. It is also considering how their clients' businesses will develop in the new single currency market. It offers in-house courses to clients to examine key areas such as the importance of continuity of contracts within the EU and the status of contracts outside the EU.

ABN Amro has had a team co-ordinating the preparations for EMU since 1995. Erik Van Velzen, co-ordination director, says: 'We need to advise our clients and especially the large companies in re-thinking their commercial strategy and distribution network.' ABN is especially fond of in-house training seminars and presentations. Strategic cash management and the conversion process are issues ABN is addressing with all its clients and, like DMG, it involves them in parallel in-house training sessions.

Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, SBC Warburg Dillon Read and ING Barings all claim to be involving both employees and clients in vast amounts of EMU preparations. Merrill has involved over 1,400 people in their European offices in training from senior to junior management over the last few years and it has had a steering committee in place since early 1996.

The only financial institution where insiders admit that they are running behind is Salomon Smith Barney. It admits that its recent merger, as well as the forthcoming one with Citicorp, has been dominating its attention.

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