From Mike Radigan, Senior Editor, Palio
Ever heard of the “fat-finger theory”? As someone who used to work in the financial services industry, I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t. Well, actually, let me clarify: I knew this concept existed, I just didn’t realize it had a name. And a strange one at that.
The fat-finger theory is the moniker given to the idea of how something as innocuous as a careless digit can be responsible for casting a massive economic ripple effect in global financial markets. Basically, it has to do with typos. Yes, you read that correctly. No, it’s not a typo.
In an article published on CNN.com earlier this month, Bob Greene, a contributor and best-selling author, explains how a potentially devastating typographical error can wreak frightening and very real havoc in our world economy, and how a simple, ill-executed keystroke could be responsible for a monetary meltdown. Basically, he calls attention to the fact that typos hold the power to be so damaging and yet are so often overlooked or ignored in today’s lightning-fast wired society…until they cost us all piles and piles of money.
According to Greene, earlier this month when our fragile financial system was threatened once again and the Dow dropped nearly a thousand points in 15 minutes, Wall Streeters (amongst others) began desperately searching for answers. What had happened? How could stocks and other investments plunge so quickly out of left field? Apparently, nothing of this magnitude had ever happened so unexplainably.
That’s when the fat-finger theory reared its ugly nail bed. Financial industry insiders speculated that plummeting market values were due to a “simple” mistake. In this case, suspicion fell on an anonymous stock trader racing through one of many daily transactions. In his haste to keep up with the pace of the markets and the demands of brokers and clients, this phantom trader’s careless, “fat” finger had mistakenly keyed a “b” instead of an “m,” selling billions of shares of stock in the process instead of the intended millions.
As it turns out, by the time Bob Greene’s article hit the Web, no single cause of this swift financial hit had been identified, but it was looking increasingly unlikely that a typographical error was to blame. Greene’s response to this? “Drat.”
Mr. Greene sees the lack of evidence validating the fat-finger explanation as sad. He writes, “If a typo had been shown to have [the kind of muscle to bring down a financial system], maybe the societal trend to regard typos as no big deal might have been reversed. In our computer-screen age, typos – and their cousins, misspellings and grammatical errors – have been given a reprieve.”
Greene makes an excellent point – a point I certainly agree with. The ultra-fast pace of the digital age has forced many of us to place a premium on the speed of producing the written word at the expense of accuracy. When errors accumulate, credibility is lost and online reputations suffer. Web sites, e-mails, IMs, and text messages are now dominant mediums of communication – that is undeniable. But in our rush to communicate as much and as rapidly as possible, we’re not always making sure to put our best foot forward. After all, presentation is everything.Palio is a full-spectrum global pharmaceutical and consumer advertising, marketing, and communications agency that excels in brand creation and specializes in brand strategy, product launches, global marketing, and digital and integrated media.