International bank transfers and the speed of light

Banks like to trumpet the speed of their online banking services. Ha! Electronic transfers takes 3-4 working days, unless you pay extra to stop the bank from holding onto your money.

Electronic communication is usually seen (or hyped) as happening at the speed of light. Some scientists research ways to slow the speed of light through different materials — the current speed record being 38 miles per hour — with an eye to eventual commercial application in lower power networks. The researchers should look no further than their nearest bank: an electronic transfer last week from England to Ireland took four days. Banking is of course the fundamental application of commerce, but if that’s moving at the speed of light, then the light was a lot slower than 38 miles per hour, and as for a low power, I had no power over it at all.

At four days to transfer money between the UK and Ireland, I could walk to Newry carrying cash faster than a bank would transfer the same amount, but the real issue is that I was waiting on the payment from the UK before I wired money to the USA to buy a new laptop. The first transfer was initiated last Thursday, I first saw that money on Tuesday, I wired the money for the laptop the same day, and the company in the USA won’t see the money until this Friday, or they would if they weren’t on holiday over Thanksgiving. Between turkeys and tardiness, the seemingly simple act of two wire transfers is taking over a week, or more than the time for light in a vacuum to travel 112,492,800,000 miles.