Special drawing rights

No, it has nothing to do with paintings. And it’s “special” in the sense of “unique” as in “His appearance? Let’s just say he has a … unique look.”, or “different” as in “Oh no we didn’t unfriend each other. We just had … different opinions.”.

It’s actually a form of currency. Ok, no, a claim to currency. For example, an American dollar is USD 1, and a Singapore dollar is SGD 1. In this case, it’s SDR 1.

At first, I thought it’s a special case of Singapore dollar. You know, Singapore DollaR (I really thought some marketing staff or programmer made a mistake of currency abbreviations). I encountered it when I maintained an accounting software back when I was at a telecommunications company. The currencies supported were USD, SGD, AUD (the company had a wholly owned subsidiary in Australia) and SDR.

I remembered asking my supervisor why we had accounts with outstanding amounts in SDR. The amounts hadn’t been paid in years. You’d think the billing department would’ve wanted to settle accounts so we could all move on with our lives. It seemed obvious the account owners had no intention of ever paying the company in SDR (or whatever value of SDR in appropriate currencies then. Or ever).

So SDRs are a basket of currencies, currently of euros, Japanese yen, pound sterlings and the US dollar. It works something like a world currency, but not quite. It’s not widely used because (from Wikipedia):

One reason SDRs may not see much use as foreign exchange reserve assets is that they must be exchanged into a currency before use.

Meaning something like you’ve got to exchange 50000 Starbuck points to $5 before you can use it to buy a cappuccino.

This is due in part to the fact private parties do not hold SDRs, they are only used and held by IMF member countries, the IMF itself, and a select few organizations licensed to do so by the IMF.

Meaning normal people like you and I don’t even know about SDRs in the first place.

While all that is very interesting, I have a more important question. Why did the people who wanted the accounting software allow SDR in the first place? Didn’t they know SDRs are very illiquid (you can’t just use it as cash)? Few people, ok, scratch that, since individuals probably don’t have access to SDRs. Few organisations and companies would be using SDR as a form of currency. Why was SDR supported in the first place?

The people who wanted the software might be at fault. They might just have wanted to support that one customer who wanted the option to pay in SDR. The software developers were also at fault. They should have advised the software commissioners (that’s a new term) to remove SDR as a support option.

An accounting software used for tens of thousands of customers, and an option was built into the software to support a few of those customers. This kind of decision makes for all sorts of bugs and maintenance problems, so I really hope a lot of thought went into this.

If we programmers simply create software according to the specs laid down by users, then you can see why users don’t think we’re important. They can just outsource to some exotic place in Asia where programmers are hired on the dime.

We need to think. We need to analyse. We need to question. That’s the value we add as creative professionals, software developers, programmers and what-have-you.