"Germany’s Dumbest Bank" Makes $5.4 Billion Transfer In Error

Back in the summer of 2015, Deutsche Bank mistakenly paid $6 billion to a hedge fund client by mistake in a “fat finger” trade on its foreign exchange desk. The embarrassed bank recovered the money from the US hedge fund the next day, and quickly accused junior member of the bank’s forex sales team of being responsible for the transfer in June while his boss was on holiday. AS the FT then reported, instead of processing a net value, the person processed a gross figure. That meant the trade had “too many zeroes”, said one of the people.

Fast forward two years later when the German banks have done it again.

As Bloomberg reports, state-owned KfW, which gained notoriety for erroneously transferring hundreds of millions of euros to Lehman Brothers on the day the U.S. firm filed for bankruptcy, appears to have done it again when in February it mistakenly transferred more than 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to four banks "because of a technical glitch that repeated single payments multiple times." 

KfW said it discovered the glitch and received the money back without suffering a loss. It was not clear as of this writing if like Deutsche Bank, KfW wold also blame a "junior trader" for the glitch.

“KfW has detected the system’s incorrect behavior very early in the process, immediately mitigated the unwanted action and started the necessary process of analyzing the causes,” the bank said in an emailed statement. “The mistake was rapidly identified and eliminated, and the amounts overpaid were successfully demanded back. We regret that during works on the systems, this incident could happen due to human error owing to a configuration mistake.”

Perhaps, however a "configuration mistake" of that magnitude better be reversible as otherwise transfering the bank's entire equity capital to one or more lucky recipients would prove quite terminal, and may even lead to random prison time.

As Bloomberg adds, the incident serves as a reminder of an ill-timed payment of more than 300 million euros KfW made to Lehman Brothers in September 2008, just as the U.S. investment bank filed for bankruptcy. At the time, the German lender failed to refresh its counterparty check that would have prevented it from processing the regular transaction.

The transfer turned into a political scandal in Germany, with newspaper Bild calling KfW “Germany’s dumbest bank.”

Ironically, on its website KfW says it’s been awarded the title of the world’s safest bank by magazine Global Finance. After news of the dramatic screw up emerged, the bank said that “KfW has immediately started comprehensive internal and external audits, in order to clarify the causes of the incident in detail and to draw the corresponding conclusions."