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Failures in Computer Aided Bureaucracy


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I refinanced my home loan this year. This means I have a new mortgage servicer. Mortgage servicers accept and track loan payments for the folks who actually own my loan. Mortgage servicers also forward on my property insurance and property tax payments to my insurer and the county at the end of the year. There’s a portion of my loan payment that’s not applied to the loan, and instead sits in an escrow account for insurance and taxes. It’s my understanding that this is usually how it’s done in the US.

I received both my property insurance bill and tax bill in October. Since this was my first year with the new servicer I wanted to make sure the new tax/insurance payments were scheduled correctly. I logged into their account portal, found the escrow sections, and saw that an insurance payment was scheduled, but NOT a tax payment.

So I trust what the computer is telling me, and contact my servicer’s support to get a payment scheduled or to figure out what’s going on. Support emails back and tells me a tax payment IS scheduled for the end of October — but it’s for $500.00 less than my actual tax bill, and to chat or phone them if I have any questions.

So if I believe support, that means I can’t believe the computer anymore. Believing support also means that a payment for the wrong amount is scheduled. At this point I don’t believe either of them and decided to check the payment at the end of the month and follow up if there’s a problem.

I check at the end of the month, and my taxes have been paid correctly (the price support quoted to me was incorrect). I’ll check again in a few weeks to ensure the property insurance payment is paid correctly as well.

Most information systems I’ve worked with, or worked on, have small errors like this. I can guess what happened here: The mortgage servicer probably had not received my tax bill yet so it wasn’t listed as a payment. When presented with evidence their information system has incorrect and misleading information, the development team and/or the stakeholders probably said some version of

Well, we know the real backend systems are paying the taxes correctly and that’s what matters — we’ll develop a script for support and that will handle the temporarily escalated support volumes. We’ll spend our time on other issues.

They may also have said something like it’s not like we’re making medical software here. If they’re one of the better shops there’s probably a developer or two who will try to get this issue fixed regardless of what the stakeholders decided.

The support script they developed to deal with this limitation probably said to quote the customer last year’s tax prices — ignoring that taxes change annually in that state I live in.

Which is all — fine? I guess? My taxes are paid correctly after all.

But it’s not really fine.

While everything worked out in the end I end up not having less trust in the system in the future. Also, the team behind this software learns it’s OK to present incorrect information to the end-user and they carry this forward into other systems they build.

I worry about the future as more and more of these bureaucratic systems move away from a physical record being the source of truth.

Copyright © Alan Storm 1975 – 2022 All Rights Reserved

Originally Posted: 30th October 2021