Workers shocked but still confident

One Allfirst employee says `gloom and doom' reports are inaccurate

Others fear possible fallout

February 07, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

At Allfirst Bank's 22-story downtown headquarters yesterday, employees went about their jobs in an atmosphere mixed with shock and concern - but also confidence that things will work out.

"People are floored," said one employee who, like others interviewed outside on South Charles Street, would not give his name. Still, he said, "people are working."

And while the ramifications of the suspected $750 million in fraudulent activities may not be felt for some time, at least one worker feared that the fallout could cost him his job.

"It's a lot of damn money. I hope I still have a job," said an Allfirst computer technician as he walked along the street.

He and other employees were under bank orders not to talk to the media. "It's going to affect us. One way or another, it's going to affect us," he said.

But another worker painted a brighter picture before quickly ending the conversation. He said media reports were wrong to suggest "gloom and doom" at the bank.

"A lot of people are thinking a sky-is-falling mentality," he said. "It's an inaccurate one."

Discussing yesterday's revelations at a news conference, Allfirst executives did not try to hide the reaction among workers at the bank, based at 25 S. Charles St.

"It is very upsetting, it is shocking and we are very disappointed," said Susan C. Keating, Allfirst president and chief executive officer.

Keating said the problem was all the more distressing after a profitable year in the retail and commercial banking operations. "It is discouraging to have a one-off event set us back this way," she said.

Memo

Officials informed the staff of the suspected fraud in a morning memo.

One employee said it did not reach him until after 10 a.m., and by then he had read about the story on MSNBC's Web site.

Another worker said the memo "didn't say squat" and appeared to contain less information than a news release issued by the bank.

`Don't know much'

At Zi Pani cafe around the corner on Redwood Street, manager Angelo Evans said bank workers who popped in for a sandwich or cup of coffee seemed to have more questions than answers.

"They basically say they don't know much," he said. "Everybody over there is going by hearsay."

Outside, a woman who worked in the corporate office said, "It's more of an emotional devastation than financial devastation."

And, she said, there was no fear about Allfirst's long-term viability in the warren of offices and cubicles. "We're fine, we're healthy," she said.

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