The €222 Million Nap

It’s Monday morning, at least here in the greater New York City area, and you’re probably reading this email with a ton of energy gained from a weekend of rest and rejuvenation.

Okay, probably not. You’re probably tired and ramping up slowly into the workweek, not quite ready to tackle the stuff you put off on Friday nor handle the stuff you’d have to address today anyway. You probably won’t fall asleep at your desk — that would be embarrassing! — but if you, here’s a tip: shut your laptop or put away your keyboard first. 

Especially if you work in finance.

In 2013, a German banker and a colleague learned this the hard way. In April of the previous year, as Agence France Presse reported, the bank employee “was supposed to transfer just 62.40 euros [about $85 at the time] from a bank account belonging to a retiree,” which shouldn’t have been a big deal. But the employee was tired and fell asleep on the keyboard, with his finger or nose or chin on the “2” key. When he came to, he submitted the transfer, but didn’t realize that he didn’t type in “62.50.” Rather, he sleep-typed eleven “2”s. He put in a bank transfer for €222,222,222.22, or about $295 million based on the exchange rates of the day. Oops.

Luckily for the bank, that wasn’t enough to make the transfer complete. Another employee was responsible for checking transfers, but, as CNN alludes to, she wasn’t very thorough. A review of her work showed that “on April 2, 2012, she was found to have spent less than 1.4 seconds examining 603 payments, between 1.5 and 3 seconds examining 105 payments, and more than 3 seconds reviewing 104 payments.” In her defense, verifying more than 800 payments in a day seems like a huge task, but you can see how mistakes happen. And in this case, the verifying employee failed to catch the error, and the €222 million and change made its way to the person who was only owed €62.50.

An automated bank failsafe ultimately caught the error and reversed the transfer, and it’s a good thing they had. While the bank would have likely been able to claw back the accidentally transferred money, there’s precedent for allowing the recipient to keep the interest earned during the interim period. And either way, you can understand why the bank wasn’t happy with the performance of its two employees. We don’t know what happened to the guy who sleep-transferred all that money, but his error-stopping colleague was fired for her failures. But she got her job back. As Digital Trends reports, “the fired worker claimed that dismissal for failing to spot the error was too harsh a punishment, and the court agreed, saying she should have received a warning instead.”

Bonus fact: Sleeping at work is, in general, a bad idea. But if you’re a celebrity, and something happens when you’re asleep that will bring out the camera crews, you’re suddenly at work — and probably not looking your best. That’s unavoidable, right? Dolly Parton doesn’t seem to think so. In 2019, she sat for an interview with the New York Times, which asked her if she had “any good travel skincare tips.” Parton’s response? “I clean my face in the mornings. You never know if you’re going to wreck the bus, you never know if you’re going to be somewhere in a hotel and there’s going to be a fire. So I leave my makeup on at night and clean my face in the morning.”

From the Archives: Let’s Fly In Our Sleep: Bankers shouldn’t sleep-work, but birds can sleep-fly.