LONDON - New Year's Eve will come five weeks late for about 70 Royal Trust Corp. of Canada employees.
Instead of dancing beneath crystal orbs, these employees - like others around the globe - will be converting thousands of securities from 11 European currencies into the euro.
To make up for the lost weekend, officials at London-based Royal Trust, a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada, decided to host a black-tie event for affected staffers and their partners during the weekend of Feb. 5.
While other firms contacted are not planning a substitute New Year's Eve, they will make up the time lost with overtime payments or compensatory time off.
And the overtime will be substantial.
Staff at major custodial banks and money managers will be working around the clock. Hotel rooms were booked months ago. In-house catering is arranged. Such seemingly petty details as providing parking and ensuring the heat is on during the long New Year's weekend are in place.
Henderson Investors Ltd. will have three minibuses to transport its London staffers to the office from home or hotel. Cots and sleeping bags also will be on hand, a spokeswoman said.
For another 20 Henderson employees based in Luxembourg, the money manager will have four-wheel-drive vehicles in place because snow is predicted.
While partygoers celebrate, those involved in converting the euro will have to stay sober.
"We're not encouraging them to pop the cork," said Chris Mossup, a vice president at State Street Bank & Trust Co., London. "We want them to be in good shape to come in. If they get a call at 1 a.m., they should be able to get in their cars."
Mr. Mossup said the custodian bank will be running three shifts from midday Dec. 31 to midday Jan. 5, providing 24-hour coverage.
Nor will portfolio managers and client-relations staff be entirely immune, although they mostly will have to show up at the end of the weekend.
"We've got to communicate with our clients and talk them through the conversion process, and show them how they've got from A to B," said Rick Lacaille, principal and head of structured equities at Gartmore Investment Management PLC's quantitative unit. Mr. Lacaille, however, will not be working during the weekend.
Over the four days from Dec. 31 to Jan. 4, Gartmore staff will have to convert roughly 800 securities - translating into about 8,000 holdings - into euros, said Mike Wrobel, deputy head of Gartmore's retail division and organizer of the manager's euro conversion efforts.
About 300 securities, such as French government bonds, will be completely redenominated, with their par values changing - a much more difficult task, Mr. Wrobel explained.
Some issues, such as rounding to the nearest euro or euro cent, will be sticky, as European countries are using five different methods, he said.
All managers and custodians contacted said extensive planning, going back as far as two years, has prepared them for the big weekend. Dry runs over the past two months have, they hope, brought to the surface any remaining kinks, ranging from software glitches to having enough toner for copying machines. The only crisis cited was a shortage of croissants at Gartmore.
Managers said they are well-prepared for the conversion."If it's not done by now, you're struggling," said Edward Dove, chief investment officer-designate at Julius Baer Investments Ltd., London. The only European bonds in which Baer now invests are German, mostly bunds, which can be converted manually, he said.
The switch to the euro doesn't affect just Europeans, of course. Investment professionals around the world have been drawn in. Peter Gibbs, co-head of the Merrill Lynch Mercury Asset Management's euro project, said the conversion project has been running for about 18 months and has benefited enormously from parent company Merrill Lynch's own efforts. About 100 full-time Merrill Lynch staff, including contributions by 550 professionals and 57 working groups around the world, were involved.
At the money management arm, 10 staffers comprised the core team, with a total of 100 staff worldwide contributing to the project, he said. Up to 80 people will be working in the manager's London office alone over the conversion weekend.
Of course, the euro conversion is not the last of New Year's headaches for back-office staff. When to celebrate New Year's Eve remains the unsolved dilemma for most money managers and custodians.
"This year, you have the euro, next year we have the year 2000. So I think we have to celebrate it somewhere in the middle," said Vincent Ven Vuure, euro project manager for Fortis Investments, Utrecht, the Netherlands.