April 21, 2006

Unique Transaction Numbers in SWIFT

Mark posts this story by Mike Williams to risks. Recorded here as a nice case study in unique transaction numbers.

I used to work on the S.W.I.F.T. payments system, and even that wasn't 100% perfect at eliminating duplicates and spotting omissions.

In the many years that I worked with the system, we had one situation where everybody followed the rules, and yet a payment for ten million pounds got lost.

It all started when an operator at Bank A mistyped 10,000,000 instead of 20,000,000 on the initial payment. The error was spotted pretty quickly - banks have systems in place for double checking the total amount that gets paid in and out.

The operator could have sent a cancellation for 10,000,000 and a new payment for 20,000,000 and all would have been well, but cancellations can take days to process and someone would have to pay the overnight interest. What actually happened was that they sent a second payment for the remaining 10,000,000.

Now Bank A happened to use a system whereby the SWIFT Transaction Sequence Number is the same as the initial paperwork that caused the payment to be made, so the two payment messages were sent with the same TSN, the same amount, date, payer and payee. In fact the two payment messages were identical. (My bank didn't work like that, my programs always used a unique TSN, but that's partly because I wanted to use our TSN as a unique index on our outgoing files to make the coding simpler).

Unfortunately, at some point in its journey round the world, the initial payment hit a comms glitch. These were the days when electronic data communications were far less reliable than they are now. The relay station didn't get a confirmation ("ACK") so it sent a copy of the message with a "PDS" marker (Possibly duplicated by SWIFT network).

When the payments arrived at Bank B, they got passed to one of my programs that checks the possible duplicates. Because the payments were 100% identical, and one of them was flagged "PDS", that payment was dumped into the "real duplicate" file.

Mike Williams, Gentleman of Leisure [Forwarded to RISKS by Mark Brader]

Posted by iang at April 21, 2006 01:16 PM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Hit preview to see your comment as it would be displayed.