Boring Stuff Matters

Sep 16, 2016 | Random

There’s something wrong with me…a lot, actually, depending on who you ask.  I’ve known it for most of my life…those of you who know me will attest that it’s true:  I like stuff that most people do not. I’m odd like that.  For example, I like tests.  I always have.  I enjoyed preparing for them, taking them, and getting the graded exams back.  When I was at THE Eastern New Mexico University, we hosted a group of academics from another institution.  Their mission was to conduct a study of exactly how much it cost to educate a student.  They weren’t looking at just the obvious costs of professor salaries, student tuition, meals, lodging, and the like.  They were studying how much it cost to maintain a cubic foot of classroom.  The initial cost, the depreciation, the cleaning, the heating and cooling of a cubic foot of air, the ambient body heat put off by 10 students as opposed to 30…stuff like that.  In the weeds stuff…and I remember thinking, “That’s cool…I’d like to see the results of that study.” Most people think that’s horribly boring, but it is not to people like me.


Ah, academia!  I get it, believe me, I do!  In your own tweed-jacket way, y’all are cool.


If you are like me, you are enthralled by the mundane; intrigued by the seemingly insignificant.  You are fascinated with how stuff works.  Most of us have had to come to grips with the fact the rest of the world does not care about the details.  To them, boring is boring. To us, boring is anything but. 


When I first came to the Bank, I had no real understanding of how the business world worked.  I was still very much entrenched in the Academia Mindset, predisposed to tell everyone how a clock worked instead of just giving them the time.  I used to try and give very technical explanations to any question I was asked, especially those about computers.  One day, Robin (our President’s daughter and an EVP) interrupted my beautifully detailed monologue and, in her own indomitable way, exclaimed, “Richard!  No one cares!  We just want it to work.”  I still chuckle at that…In hindsight, it’s pretty funny.


 Talk about living on the same planet but being in different worlds.


In the 15 years since that exchange, I have changed significantly. I have matured and adapted, immersing myself completely into the fast-paced business world.  As my responsibilities  continue to expand, I find myself increasingly in the “Get it done right fast”mindset—with one caveat:  I still think all that boring stuff is cool.  I simply don’t have time to revel in it.


We are well into the 21st century, where technology continues to double every two years…and as anyone who has studied mathematics will tell you, doubling anything with regularity gets harder and harder to do with each iteration.  The pace at which we are all moving, whether we realize it or not, is simply staggering.  Remember the Holodeck in Star Trek, The Next Generation?  Twenty-five years ago, it was science fiction, but now you can buy one at the Verizon store in Clovis for $130.


Here is another example: Three years ago, I got my first iPhone and immediately loved it.  Earlier this week, the folks at Apple dropped iOS 10…and man, is it impressive!  My new iPhone is so far advanced that it makes its predecessors seem inane.  In the distant, long ago world of 2013, my first iPhone was cutting edge.  In the three years since, that phone went from top-of-the-line to lame.  No true geek would be caught dead with it today.


 Yeah, things are clicking right along.


 I love the works of Michael Crichton (virtually all of us odd ones do…it’s almost a requirement.) And, man, do we love “Jurassic Park”. In that work, he talks about genetic engineering (a term, I am told, was coined by ENMU’s own Jack Williamson) and the arrogance of modern people who “stand on the shoulders of giants” and feel tall.  Crichton was a brilliant man, a true independent thinker, and he understood that the advancements in technology we all enjoy today are not even remotely of our own making.  By extrapolating upon this premise and employing a modicum of humility, each one of us should be able to clearly see that without our predecessors, nothing we use today would exist.


We have iPhones and Androids, but without Nikola Tesla, we would not have a way to charge them.  Without Alexander Graham Bell there would be no Internet.  We look back in near disbelief (and laugh a little) at the multi-million dollar computers that took up entire rooms and ran on punched cards…but without them, there would be no iPads, no Surfaces, no One Notes, no Dells. 


The things we take for granted shape our lives, and we stand tall on the shoulders of giants, fossilized titans who remain standing as time marches on.

But not all giants are dead.


In fact, some continue to grow and adapt and change and remain relevant. 


Most of you reading this are probably not familiar with a legacy electronic payment system called the Automated Clearing House (ACH), but not one of you fails to benefit from this 20th century technology on regular basis.  ACH was established in 1974 as an automated way to move money, including payroll transactions, from bank to bank.  It worked then, and it works now:  In 2015, the amount of money moved via ACH swelled to $41.6 trillion (that’s $41,600,000,000,000, or more than twice the national debt).  In one year, that’s how much money gets moved from financial institution (FI) to financial institution (FI) over ACH.


Is ACH a giant?  In the words of a famous politician, “You betcha!”


If you get direct deposit through your employer, get social security, or pay your bills online, you benefit from this massive payments network. 


I won’t bore you with the details of how this works  (although I would love to, believe me), but suffice it to say, it was ahead of its time and continues to be exceedingly relevant.  ACH is very complicated.  There are hundreds of pages of rules and standards that have to be strictly adhered to…you think Leviticus is demanding?  Read an ACH manual.  Boring stuff, to be sure, but without it, $41.6 trillion a year wouldn’t move from one FI to another…and into the hands of countless people just like you.


The biggest knock on ACH has been that, by today’s standards, it is “slow”, taking anywhere from 6 hours to a few days to move money.  Rather than become extinct, ACH has adapted itself in an effort to remain competitive and relevant.


Beginning on Friday, September 23, 2016, ACH funds can be moved all over the USA in a single day.  This is a large undertaking and has required the cooperation of countless players in the payments system.  Due to the size and complexity of this endeavor, Same Day ACH will be implemented in three phases.  The first phase will allow only credits (think payroll files) to settle the same day they are originated.  The second phase will commence in September of 2017, allowing both credits and debits to settle in the same day.  By March of 2018, the settlement times will be standardized all over the nation.


So, what does this mean for you, the consumer?  Well, for starters, if your employer (for whatever reason) fails to send a payroll file to the bank the day before payday, you could still get your funds electronically deposited in your bank account by the end of the day.  That’s definitely a good thing.  Remember, for the first year, only credits to your account can be processed same day.


After next fall, however, you may have funds taken out (to pay, say, your satellite bill) throughout the day, not just in the morning like you’re used to seeing.  Again, that won’t take place until September of 2017, but take place it will.


This is one reason why it’s so important to have realtime access to what’s going on in your bank account through telephone, mobile or online banking.  Things will be happening at a faster pace than you may be used to seeing, and our Bank has gone to great lengths to ensure you have anywhere, anytime access to the events in your account.


If you think ACH is boring, you’re probably right, and I am sure most of the world agrees with you…but it has a big impact on you and how your money moves.


And, I don’t think anyone is bored by that.

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