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Utah banks gear up to swap euros, yen

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Utah's bankers stand ready to swap yen, euros and pesos for U.S. greenbacks when the world arrives next month ? all while chatting amiably in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Swahili or Portuguese.

Salt Lake and Park City area banks are prepared to put their collective currency exchange and multilingual skills to use for the onslaught of foreign visitors . . . not that they think they'll have to.

"We're preparing for multitudes, (but) we're not expecting a huge increase," said Eileen Strasters, Wells Fargo vice president of international banking. "We are prepared to exchange some 25 different currencies, but I expect we'll see only four or five."

"I know when I travel to other places I don't typically spend a lot of time in a bank," said Rob Brough, spokesman for Zions First National Bank, which will nonetheless open extra foreign currency exchange windows at its downtown locations.

Bankers likely will see more yen than euros. But exchange business is expected to increase by only 10 percent overall, since most travelers come prepared with ATM and credit cards and traveler's checks, Strasters said.

Still, without knowing for sure, Wells Fargo has trained additional staff on the security features of the new euro, counterfeiting possibilities and how to interact with international visitors. Currency exchange signs are being printed in several languages and will show easily identifiable pictures of the major currencies of the world.

Some 15 languages already are spoken by exchange specialists; another 13 by other Wells Fargo employees.

"We're prepared for anything," Strasters said, noting that Wells Fargo handles a high percentage of the state's currency exchange business. "Our focus has been to work with the stores directly to ensure that we are ambassadors for the bank and for the state."

Likewise, Zions will provide foreign currency exchange services at all its branch locations, have bilingual staffers at the ready and extend hours at its Salt Lake City International Airport branch, Brough said. Special training has targeted branches near Olympic venue sites, such as the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, which may not have much experience with currency issues.

But the bigger issue is likely to be how to get bank customers ? and employees ? into and out of Salt Lake and Park City branches.

"Our biggest concern and driving force behind all of what we're doing in gearing up for the Games is to meet the needs of our local customers," Brough said.

Salt Lake and Park City branches will close at 2:30 p.m. from Feb. 11-20, and the historic Zions branch at 100 S. Main will be closed to host an exhibit by Utah artists. All other locations will operate as usual.

Wells Fargo's two downtown Main Street locations will close at 2 p.m. from Feb. 8-23, its Park City branches will remain open until 6 p.m. On Feb. 8, its University of Utah branch will close at 3 p.m.; the Kimball Junction branch will close at 2 p.m. on Feb. 9. The Kearns branch at 3981 W. 4700 South will close at 3 p.m. from Feb. 11-22. Saturday hours will remain unchanged.

Key Bank will close its Crossroads Plaza branch at 2 p.m., and access to its corporate headquarters will be limited to those with security clearance. But the bank is happy to leave currency exchange ? now offered only as an internal service to existing customers ? to its bigger competitors, said Pete Helfrich, vice president of marketing.

"We don't expect a whole lot of that to occur anyway," Helfrich said. "Most of these travelers are well-seasoned world travelers and will show up with their credit cards and travelers checks."

E-mail: moneill@desnews.com