When Ignorance is a Blessing

The CT River is settling back into its banks.

I am planning to share a couple of other stories from the mortgage company disaster, in which a team, collectively known as “Antion’s Cleaners” found $93 million dollars that had been misplaced, misused and otherwise had gone missing. But first, I thought I’d share how I managed to get this assignment.

In the very early days of this project, the firm I was working for brought in a bona fide expert from our office in Indianapolis. The consulting partner in charge of the “engagement” as projects were known, asked me to join this nascent team. I didn’t know that he was evaluating me as the potential manager of the engagement, but the guy from Indianapolis did. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t supposed to win the competition.

No one could be blamed for jumping to that conclusion – I didn’t know what I was doing. My counterpart had worked with numerous mortgage companies, all over the country. I was visiting my first. I did have a leg up on “Indy” though – 90% of the problems were the result of system errors, system shortcomings and ineffective system interfaces. In other words, my happy place. While Indy spend most of the first two weeks planning and organizing the project he would eventually lead, I spent the entire time trying to figure out where to start.

That was no easy task.

The mortgage company had a Mortgage Origination System that ran on a local mini-computer, but they had not implemented the billing and accounting modules.

They fed information about new mortgage transactions to a bank service bureau in Texas who performed most of the heavy lifting and provided access, via linked terminals, to people servicing the mortgages.

The service bureau also sent updates at the end of each night’s processing to the data center of the mortgage company’s parent bank. The mortgage company was in Lowell, Massachusetts, the bank’s data center was 2 ½ hours away in Pittsfield, MA.

From the point that Mr. and Mrs. New-Homeowner signed the paperwork, multiple transactions sped across multiple communication lines and faced multiple processing delays, until most of the information was received, reformatted and entered back into the mini-computer in Lowell.

The management of the mortgage company wanted us to accept that the $93 million dollars for which they couldn’t account, was trapped in the “pipeline” caused by the various automated processing, interface delays and human processing on either side of the systems at each interface.

It was plausible – but not likely.

I made a list of all the places mortgage documents, payments and related information could be found, like the “Unidentified Payments” I wrote about several weeks ago. Then, drew a diagram, where I grouped everything on the list by the controlling entity / location it belonged to: Mortgage Company, Service Bureau, Bank Data Center, Origination System and Accounting. I drew circular shapes around the common elements and labeled them A-B-C-D-E. I drew the paths along which data flowed, the places data entered the systems and the places it exited and were it was held. Indy asked if I was making a treasure map.

“No, I’m just trying to organize the way data flows through this mess.”

“There’s no point. They need a new system – it’s obvious.”

“Maybe to you.”

Later, when the partner stopped in, he looked at my diagram. He asked what it was. I told him it was just a cheat sheet for me. He studied it for a few minutes, asked a few questions and left the room. Indy smirked.

“Too bad; he didn’t seem impressed.”

“I wasn’t trying to impress him. It’s just for my benefit. As you know, this is all new to me.”

We both knew that the partner was impressed. He wasn’t the kind of guy who would ever say that, but he wouldn’t have asked any questions if he wasn’t.

That afternoon, the partner called a meeting with the management team from the parent bank and the mortgage company. He discussed the problems and his conclusion that $93 million was too much to be in the “pipeline.” The bank executives nodded in agreement. The mortgage company president balked at the idea. He started spouting off a few places where the money could be. The partner stopped him. He looked at me and asked:

“Dan, are those places in A, or B?”


The partner asked if he could borrow my diagram. I gave him a stack of copies I had made – just in case. Every place the mortgage company president rattled off, was on my chart, along with the timing delay caused by all the transfers, and some guesses as to the amount of money that should be in each portion of the pipeline (based only on mortgage volume).

When the meeting was over, Indy was packing his bags for the Midwest and I was preparing to spend six months traveling back and forth to Lowell, MA.


  1. Definitely a sea monster, and that peanut contraption is headed for your house after furious tweets from your four legged outdoor friends. I love the recollection. Show ponies or work horses? Depending upon the situation, and this was one of them, the work horse wins hands down. :-)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Judy. I never heard that expression. I like that. Indy was a show pony, for sure. I’m watching for the tweet-stream from the squirrels. I’m not sure that thing will fit in my driveway.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “They need a new system. Obviously.” The fundamental thinking behind planned obsolescence.

    Such an easy answer. Requires no thought, no effort. More than that, guarantees the sale, if the client believes you. And why wouldn’t the client believe you? He knows mortgages, not computer systems.

    Glad, that in your case, your client also knew to ask more questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Maggie. The “system” around the systems was flawed. New systems would suffer the same fate. Companies make millions replacing systems that aren’t the problem. That still goes on today. People don’t want to do the hard work.


  3. Haha! YES!! For once victory was justified. But then real money was all stake. As Paul Harvey used to say, I can’t wait to hear “the rest of the story”.Love the image of sunlight through that tree. Brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cheryl. Real money was at stake, and there wasn’t nearly enough concern being shown about that fact. Winning this “competition” set me up for six months, during which I learned more about banking, business and people that I really wanted to know. I’m not sure how many stories I can share, but some were scary.


    • Thanks Lois. A new system would have failed in the same way. The larger problem was figuring out where the money was, and in a hurry. Our auditors weren’t going to sign-off on the parent bank’s financial statements until this mystery was solved.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bringing in something new is the default thinking. Heaven forbid that you figure out how to make what you have work better. Thus having snarked in general, I’ll say good job, Dan. Waste not, want not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ally. A new system in this case would be like putting a new furnace in a house without windows and a roof. It wasn’t going to get the place any warmer.


  5. Well done you! I’d love to have seen Indy’s face… and your self satisfied smirk.
    As for the Peanut Mobile, I’ve been told it will arrive at your house this afternoon at 3:00.
    Plan accordingly…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha – thanks! We are on the lookout for that peanut. I think I saw a tweet with GPS coordinates from @sammySquirrel. This engagement proved (to me) that problem solving is worth the effort. As for Indy, it was fun to offer to help him pack up his stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There are times when common sense and treasure maps trump a hotshot from Indy. You’re a smart cookie, Dan. I hope the company gave you a raise along with the six-month travel plans for helping them figure out the money issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mary. The company I was working for was pretty stingy with raises and bonuses. The bank paid a ton of money in fees – at one point, we had 15 people working on the project. But, once the project was over, it fell back to “what have you done for me lately?” at my place. This was the last major project I worked on before leaving that consulting group.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. MAKE the Peanut Mobile fit in your driveway !! Just think of all the sample packages of peanuts they might leave for Sammy, Smokey, their families and friends!

    I don’t think Maddie likes to be left out of the picture. And I’d like to be a fly on the wall when MiMi has that “talk” with you. If you keep pushing your luck with her, you’re gonna be seeing her “by appointment only”! Lol.

    That day with ‘Indy’ must have been very satisfying for you, and rightly so. Here’s a well-deserved feather for your cap. Well, I couldn’t find a feather, this will have to do! 🌾

    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. I think that peanut mobile might hold enough food for these guys. Maybe they could take a road trip to visit you. Maddie likes to get in the picture. She’s pretty sure no one wants to see my attempts at artistic photo.

      MiMi does have claws, and she lets me know every now and then. I try to tell her that people want to see her face. She has words for the people, too.

      This project was satisfying. It was also sad and scary. And, I put 20,000 miles on our car, driving to Lowell, MA very Mon-Wed-Fri for six months. They didn’t want me full time, but they didn’t want more than a one-day gap. That part was awful.


  8. My grandpa used to say, “The only thing that needs fixing on that car is the nut behind the wheel.” It doesn’t matter how good the system is if, as you say, the system around the system is flawed. I love your organizational diagram! I’m waiting for “the rest of the story”, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great story! I want to know where was the money? Too many people don’t want to discover the REAL problem before treating it. You can’t fix anything if you don’t know that. Great job!


  10. Loved this story, Dan. Obviously getting a grasp on the process would be invaluable to finding a solution. Your photos are terrific as well. I have had some Maddie moments with our two. “Will you guys just give me a break and stand still.”


    • Thanks Janis, that’s a nice thing to say. Problem solving is a passion. I feel like I’ve been lucky to be able to do it for a living. The solutions are not always popular, but…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Love this Dan…..having been in banking and mortgage groups over the years…I had a hard time getting past that amount of money lost in the system so to speak…..blows my mind that it happened in the first place….I like the way your mind works….great post…still trying to get my heart going again over the amount that was “missing”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thanks Teagan. It was fun to win this “competition” mainly because, if I had lost, he would have stayed but he probably would have kept me on his staff.

      If that peanut shows up in my driveway, I’m going to have words for those two knucklehead squirrels.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Roberta. You can usually figure things out if you start looking at the details. As an accountant, you may shudder at some of the future posts from this place. It was an accounting nightmare.


  12. You have a gift, Dan – the way your brain works is amazing. I wonder now what you’ll create or tweak as you retire -the gift must carry on! Great photos, too – I enjoy Maddie being in and out of the way for the shots, tells me she’s having just as much fun as you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’d like to hear the rest of the story and find out where the money was too.

    That peanut truck is just what the squirrels and Chippy want!

    I love how green it is there now, and your river reflection images are just lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I loved this story. Common sense and good thinking rules (aka your chart). Impressing the boss does not. The good guy wins. And that peanut car (Sammy’s dream) reminds me of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Imagining your squirrels as cartoon characters who can read and perceive the peanut bus as a giant peanut full of actual peanuts was hellajoy for me! I LOLed and LOLed all over myself!

    Achem, Well Done you and your diagram (and brain of course). Poor Indy. But Yay Dan!

    I never liked the part of the mortgage timeline in which all of our down payment was lingering out in cyberspace. They didn’t have it yet, but we didn’t have it anymore. I rather prefer checks. Just sayin.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It seems to me that the Indy part of the crew was lacking hands-on knowledge. You know the type. Those people who delegate jobs and chores because they don’t have a clue as to what is involved.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I love what you did for the company. You have posted some of your flowcharts on this blog and they showed me a great way of organizing ideas. I do that now. Recently, we were called by a potential client to his office for a meeting. It is a bank and they want to expand to a different part of the city. Before the meeting we were taken around inside the building. I was interested in the electrical rooms, and what I saw in there horrified me. Some very poor and unprofessional work. The server room looked like a nest of cables. After I expressed my sentiments the client started narrating to me the problems they face with the power supply to the building. He said there were frequent blackouts and surges and short circuits and every time they called the technician, he asked them to buy something new, an AVS, a UPS (which kept blowing up), an inverter, etc, but none of these things seem to be working. So we had a long discussion about the issue. By the time I left that meeting the client was very hopeful. We got the project.


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