As examples of the malfeasance of the global financial industry go, the following story is beyond petty. The sums involved are small and I am fortunate enough to be isolated (by unearned privilege and by the fact that my landlord is kind, generous, and a friend) from its direct consequences. But maybe the very mundanity of this interaction– the very fact that it is relatively trivial and unlikely to provoke an emotional reaction makes it particularly valuable as an object of analysis, makes it capable of revealing the structural disenfranchisement implicit in the contemporary global financial system.

Here’s what happened: Yesterday, I got an email from the woman whose apartment in Berlin I rent. Apparently I hadn’t paid rent for the last two months. I was, to put it mildly, a bit surprised by this, as I’d transferred her the money in a timely fashion. I emailed her PDFs of the details of the transfers from my account at the Commerzbank to hers at the Deutsche Kredit Bank and she was able to see the problem immediately: The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) on the transfers was wrong. Now, if this had been my error or hers then I would simply have shrugged my shoulders and said that, as it was my mistake, I would have to assume responsibility for any expenses incurred by the error. The mistake, however, was not mine: German banks are in the midst of a transition from a domestic to an international wire transfer system. My landlord had given me the information to transfer the rent using the old system. That information was then automatically converted to accord to the new system and in the process a mistake was made which resulted in my money being transferred to some, as yet unknown, third-party. The only recourse available at the Commerzbank’s branch office was to ask them to open an investigation into the missing funds, which they expect to conclude within the next few days– though, of course, they can make no guarantees.

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