SVB Was Tiller’s Bank. Even In The Darkest Hours, We Knew We Would Survive

Originally posted to Tiller’s blog.

Our bank collapsed…

Tiller was briefly caught by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on Friday.

In a matter of hours, we went from a financially healthy, strong position to a balance of zero available funds. Nothing.

Along with thousands of other companies, our bank account was shut down. While the FDIC was quick to share that the $250,000 insured portion of deposits would be protected, our exposure was orders of magnitude more than the FDIC insurance.

The immediate crisis appears to be averted, but it holds lessons for Tiller and all of us working to be good stewards of our personal finances.

The collapse of SVB was a quintessential black swan

That term, coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, describes events that are:

  1. exceptionally rare and hard to predict
  2. have an enormous impact, and
  3. in hindsight can often be explained as if it were predictable

All of that is true here. If you asked me last month, yes, I could explain a bank run, and I could even share that my grandparents lived through a bank run a century ago. That said, I was not remotely worried about that risk.

This is true even though we at Tiller are always talking about risk management. Through audits, security reviews, and training, we are constantly, vigilantly thinking about how we can protect our data and our customers’ data from system failures, bad actors, and other catastrophes.

We even put significant effort into protecting our SVB bank account from hacking. We just hadn’t anticipated the bank itself would disappear in one day.

I knew the FDIC only guaranteed deposits up to $250,000. It just wasn’t a risk that I perceived was worth managing. Our CFO and I had even recently talked about opening multiple bank accounts. But we both concluded a deeper relationship with one bank was preferable to the complexity of many banks. Ha!

Regarding black swan events, Taleb writes that predicting the next one is futile. Whether it’s the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a pandemic, or a war, it’s pointless to predict very low probability events.

The same is true personally, be it cancer or car accidents. To weather these storms, we have to build resilience in our lives and our work.

Tiller’s preparation and response

While we only used a single bank account, Tiller was resilient in other critical areas. We use Tiller to budget and forecast Tiller of course, and we know precisely what our cash needs will be.

As SVB collapsed on Friday, our CFO and I reviewed Tiller’s 2023 budget forecast and flipped the cash balance from a number with many zeros to a number with a single zero.

Then we started planning: how can we keep Tiller running until the $250,000 lands from the FDIC, and presuming we lose everything else beyond that $250,000, how can we keep Tiller thriving and growing into the future?


The good news is we were already fluent with this forecast and budget, and Tiller has the flexibility to forego aggressive growth and focus on profitability.

If our cash from investors vaporized, we could continue to serve our customers without a hitch. We could continue with payroll. We could even fulfill the job offer we made earlier that day.

Yes, we’d be cutting some new growth initiatives, but we would survive.


My next step was to update Tiller’s investors and employees: Tiller is on stable footing, and we’ll be ok, even if nearly all of our cash disappears in this bank collapse.

Tiller being Tiller, we’ve always been sharing regular financial updates with investors and employees. I knew I might create undo stress for our employees over the weekend by sharing something completely out of their control, but I also knew there was no alternative. We speak openly here at Tiller.

So on Friday PM, I fired off the alerts: our money is gone, but we’ll survive.

Mission driven, plus sharing the benefit of the doubt

The culture you put in place shines when the rain pours. This is true as a company but also with our personal relationships, be it family or otherwise.

Despite this being a black swan event, I owned this. It was my failure. As CEO, I made a choice to put everything at SVB rather than store our cash in a diaspora of different banks or treasuries.

Yet to a person, all of the responses from investors and our team here were supportive and positive. One of our team responded, “I know we’ll weather this storm and still come out strong!! ” Well said!

With Tiller’s mission and culture, it’s true – no matter the outcome, this event would make us stronger. This knowledge carried me through the weekend.


The more redundant our systems, the better protected we are from black swans. Redundancy also creates complexity, so judgment is involved to know the right balance.

The choice not to have multiple bank accounts was a decision favoring simplicity and security (fewer access routes into our money), but obviously, we will review this decision going forward.

Beyond banks, there is already a lot of redundancy at Tiller. Redundancy is important not just for black swans but for a well-run company.

I know I can take a two-week vacation and literally not check Slack once, as an example. That’s the standard operating procedure here. Most systems and roles have redundancy built-in at Tiller so if one person is out or one system is down, we can continue.

Lessons for Tiller customers

At Tiller, we will continue working to build resilience for the next black swan. We’re also in the business of helping you, our customers, to be more financially resilient.

When you are in control of your personal finances, you are much better prepared to handle the unexpected, be it a new transmission for the car, a job loss, or a health crisis.

First, a note about Tiller for those who use our service. Resilience is inherent in our design. If Tiller were to be offline unexpectedly, customers would still have full access to their complete spreadsheets in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.

If either Google Sheets or Microsoft were offline, customers could create a new spreadsheet on the other platform, and with Tiller, they could have that spreadsheet populated in minutes with all their financial data.

This level of redundancy is unique in our industry, and it leverages Tiller’s architecture built on the leading spreadsheet platforms.

Beyond using Tiller, how prepared are you?

What is your financial cushion? There are many ways to build a cushion. For some, a good budget is a planning cushion because it can help you quickly reduce spending if you hit turbulence. For others, having a sturdy emergency fund is another way to cushion when things get tough. For best results, have a budget plan you can modify and also an emergency fund.

If you share finances, is there a culture of transparency and communication? If your finances are shared, you will be much better at navigating a black swan if you’ve already built up the good habits of open communication and transparency around money.

If you need to tighten the belt for a period, this is something you’ll have to do together. Or imagine if one of you becomes incapacitated for a few weeks: who would be able to ensure that bills, rents, mortgages, and obligations are met?

Redundancy is also key. Redundancy can quickly make things more complicated, which has its own risks, but there are a few scenarios to consider. How would you respond if your bank goes offline for a period of time? What if your paycheck doesn’t arrive? What if the phone or computer where you store your account credentials goes missing, how would you access your accounts? What if you are incapacitated, is there someone who can pick things up?


After a weekend of anxiously watching and waiting for a resolution with SVB, we’re grateful our deposits will be kept whole. This was a black swan with a quick resolution. These don’t always end well. A family member of an employee recently had their checking account drained from fraud, and there’s no resolution likely. All of this is a good reminder to be prepared.

We won’t anticipate the next black swan, but we can continue to build resilience into our systems and lives so we can withstand the unexpected.

We can all learn from each other, and I would love to hear your black swan stories. What black swans have you survived? How are you working to be prepared for the next one?

Please share your thoughts below!


Excellent email. Well done!


Thanks for keeping us informed. And I appreciate the forward-looking growth mindset. Even so, must be a stressful time so I hope you are all finding time to take care of yourselves.


As a retiree with my investments as my foundation, ever since Bernie Madoff, I’ve worried about Poof It’s Gone. I had all my data in Mint and it went down. After the WTF and being mad, I realized I had made a fundamental error. I tried all the other options and they all had the same fatal flaw, except Tiller.

I’m delighted and comforted to know that Tiller is solid but even more so knowing my stuff is mine and my data is in a spreadsheet that does not even require the internet.

I very much appreciate the clear and open sharing of this info. It’s one of the many perks of being a Tillerite, Tillermanic, Tillerist…


I’m so glad Tiller’s account will be made whole! What a scary end to the week. I’m glad there’s a solid resolution, and it’s a great lesson for us all in planning for redundancies and solvency.

Noah Littlejohn 
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As a retired business owner I can’t imagine the pressure that was put upon you.

Under reported is the fact that most banks require you to keep all or most of your money in their bank as did SVB. That has to change.

I keep track of FDIC balances and in fact asked Heather if Tiller had that a while back.

Best of luck! Having this happen after covid has to be gut punch.

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This is not exactly the same as what you just went through, but has the same effect if all our eggs are in one basket. As publishers of fiction, we have relied on Amazon as our sole marketplace. They have the majority of book sales and combined with their Kindle Unlimited program, are very lucrative. The problem is to take advantage of the KU program you have to be exclusive to them.

Recently, we have opted out and are now publishing wide, meaning to venues like Kobo, Google Play, and Barnes and Noble, to name a few. In the short term our revenue will drop, but over the long term should be even better. Our decision was based on the thought of what happens if Amazon decides not to sell books, or if they drop the KU program, or some other arbitrary decision that would affect our income.

In any event, the bank failure is a lesson for us all!


My black swan was dealing with an attempted identity theft. I have all of my banking accounts set up to text me immediately for every transaction of any amount, and when I received a $1 authorization I didn’t recognize, I immediately put a freeze on my credit reports at all three major agencies that same day. I’m sure they ran it with such a small amount hoping I wouldn’t pay attention. However, within days, I started getting notices in the mail about account applications that required further verification because of the freeze on my credit reports. Had I not acted the same day, I probably would’ve been dealing with a much larger mess, and from what I’ve seen in others who’ve endured identity theft, years of legal cleanup.

I have two take-aways from this that I recommend to everyone:

  1. Set up notifications on all of your banking accounts (savings, checking, credit card) and pay attention to every transaction, no matter how small.
  2. Put a permanent freeze on your credit reports. How often do you actually need someone to run a report? Who needs all of those unsolicited credit marketing offers? Thawing the freeze takes only a few minutes now (it used to be a much bigger hassle) and it can be set to automatically resume after a few days. The credit you save may be your own.

First, I am very glad to hear that everything will work out for Tiller and all your money will be there going forward. As others have said, it must have been an awful feeling to be told all your money is gone.

My mother, who grew up during the Crash of 1929, taught me to never put all your eggs in one basket no matter how “solid” that one basket seems. Because of that I have always tried to have acouple of “back-up” sources to cover a half year worth of expenses. I’ve only had to dip into it once over the last 50 years.

Over the years I have used multiple online financial apps and never been competely comfortable with any of them. I can’t picture any of those other companies being so quick in telling its clients/customers about what happened. I do commend you for being so upfront/transparent about the situation.

Tiller is the only financial app that I am using now, specifically because of how it is setup and all the wonderful folks that I have interacted with. In a lot of ways, I feel like Tiller and all its customers are a big family which I enjoy being part of.


Thanks Susan, fellow Tillerite! :slight_smile:

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Hi Peter,

First of all thank you for your transparency and steady hand on the Tiller (a metaphor). You have demonstrated that panic and spreading blame are not productive, but level-headed assessment and corrective actions can offer you, your employees, your investors, and most of all your customers solace and strength to come out ahead.



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Thank you SO much for this cogent, thoughtful and inspiring email, and for the excellent product and company you’ve created. I’m grateful for the reliable leadership right now.

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Thanks @drdon1996 - yes, the suppliers have incentives to lock us in, as @tjones4852 noted many banks require exclusivity to provide full benefits. Best of luck navigating beyond Amazon’s exclusivity into stronger footing with many platforms!

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Dear Peter,

I would tend to agree more with Elizabeth Warren (NYT today) - that it does not qualify as a black swan.

I hope that all may turn out well.


Tomas Rodriguez
Tiller User

@peter Thanks for the update. I, too, had a pucker moment(s) on Friday afternoon when I ran across a tweet where an employee at our payroll and benefits administrator shared that they used SVB as their bank. Being able to pay our employees was the obvious initial panic. I immediately texted our owner (I work at a small startup so right in the wheelhouse of this particular impact) and let him know. Thankfully, we seemed to have mostly dodged a bullet here but definitely a reminder to keep your own personal financial life in good order.

One of my projects on the personal front is documenting a FAQ or How To document for my wife in the event I pass, unexpectedly. For most families, one person is the primary financial administrator for household finances. In our home, that is me. And considering that things can get very complicated on the financial front, we should all be thinking about and planning contingencies for our partners to simply understand, access, and use the various tools (like this one) and accounts that exist in your personal finance universe.

Without this documentation (and I’m not remotely done with it!!), my wife would be at a complete loss on how to access everything and the purpose/strategy of some of it. We go out of our way to discuss our finances and align on investment strategy (with our advisor) and monthly spend goals but higher level strategy is one thing and tactical day to day monitoring and movements are another.

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@YouBet96 thank you for that. Your goal of documenting everything for your spouse is so important, and I share that goal! We have our will, but we need to finish the financial household wiki. I hope I am decades early in needing that for my wife (or kids), but I am mortal, and while the timing is uncertain, the outcome is not.

Wow. I give you so much credit (even more than the FDIC) for being so upfront about this. I do not have a history of good money management and, at age 64, am embarrassed to say that any one of the scenarios you posed would leave us in a very bad position. Im dealing with a health thing that’s left me completely drained, so I haven’t been updating our budget, or even checking bank statements for a couple of months. Im gradually getting back, and have arranged for $50 of my bi-weekly paycheck to go into an emergency fund that I don’t have super easy access to. It’s only $1300 a year, but it’s $1300 more than I have been putting aside.
I’ve started donating plasma twice a week to boost the income a bit, and onward we go.
Thanks again for sharing, and for having created a product that is my one real hope for finally getting my financial sh*t together.


Great update, thank you!

The test of a company’s management is how they manage in adverse circumstances, and this prompt, thorough, and transparent update speaks volumes.

And yes, this is a reminder for all of us that, while working to create our best outcome we need to also consider the worst.


If you need early or extended resubscriptions, just say the word. Your tool is essential to me and many others. Thank you for sharing. <3


Peter, I don’t think I’ve read anything that resonated more as authentically written as this. Thank you for your honesty and showing what true leadership and stewardship looks like. You’ve inspired me to look at my finances differently and also to reconsider my leadership strategies to be more like this. Thank you, thank you, and may you be as blessed as you are a blessing!!

Vicki Hrivnak