Panic In The Year Zero Zero

Can the financial world reprogram its computers in time?

It's 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 31, 1999. As the ball drops in Times Square, computers at some of the world's financial institutions shut down. With their lifeblood cut off, these banks, brokerages, and insurance companies, most of which operate in a limited way over the weekend, are forced to close their doors, at least temporarily. Other financial firms whose computers are still functional try to keep operating. But because linkages among financial institutions are so elaborate, even healthy companies begin to falter. By Monday morning, billions of dollars in transactions have been disrupted or aborted. A domino effect goes into play, and in the ensuing confusion the entire financial world teeters into chaos.

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