A "Year 2010" software problem triggered by the change of decade has affected 30m German debit and credit cards and left bank customers unable to make purchases or make cash withdrawals.
The fault, which has been encountered throughout Germany's banking sector, recalls the concern a decade ago over the so-called "millennium bug", which many experts predicted would cause widespread disruption to computer systems when the year changed from 1999 to 2000.
In the event the change of millennium brought little disruption.
But German banks appear to have been unprepared this month for the emergence of the fault, which has been attributed to a software glitch in the microchips embedded into many "chip and pin" cards and has meant they have not coped with the change to 2010.
In what has given the notoriously thrifty consumers of Europe's largest economy another reason to curb their spending, Germany's savings bank association admitted yesterday that a "belated year 2000 problem" had affected more than 20m of 45m debit cards issued by the public-sector banks.
A further 3.5m of 8m credit cards were also affected, according to the association, which represents the small institutions that hold the greatest share of the country's retail savings.
The association of private sector banks said 2.5m of 22m cards were affected, while the association of mutual banks said the problem was restricted to 4m of the 27m debit cards issued by its members.
Customers have reported being unable to use the cards to withdraw cash from ATMs or make payments in shops. Many have also been unable to use their cards in shops or cash machines outside Germany.
Bank staff have been working overtime to reconfigure tens of thousands of domestic cash machines and payment terminals, as well as those in countries most visited by German holidaymakers, to accept the cards as an alternative to making a massive and disruptive card recall.
The savings bank association said it might be Monday before debit cards were accepted at all payment terminals.
The problem comes after a number of German credit card issuers had to recall customers' cards last year following a data breach in Spain, and is likely to intensify mistrust of banks after the financial crisis.
However, banks affected by the "year 2010" fault said card security had not been compromised.
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