You Can’t Bank On Your Data Always Being Accurate

“A zero itself is nothing, but without a zero you cannot count anything; therefore, a zero is something, yet zero.” – the Dalai Lama

I had an unfortunate incident recently with a leading United Kingdom high street bank. I’d used the bank’s electronic funds transfer systems to pay a tradesman. The amount was more than what I would usually have sent electronically. But the transaction went through perfectly. That was the end of it.

Or so I thought.

The next day, there was a voice message from the bank’s security department urgently asking me to get in touch. I was told I needed answer security questions before we could proceed. No big deal, I thought. He asked for the usual bits of information, such as my name, my address, my date of birth, if it was a joint account – basic questions I obviously knew how to answer.

I was then told I’d answered one of the security questions incorrectly. And I would have to go into a branch office to get the problem rectified. My nearest branch was 20 miles away. Ten minutes after speaking to the branch’s customer service person the next day, she told me no security flags had been raised against my account. I went home believing the problem was glitch.

But someone on the bank’s security team called the next night to say there was an issue with my account. I again had to answer a basic set of security questions and, again told one of my answers is wrong. Another 20-mile branch visit was required, which I very reluctantly agreed to. A week later, I was back at the branch. For the third time, I answered the security questions and told I was giving a wrong answer. Frustrated, I lodged a complaint with the banking ombudsman, who found in my favour.

About a month later, a senior member of at the bank’s security team called to say they’d finally solved the mystery. The bank had been merging client data streams from disparate systems. And my correct date of birth had been over-written with “00-00-0000” for some unknown reason.

Of course, by then, it was too little, too late.

What did this bad data cost the bank? In my case, they lost a customer of 25 years, received a financial penalty levied by the ombudsman and wasted many, many hours of security team time. I presume I wasn’t the only person with a bad date-of-birth field as a result of this data merger. Who knows how much loss of trust, how many other issues the incident caused?

Data quality and the curation of that data are fundamental to business success. Without accurate data, enterprises might end up making poor decisions, incur costs, lose income and suffer reputational damage – all of which can cause significant business disruptions.

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“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” – Sherlock Holmes