Monday, February 17, 2014

High tech finance

"To err is human; to forgive, divine," wrote some wise person long ago.  Some wise person of more recent times has amended that saying to make it more applicable to the 21st century:  "To err is human; but it takes a computer to make a real mess of things!"  The last few weeks we have learned the truth of that modern-day version.

We decided it was time for us to replace our Ford truck.  It was only nine years old and had a mere 150,000 miles on it, just a good start for a diesel engine we had heard.  Unfortunately, during those years and miles, it had swallowed up in repair bills nearly as much money as it had cost us to buy it new!  That money was coming out of our retirement savings.  At the rate we were spending it on truck repairs, it would soon run out and we'd have to die before we were ready!

We shopped carefully for a truck that would meet our needs -- and we found it!  They offered us a really good trade-in on our aging Ford, but they weren't willing to trade us even up.  They expected money -- quite a bit of it -- besides our truck.

Bruce contacted our financial gurus and asked them to sell some investments and forward the appropriate amount to our bank account.  We waited, and then we waited some more.  No financial transfer appeared in our bank account.  Then we got a notice that the stocks had been sold, but still no increase in the amount of our checking account.

Finally, after nearly ten days, there it was!  The amount of money we had requested appeared in our checking account!  But it was recorded there in RED, not BLACK!  Our account -- rather than being credited with the money we had requested -- was debited by that same amount!  In one mistaken key stroke of a computer, we were reduced to paupers!  We were suddenly in debt to almost everybody in the world and it looked as if we would be confined to debtor's prison until we could pay back every penny!

The notice from the bank came, of course, on a Friday afternoon not long before closing time for the bank and the office of our financial advisor.  A quick phone call to the bank eased our minds a little.  The person who took our call was sympathetic but could do nothing until she was notified of the mistake by the person who had made it.  The office of the person who had erred was closed for the week-end!

We knew that the several checks outstanding on that account would add to our overdraft problem.  We were getting worried, and took a drastic measure: we called one of our money managers at his home on Friday evening and explained the situation.  He was very embarrassed and apologetic about the mistake, but he couldn't do anything about it until at least Monday morning when people would be back in their respective offices.  Saturday morning, the overdraft fees were already beginning to accumulate/.

We spent the weekend wondering how long it would take to pay back a sum of five figures.  What would it do to our credit score if those other checks came in and were returned for "Insufficient Funds"?   Would the bank really believe that it was an error?  What about all the fees required to set it straight?

But our story has a happy ending.  Early Monday morning we received notification that the error was being corrected electronically.  The financial advisor's office assured us that they would pay any and all fees incurred in this computer mix-up.  By Monday afternoon, the technological mishap had been made right, costing us nothing but some shock and anxiety!

That 21st century wise person was right: "To err is human; but it takes a computer to make a real mess of things."  Thank goodness that humans can still correct computer errors!