Glitch mars NationsBank debut

October 22, 1994|By David Conn | David Conn,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Timothy Mullaney contributed to this article

Baltimore, welcome to NationsBank.

The company that has worked diligently for the past year to make its acquisition of MNC Financial Inc. as smooth and painless as possible ended up with a bit of a black eye on the day it finally converted Maryland National Bank into NationsBank.

Some time in the wee hours of Thursday night and yesterday morning, the computer system that turned Maryland National customers into NationsBank customers missed a step.

It developed temporary amnesia over the account numbers that handled the thousands of direct deposit paychecks that employees all over the Baltimore area expected to find in their checking and savings accounts yesterday. When some of those workers punched into their automated teller machines for their weekend cash, they were told the money wasn't there.

For many customers, the glitch was hardly noticeable, or at least short-lived.

"They said it would be fixed by this afternoon," said Janelle Bowman, who works for a customs broker downtown. "I had money in the bank already, and they were really nice."

But the confusion and lines it created, during the already-crowded noontime Friday hour, left some account-holders with a poor first impression of NationsBank. Jeffrey Litman said he'd spent a good part of his day trying to deposit a check at various branches, only to be met with long lines wherever he turned.

"Any other Friday of the year you go to Maryland National, make your deposit and everything is terrific," fumed Mr. Litman, a partner in a Baltimore commercial real estate firm. "I've been to four branches. What good is Nations Bank to me?"

A NationsBank manager who recognized Mr. Litman on the street later pulled him aside, apologized and took care of his problems.

It was the kind of electronic nightmare that often affect 'N computer-dependent companies, such as banks. And given that the one-night transition demanded that more than 5,000 individual tasks be performed accurately, and in the right order, the problems could have been a lot worse.

But NationsBank wasn't taking much consolation in that thought, as its employees spent the day scrambling to make things right. "We will do anything we need to do, whether it's on-the-spot improvisation or planned tactics, to make everything work the way it's supposed to work," said spokesman Daniel G. Finney.

At the company's South Charles Street headquarters, the 40- or 50-member special response squad holed up in the ninth floor "control room" had its hands full dealing with the problem.

Tellers in the 50 or so Baltimore area branches affected by the problem were instructed to give aggrieved customers what they wanted. Despite what the ATMs said, customers were able to transfer or withdraw money from their accounts if they went inside the branches. NationsBank would not say how tellers were able to verify that customers actually had the money they requested.

Some people who have both direct deposit and automatic electronic withdrawals were notified by their vendors that the withdrawals didn't work and would have to be repeated later. But no one who wrote a check several days ago, anticipating that it would be covered by their direct deposit yesterday, suffered an overdraft, according to the bank. Mr. Finney said Maryland National only had about 5,000 customers with direct deposit in the affected area. A handful of complaints were reported at USF&G Corp., The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

But many companies missed the event entirely. Most employees of Baltimore City government and the Johns Hopkins University, for example, get paid twice a month -- last week and next week.

But aside from the direct deposit glitch, there were scattered complaints during the day about long lines at NationsBank branches, disabled phone systems and occasional ATM outages.

"We're in the middle of a major, very complex conversion," Mr. Finney said. "It's one day, one significant conversion day out of a long process."

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