If You Were a Billionaire for Five Hours

The Wall Street Journal

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AP Photo/John Bazemore

When Paul Fischer checked his bank account Friday night, he had a happy surprise. His balance had exploded to $88,888,888,888.88. A very lucky number indeed, and close to $89 billion.

Of course, the balance was a technical error by SunTrust Bank (NYSE: STI - News), which quickly fixed the problem. It also may have occurred in other accounts.

"You say, 'Eighty-eight billion, what can I do with that?'" said Mr. Fischer, who owns a jewelry concessionaire for Florida theme parks. "Maybe a handful of us could have brought down SunTrust Bank."

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Mr. Fischer had other ideas as well. Before the problem was fixed, he asked a SunTrust rep if he could move the money to an interest-bearing account until it was reclaimed and donate the interest to charity. Total interest: more than $7.3 million.

The bank said no.

The money was stripped out of his account by Saturday morning.

"It's all gone. I'm poor again," he said. "I was a billionaire for five hours."

This kind of bank error happens frequently. But Mr. Fischer raises an interesting question: What if, for five hours, you truly did have $89 billion?

What would you do with the money? The ground rules are that you would have to give the money back — and whatever you bought or invested with it — after five hours.

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