Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh, those pesky computers!

I'm cynically amused by two mammoth 'computer errors', on opposite sides of the globe, but both blamed on the computer rather than the operator. In both cases, I suspect the latter is more at fault than the system!

First, from Sweden, we hear of a woman who became an instant billionaire.

A woman from Gothenburg couldn’t believe her eyes when she discovered a 10 billion kronor ($1.13 billion) deposit in her bank account.

Cornelia Johansson discovered the windfall on Monday, after she logged on to her Internet bank to pay some bills, regional daily Göteborgs-Posten (GP) said in its online edition.

"The balance was more than 10 billion kronor. It said the amount had been deposited as a correction for a credit card purchase," Johansson's boyfriend Daniel Höglund told the daily.

“Something must have gone totally wrong. We waited anxiously for whoever sent the 10 billion to come forward.”

On Tuesday morning, the money was still credited to her account, but a few hours later it was gone, as mysteriously as it had arrived.

A press spokeswoman for Nordea bank, the largest bank in the Nordic region, later explained the mystery as "a technical mistake made by a company."

No s**t, Sherlock!!! I wish my credit union would make a similar mistake in my favor! However, since the sum involved is many times their capitalization, I daresay my wishes are unlikely to become reality . . .

The second incident involves a bond trade in Japan.

As mistakes go, it really was a biggie.

Instead of ordering corporate bonds worth 30 million yen, the Japanese arm of Swiss bank UBS asked for bonds worth 3 trillion yen.

The difference of five zeros meant the order would cost £21 BILLION [US $29.841 billion], rather than the more modest £210,000 [US $298,410] intended.

Tthe bank insisted it was due to a computer glitch rather than the infamous 'fat finger syndrome', which in recent years has seen traders make massive mistakes by pressing too many zeros on the keyboard.

Thankfully for UBS Securities Japan, the Tokyo Stock Exchange was able to cancel the order.

The firm said that it had intended to place a 30 million yen order to simultaneously buy and sell the bonds of the video game-maker Capcom in a so-called cross-trade, but that its computer system placed a 3 trillion yen order instead.

While the botched trade was the biggest in monetary terms in the history of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, it was placed through an off-hours trading system, so traders said it had no real impact on financial markets and that it had been cancelled at no cost to the Swiss Bank.

The incident nevertheless underscored the relatively lax approach to systems and compliance in Japan, an analyst in Tokyo said.

"These types of mistakes seem to happen more often here even if it's only once every several years.

'They seem to be very very big when they do happen,' said Neil Katkov, senior vice president at financial services consultancy Celent.

'UBS apologizes for the error and any inconvenience caused to market participants,' the Zurich-based bank said in a statement.

. . .

The size of the botched order by UBS on Wednesday far exceeded the 595 billion yen [US $6.1 billion] in total convertible bond turnover on the Tokyo exchange for all of last year.

Sorry, UBS, but I simply don't believe you. No 'computer system' inserts so many extra zeroes suddenly, without ever having done it before. Some fat-fingered fumbler did it. One can only hope you confiscate his keyboard before he makes a mistake that can't be corrected!

No wonder some banks are in financial trouble . . .


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