July 5, 2021

Forget fintechs, even traditional banks can create billionaires (temporarily)

By Eric Johansson

One man woke up the other day to suddenly find himself one of the wealthiest men in the world, all thanks to a computer glitch at Chase Bank which accidentally saw $50bn transferred to his account. And he may not be the only one.

The news comes as Chase Bank has announced that it will launch its digital banking service in the UK later this year, a country rife with fintech and at least one fintech billionaire.

Darren James, a real estate agent from Louisiana, become the world’s most freshly minted billionaire the other week when he found his accounts suddenly lush with dosh.

“That’s not like a one zero error or a two zero error, that’s somebody that fell asleep on the keyboard error,” James told CNN. “I was excited for sure. Really surprised how it got there and wondered if I had a rich uncle that gave it to me.”

He added: “We’re still trying to figure out what happened, why it happened, how it happened, but we know we aren’t the only ones this happened to. The concern is whether my account was compromised, and the bank hasn’t even called me. We haven’t heard anything from anyone.”

The customer also claimed he knew of over 150 people across the States that had had mystery deposits pushed into their accounts, according to The New York Post.

However, it wasn’t the death of a Scrooge McDuck-like relative that caused the sudden influx of capital. Instead, Chase Bank said that the $50bn deposited into James’ account were there because of a bug in the system.

“We had a technical glitch a couple weeks ago impacting a limited number of accounts. The issue was resolved one day later and all accounts are showing accurate balances,” Amy Bonitatibus, a Chase Bank spokesperson, told CNN.

She didn’t go further into what had caused the bug or the nature of it. The spokesperson also failed to provide any exact figures into how much money in total had been deposited in these different accounts or how many accounts had been affected. Nor did Bonitatibus say if there was a risk of these accounts having been compromised in any other way. Verdict has reached out to Chase Bank for comment.

After four days of enjoying being part of the “three-comma club”, the money was removed from James’ account and, with it, the temptation to spend the cash to, as he put it, “bless” others.

“My moral compass only goes one way and that’s the correct way,” he said. “There’s a big difference between morality and legality. Honesty and good moral character immediately kicked in, we can’t do anything with the money. I didn’t earn it, it’s not ours to spend.”

That instinct may have served him in good stead as spending the dosh could’ve landed him on the wrong side of the law.

A Pennsylvania couple learned that lesson the hard way in 2019. They had suddenly found their BB&T Bank account overflowing with a surprise $120,000 deposit. But rather than contacting the bank, they spent $107,000 on an SUV, a camper, two four wheelers and a car trailer, among other things, according to CNN. Subsequently, the couple faced felony theft charges.

Contrary to the recent Chase Bank technological boo-boo, this couple’s sudden fortune and subsequent misfortune were caused by human error. Apparently, a customer had tried to transfer $120,000 to one account, but the teller had accidentally entered the wrong details.

Similarly, a clerical error caused one Charles Schwab to deposit more than $1.2m to a sheriff’s employee’s bank account in February. The financial services firm had only meant to deposit $82.

The beneficiary of these funds, however, refused to give back the money when the error was brought to light. She was subsequently fired from her job at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and taken into custody for theft, bank fraud and illegal transmission of monetary funds in April, The Independent reported.

This is not the first time that Chase Bank has been involved in a story when someone thought they’d accidentally become a billionaire. Earlier this year, Florida woman Julia Yonkowski tried to withdraw $20 from her account only to find she wasn’t just unable to do so, but also that she had a balance of almost $1bn in it.

Chase Bank later revealed that the figure was actually a negative balance. A bank spokesperson said that the negative balance had been inserted into Yonkowski’s account as it had been flagged for suspicious activity. The reason was that her late husband was also listed on the account, Metro reported.

Tech glitches turning users into instant A-listers are not confined to the world of banking. Take Robinhood for example. The stock trading app that filed to go public last week, after previously filing a confidential S-1 form in March, has had its fair share of tech issues.

Last week, US regulator FINRA fined Robinhood $70m for a number of system outages and technological glitches that caused “significant harm” to users. These failures included a case where a young trader committed suicide after his account showed a significant negative cash balance.

One recent Robinhood glitch in particular, which is unclear whether it was included in the FINRA fine, is similar to the one suffered by James. In late 2019, it was revealed that Reddit users were sharing the so-called “infinite money cheat code” on the social media site. The bug essentially meant that traders could lend money depending on their balance. As they loaned money, their balance increased which meant that the system thought they were illegible for even higher loans, meaning they could make even higher bets.

Speaking of fintechs, Chase Bank is set to launch its digital banking app in the UK later this year. It will enter a thriving fintech ecosystem that has made neobank Revolut’s CEO and founder Nik Storonsky Britain’s first tech billionaire, no bug needed.