Barclays Connect was launched on 3 June 1987, and was the first debit card in the UK. The project took less than two years from its initial conception to national launch.
The idea was initiated by the Bank’s Central Retail Services Division (CRSD) who were quick to spot the huge potential for Connect in the UK personal sector market. The project, code-named ‘Project Decimal,’ involved the equivalent of 45 man-years of work and 100 people from CRSD, Central Management Services Department and Marketing Department. 40% of the development work was carried out by McDonnell Douglas Information Systems (MDIS), to reduce the impact on other key developments.
Connect was launched on target despite initial adverse reaction from retailers. The Retail Consortium waged a campaign on behalf of its members, who objected to the pricing structure, but an agreement was soon reached. Many retailers viewed Barclays Connect as a dangerous precedent and a pre-cursor of a new generation of current account cards.
Nine months after the initial launch, the one millionth card was issued. By May 1996, five million cards had been issued. The original advertising campaign for Connect had to be abandoned, given the objections put forth by the Retail Consortium, despite months of planning. The TV commercial eventually adopted was based on a Pathè News item and was put together in just one week. Pre-launch advertising concentrated on the ‘cat out of the bag’ theme which was ironic given that a leak to the press in October 1986 had forewarned the public of the launch of the UK’s first debit card.
At the original press launch, Owen Rout, UK Executive Director, commented: “We have prided ourselves on being always at the forefront of banking service and our latest innovation will take Barclays into the 21st century." On 3 June 1996, a redesigned Barclays Connect Card was launched to improve legibility of the card number, whilst retaining the well-established colour and eagle logo.
Technological changes continued apace in the 2000s. In 2002, it was announced that a system of card verification known as ‘Chip and PIN’ would be introduced to UK cards, which fitted a microchip card alongside a Personal Identification Number (PIN), allowing for greater security. The first Chip and PIN debit cards appeared in 2003, and were mandatory by 2006. Barclays again proved innovative later in the decade, launching contactless payment in 2008. Contactless payment, which allows cardholders to make purchases of under £20 by simply holding their card over the receiving device, has been widely hailed for the convenience and speed it allows cardholders in making purchases. Although Barclays Connect may now be one of many debit cards available today, recent achievements demonstrate that the pioneering spirit behind Connect continues to this day.