The code that controls your money

Clive Thompson - Wealthsimple MagazineAugust 04, 2022

Clive Thompson

Wealthsimple Magazine

COBOL is a coding language older than Weird Al Yankovic. The people who know how to use it are often just as old. It underpins the entire financial system. And it can’t be removed.

A fizzy new TikTok-style app can launch and enjoy massive popularity even with a lot of bugs. If the “like” count on your latest post is slightly wrong, eh, no big deal. In contrast, if a major retailer miscounts its inventory, or a bank suddenly can’t send money? That causes financial chaos at scale.

“The entire GDP of the world is in motion in the [banking] network at any moment in time,” as Teplitzky notes. “A bank turns over twice its assets every day, out and in. A clearing bank in, say, New York, it could be more… So a huge amount of money is in motion in the network and in big backend systems that do it. They can’t fail! If they fail, the world ends. The world ends.

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