Munger staff concerned with money errors

Feb. 11, 2010, 1:03 a.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this report was incorrectly titled “Munger staff concerned with credit union errors” and incorrectly attributed the error to the Stanford Federal Credit Union. In fact, the source of the banking discrepancy is disputed by those involved.

Ninety cents isn’t much money in the scheme of a Stanford dorm budget – but when a Munger treasurer noticed a discrepancy of that amount during her recent review of the residence’s banking records, she began to worry.

An Nguyen, a treasurer and community assistant in the Munger graduate residence, saw that three checks written fall quarter from the Munger Graduate Residence’s joint account with the Stanford Federal Credit Union (SFCU) were deposited in payees’ accounts in slightly lower amounts than those for which the checks were written – 90 cents short, in total.

Though the difference is small, it has Munger staff worried about banking with the credit union, where 173 student-related groups, including 50 residences, do business.

“If you add it up, it can grow quickly,” said Nguyen, a mechanical engineering and medical school graduate student.

Nguyen expressed concern that the problem could affect other student groups who handle finances through SFCU, especially if they are less diligent about their bookkeeping.

“Most groups just toss all their receipts into a box,” she claimed.

According to Nguyen, the three checks were each written from Munger’s account to reimburse other Munger community assistants and were deposited at banks between Dec. 2 and Dec. 16, 2009.

Two of the check amounts were rounded down to the nearest dollar upon deposit, and the third was debited as 10 cents less than the written amount.

SFCU’s chief operating officer, Sam Tuohey, insisted that the depositing banks, not SFCU, were responsible for the transaction discrepancies. He noted that SFCU is “unable to tell” which banks received the checks.

Tuohey also said the checks would have passed through several institutions before deposit, further complicating the process of finding those 90 cents.

Nguyen said she received conflicting answers from SFCU when she tried to track down the source of the error.

“[SFCU] talked like they knew what they were saying, and then called me back and retracted their statements,” she said.

Tuohey said the SFCU staff with whom the Munger staff member spoke may not have been clear on the situation.

Because the three checks were deposited at three different banks, Nguysen said she considers it unlikely that the problem stems from the depositing banks. Another Munger treasurer, Jeff Peterson, seconded the difficulty in locating the source of the discrepancy.

“Without knowing all the steps that happen between the deposit of a check and the transfer of funds, it’s really difficult to nail down what could have gone wrong,” Peterson wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

Because of the accounting problems, Munger has switched to PayPal to route reimbursements electronically. Peterson hopes an electronic payment system will “reduce the risk of bank errors in the future.”

According to Tuohey, SFCU is set to meet Thursday with Munger staff and other involved parties to address the problem.

Laurette Beeson, assistant dean for graduate life, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily that she does not have “any reason to believe there is a systematic problem that affects other residences.”

Michael Albada ’11, Haus Mitteleuropa’s financial manager, also handles his residence’s finances through an account at SFCU. He explained that he keeps his own records and only checks the amounts with SFCU at the beginning and end of each quarter.

“If there were a small deviation, I would probably find it, but it might be tricky,” Albada said.

“Even though it’s a small amount, I think it’s important that people remain careful,” he added. “It’s a reasonable issue, and it happened close to home.”

Despite the discrepancy and its implications for other groups, Peterson doesn’t think much will change overall in future student group-SFCU relations. He said Munger staff on their own have begun limiting their use of SFCU checks and are considering switching to a different bank.

“A good treasurer should be balancing the budget and accounting for credits and debits anyway,” Peterson said. “As long as the treasurers do their jobs, I don’t foresee any major changes.”

“However, if SFCU continues to be a source of problems, then we may push harder for change,” he added.

Ellen Huet is currently a senior staff writer at The Daily; she joined the staff in fall 2008 and served one volume as managing news editor in fall and early winter of 2010-2011. Reach her at ehuet at stanford dot edu. Fan mail and sternly worded complaints are equally welcome.

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