When it comes to money, the little things really do matter — the really, really little things. That’s what Australian authorities are learning this week in a case that involves an expensive typo on 46 million of the country’s new $50 notes. And it’s a lesson that even some players in digital payments will no doubt keep learning over time (more about that in a bit).
The culprit in Australia?
A misspelling that reportedly rendered “responsibility” as “responsibilty” in the micro text next to the portrait of Edith Cowan, the country’s first female parliament member. (In case you didn’t notice — not all of have eagle eyes — there should be a “i” between the “l” and “t”.) The misspelling comes from micro text from Cowan’s first speech in parliament: “It is a great responsibilty [sic] to be the only woman here, and I want to emphasise the necessity which exists for other women being here,” it says. (Yes, “emphasise” is spelled correctly, at least according to the rules of U.K.-style English.)
The total value of that currency already in circulation reportedly stands at about $1.6 billion. The notes with the typo will remain legal tender, and authorities plan to fix the mistakes — “responsibility” was misspelled more than once — in the next print run.
Australia introduced the new $50 note last year, and reportedly printed the currency “with a host of new technologies designed to improve accessibility and prevent counterfeiting,” according to The Guardian. As well, that report continued, “Australia was the first country to use polymer banknotes, which were invented by the CSIRO and introduced in 1988. Compared with paper notes, polymer has increased durability and security and makes it easier to include features to help those who are vision-impaired.”
Even with all that technology and innovation, that typo reportedly escaped notice for a good six months. The typo apparently came to the attention of authorities — and the public — when “Australia’s Triple M radio magnified the relevant part of the note and highlighted the spelling mistake. Their Instagram post quickly went viral, according to a report from CBS.
Given the sheer volume of the currency with the typos that is already in circulation, it seems unlikely that those $50 notes will become collectors’ items anytime soon. (Check back with us in a 100 years.) But other currency mistakes and typos have certainly become products unto themselves. Some of those mistakes are more errors of printing than typos, but those mistakes run a wide range, as PaperMoneyGuide.com has shown. It has listed such U.S. currency errors as blank sides of banknotes, different denominations on each side of a particular note (those mistakes are pretty rare, meaning the currency in question is quite valuable), and mismatched serial numbers.
It’s not only currency, either. Other typos involving money can be expensive as well as supremely embarrassing.
Take just one example, this one from 2013, that involves the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City. The agency, according to a report, printed “about 80,000 new subway maps that March to inform riders that the minimum balance on pay-per-ride cards had been increased from $4.50 to $5.00. Unfortunately, someone forgot to type that. All $250,000 worth of maps stated the new pay-per-ride price was … still $4.50. [The] MTA scrambled to retrieve as many of the faulty maps as possible, and was forced to reprint the entire run.”
We here at PYMNTS don’t mourn the ongoing decline of cash — if anything, we try to figure out and document why and how it endures, including via such comprehensive research as the latest How We Will Pay report. That said, it’s not too much to say that this Australian typo incident gives fresh fuel to opponents of cash, those consumers and business people who want to go pretty much all-in with digital payments and commerce.
That’s a fair and reasonable stance, but let’s not pretend that digital payments are immune from their own risks of typos — in this case, mistakes in software code. Sure, those mistakes are usually much easier fixed than anything involving the printing of currency, but it’s not too difficult to find cases that stand as reminders of the need for care when it comes to the construction and use of digital payments systems.
Those examples are easiest to find in the world of cryptocurrency. In late 2017, a report described how a mistake in software code — to be fair, not everyone who has studied this case thinks it was a mistake — ended up freezing as much as $280 million worth of Ethereum digital currency. The lesson from that instance is pretty simple, according to Engadget: “The incident highlights a simple problem: digital wallets and cryptocurrency in general are only as reliable as the code that guides them. The software needs to be airtight if you’re going to tie your livelihood to non-traditional income.”
If there any lesson from all this, maybe it’s one many students learned from their often annoying English teachers in grade school — use a dictionary, and use it often, even if you have spell check, and even if you think you know how to spell a word. Another lesson might be to pay better attention to the details. No, this particular typo in Australia won’t bring down the country’s economy, and will make for a few good laughs for a bit of time. But it also shows how much goes into the creation of money.