From the first adding machines to the latest contactless devices, technology has transformed banking over the last century, and Barclays has been at the cutting edge of many a leap forward along the way.
A century ago, most transactions and administrative processes within the bank were still being done manually and were handwritten, from correspondence to clearing cheques and accounting.
However, some mechanical aids were being introduced. Barclays had grown at an unprecedented pace since the 1896 merger, and a series of strategic acquisitions had made it one of the ‘big five’ clearing banks by 1920. An increase in the volume of business, the consequent growth in employment and the cost of labour, and the general ‘industrialisation’ of banking, led the banks to look for ways of improving processes and make use of labour-saving machines.
The first adding machine was installed at head office in 1914, and these became so useful that superior models were developed and introduced, such as the Remington 24 and those made by Burroughs and later NCR. These machines saw sterling service: a 1920s Burroughs model was still in use at Wilmslow branch in 1960.
The next big step was to use electro-mechanical machines to speed up the accounting process, and from 1930 machines made by Mercedes, Remington and Powers-SAMAS were introduced to larger branches:
Not long after I was posted to Bloomsbury branch in 1929, we were selected to be one of the first branches to be mechanised. We were allocated Remington machines and many of the staff were sent on a training course. This mechanised system was far quicker than hand-posting, could cope with a considerable extra amount of business, and cross-checked for accuracy each day, a great advantage at balance time each half year. However, it did downgrade one’s ability to add up columns of figures mentally!
[recollection by E W Stent in 2003]
In 1961, chairman Anthony Tuke recalled that the bank had been an ‘unwilling starter’ in the field of mechanisation, and that the prevailing scepticism seemed justified as the promised economies weren’t immediately realised. But Barclays persevered, and even extended the programme overseas at this period, to larger branches in South Africa.
Many offices, even by 1930, would still have looked familiar to a clerk of the 1890s. The typewriter (like the adding machine, a Victorian invention), together with carbon copying paper, for branch and office correspondence, was a pre-1914 innovation, but its use was far from universal even by the 1930s. In some small branches, letters were still being handwritten (or typed), in copying ink, placed by a junior clerk between the dampened leaves of the copy letter-book and put in a special press (yet another 19th century device), to make a transfer facsimile on fine tissue paper. The archives contain examples of these letter-press copies from well into the 1900s, the latest so far identified being from 1947.
However, banks were already using a more important global technology of the Victorian era – the telegraph – for communication and money transfers between branches, and with other banks, using special codes devised for the purpose: the telegraphic code book became a staple manual from the early 1900s. In the 20th century, telegraphic transfers were supplemented by increasing use of the telephone, still using the codes. It is interesting to note that despite all the advances of the computer age, the telegraphic code book was still being issued in the 1980s, mainly for international transactions, and files in Barclays’ archives show that the use of wireless and cable telegraphy and telex was the principal means of rapid international communication before fax, radio and satellite phones became widespread.
Also in the field of communication, the bank introduced the telephone to many larger town and country branches in the years immediately before 1914, though this was dependent on the spread of the national phone network. By 1930, most branches were connected, though for a long time the use of the phone would be restricted to the branch manager’s office.
The slow and costly process of mechanisation was interrupted by World War Two (1939-45), and even by 1955, only about one in ten branches was able to produce a mechanised statement for customers. A big drive to complete mechanisation was made in the late 1950s, using NCR 3000 and then NCR 32 machines: the last handwritten customer statement was issued in 1960.
The next leap forward was the first tentative step towards automation. 1959 was a watershed, as in that year, Barclays became the first UK bank to order a mainframe computer for branch accounting. Barclays had played a leading role in the inter-bank automation committee that was set up in 1955. Computers had been invented and developed as part of the war effort, and in the post-war era were being adapted to commercial purposes. The rapid development of a consumer society led to growing demand for banking services, and this meant that automation became critical to the banks – there simply wasn’t enough capacity in the branches to handle the new volumes of business, even using the latest accounting machines. Barclays’ first computing centre was opened in 1961, a much publicised event at which the Postmaster General presided.
The electronic information revolution was underway, with other industries and government departments moving in the same direction. For the second stage of automation Barclays ordered the new IBM mainframe (System/360) in 1964, for a second computer centre, built within head office at Lombard Street to serve City branches. This was the start of an enduring relationship with IBM and was another ‘first’ for Barclays, as the branches involved had their own terminals (IBM1460) enabling instant connection with the mainframe. This was such a leap forward that a special press release was issued to explain the system. The following year Barclays took the first steps towards automation in its overseas operations with the installation of an ICT mainframe in South Africa.
The next few years saw more computer centres opened by Barclays: at Tottenham Court Road (known as Greater London Computer Centre); at Willesden; and in 1971 at Wythenshawe in Manchester, the last described as the largest commercial computer centre in Britain. Finally, in 1974, 13 years after Cavendish Square became the first branch to have its accounts handled by a computer, the last connection was made (from Cheltenham branch) to the mainframe at Willesden. The Burroughs TC500 became the standard branch terminal to replace the accounting machines and connect branches with the IBM mainframes from the late 1960s through to the 1980s.
Computers were soon applied to other innovations, notably Barclaycard (the UK’s first credit card from 1966), although at first the data tapes had to be flown to Germany because there was no mainframe suitable for handling the transaction in Britain. Other applications followed, such as the new generation of online cash machines from 1975, under the brand name Barclaybank.
The first generation of cash machines, known as Barclaycash, had been piloted by Barclays in 1967. The cash machine at Enfield Town branch, the first of six that were installed by de la Rue, thereby became the first through-the-wall cash machine in the world. These ‘robot cashiers’ as they were described, were gradually rolled out across the branch network from 1969 onwards. By inserting a paper voucher (the plastic card came later), a Barclays account holder could make a fixed withdrawal of £10 (quite a large sum at that time), from his or her balance. This was a big moment in banking: for the first time customers could get cash from their account outside banking hours, which then were very restricted: banks closed at 3pm on weekdays, and between 1969 and 1982 were also closed on Saturdays. Despite teething problems in the early decades (machines were easily vandalised and broke down often), the cash machine or ATM became so useful to customers that by the 1990s, it was seen as an essential service on the high street.
Barclays installed its 3,000th ATM at Embankment Tube station in 1995. It was the largest ATM network in the UK, and the mainframe had grown to keep pace with this expansion. A new generation of IBM systems – the zSeries – was installed in the early 2000s to cope with the increasing demand for more capacity. In August 2004 alone, over 1billion ATM transactions were processed by Barclays.
The coming of the silicon chip and microprocessors enabled banks to develop further applications for automation. Computer terminals for branch counter staff were piloted (in Manchester) in 1979 and rolled out from 1981 onwards, and from 1988 general ‘work stations’ for word processing appeared, a forerunner of the PC. Other notable examples of these later computer applications for customers are Connect, introduced in 1987 by Barclays as the UK’s first debit card, and, from 1994, the Barclaycall phone banking service, which enabled customers to carry out transactions through Barclays operators who had live access to the computerised accounts. Barclaycard benefited from improved automation too - the introduction in 1986 of PDQ machines, for example, the first electronic card payment terminals in the UK.
Some innovations were ahead of their time, such as the Pinpoint service launched at Euston Station in 1984, the first machine in the world to issue train tickets to Barclaycard and Premier card holders. Likewise the UK’s first US-style ‘Drive-Thru’ cash machine at Hatton Cross near Heathrow Airport, opened in 1998. Other examples include: a pilot of television banking for 65,000 cable TV customers in Manchester and London (1999); BarclaySquare - the UK's first virtual reality shopping mall on the Internet (1995); and Barclays Endorse, a pilot scheme to enable electronic documents to be signed digitally (1998).
The arrival of the internet and Windows-based applications in the 1990s heralded another revolution, with the development of home computer banking for personal and business customers. Early in 1995 Barclaycard produced Netlink, 'the UK's first bank-related commercial internet service', described at launch as an ‘interactive magazine’, providing customers with news of Barclaycard products and competitions, using another newly adopted technology, e-mail. Netlink was developed quickly to provide travel insurance product information with a quotation service, and from 1996 enabled customers to pay their utility bills, via e-mail. Meanwhile, Netlink had been followed in 1995 by the first Barclays-wide information web pages, launched as BarclayNet.
In 1996, the success of Netlink and BarclaySquare, and the rapid growth in home computing (by now nearly 4 million homes had a PC), led Barclays (in partnership with Visa), to pilot a home banking service using Windows-based software. Early in 1997 Barclays launched the UK’s first comprehensive on-line banking service, using the new “Microsoft Money 97” software, which enabled customers with PCs to connect with the Bank's computers, this being the first association of its kind between Microsoft and a UK bank. This was soon followed by a full PC banking service for small business customers, another ‘first’ for UK high street banks. Likewise in 1997, Barclaycard was the first UK credit card company to enable cardholders to pay their credit card bills over the internet, via Netlink. In 1998 Barclays launched an internet banking service (without the need for special software), and by 1999 was confirmed as the leading internet bank with over 380,000 customers. By 2001 this had risen to 2.5 million. Since these pioneering years, internet banking has been developed and extended to provide a range of home banking services, including, since 2013, the wider help for customers available through Cloud It, which allows users to store, tag and manage their important digital documents online.
Other ‘firsts’ for Barclays using this technology included Barclays Purchase Online, a secure internet purchasing system for companies in 1996, which led to the UK’s first secure ‘purchase-to-payment’ e-procurement system called Barclays B2B.com, in 2000. In 2007 Barclays launched PINsentry for online banking customers - the first UK bank to announce the introduction of a hand-held chip and PIN card reader for secure use in online banking. Barclaycard had issued its first ‘smart card’ incorporating chip security in 1997.
Meanwhile, computers also transformed the Group’s business in money market operations, investment banking and asset management, which became increasingly important to Barclays with the rapid growth of Barclays de Zoete Wedd (later Barclays Capital) from 1986 onwards. Examples of electronic products and services developed since the 1990s include Barclays Global Investors’ i-Shares, Barclays Capital’s futures order entry system, XTAS, and automated real-time execution platform, branded as BARX.
The two major advances in recent years have been the development of contactless and mobile phone technology. In 2007 Barclaycard issued the UK’s first contactless cards enabling customers to make purchases of up to £20 with a wave of their card, and these were followed in 2008 by the first contactless debit cards. Also in 2007, Barclaycard launched OnePulse, the UK’s first credit card to combine contactless technology and Oyster travel functionality. From 2014 Barclaycard introduced Bpay, a range of devices (initially a wristband, fob and sticker), enabling users to make contactless payments.
In the field of mobile phone banking, as early as 1997 Barclaycard in partnership with Cellnet launched a mobile phone banking service giving customers access to Barclaycard and Barclays account information on the screen of a phone handset. November 1999 saw the UK’s first internet purchase over a mobile phone - Barclaycard and BT Cellnet completed the trial transaction in which a Barclaycard was used to buy a CD from BarclaySquare via a WAP mobile phone. In 2001, Barclays and Vodafone launched the UK’s first WAP service to combine banking, credit card and share dealing services.
2007 saw the launch of Barclays.mobi, the Bank's first general mobile phone service, enabling customers with a web-enabled mobile phone to access Barclays online banking. 2012 saw the launch of Barclays’ smart phone application, many users of which had not previously accessed online banking. 2012 also saw two major innovations: Pingit, Europe’s first person-to-person service for sending and receiving money using only their mobile phone numbers; and Barclaycard’s PayTag, enabling customers to pay using their mobile phone by sticking a Barclaycard PayTag to the back of their handset. This was complemented in 2014 by Barclaycard Anywhere, a device enabling business customers to accept payments using their mobile phones. In the same year Barclays announced a pilot for Smartwatch, allowing Barclays Mobile Banking users to see their account balance displayed on a special wristwatch produced by Apple: the application was made available to customers in 2015.
By 2014 over 2.8m customers were using mobile banking regularly, and the current thrust of technology is the development of new software applications, deployed increasingly to mobile phones, intended to streamline banking processes and bring banking to customers, at their convenience. Examples include: a trial of secure software enabling Community Bankers to open new accounts and provide other services when they meet customers outside the branch; further development of the Video Banking service (a ‘first’ for Barclays), which allows customers to conduct secure interviews with bank officials, via the Internet; and in another ‘first’, Barclays has successfully introduced digital cheque imaging for Barclays Mobile Banking users, enabling customers to deposit Barclays cheques without having to bring or send the paper cheque to a branch, and shortening the clearing process. This last innovation has prompted HM Treasury to approve legal admissibility of photographed cheques (due to become law during 2016), which will enable Barclays to accept images of cheques from other banks.
In the field of business banking, in 2013 Barclays introduced its three-year Accelerator programme, in conjunction with start-up company Techstars, designed to give FinTech entrepreneurs from around the world the chance to help shape the future of financial services with propositions for innovative technology applications. The first companies to be selected were announced in 2014 and received their intensive programme at the London Escalator, established by Barclays specifically for start-ups and contributing to London’s emerging status as the world’s FinTech hub. The success of London and Manchester Escalators (both opened in 2014), encouraged Barclays to open an equivalent at New York’s ‘silicon alley’ in 2015, with Escalator being rebranded as Rise. Barclays subsequently signed contracts with eight of the ten successful companies in the New York Accelerator programme.
New technology has also been introduced to branches (including the ‘Barclays Essentials’ branches at UK ASDA supermarkets piloted in 2014), notably the latest assisted service counter, successor to previous self-service machines, enabling customers to manage their accounts, deposit cash and cheques, pay bills, and make appointments with staff. To complement high street branches, the ‘Skybranch’ concept has been developed (successor to the original concept of the call centre), enabling customers to communicate more easily with customer service advisers in real time via telephone, e-mail, webchat (pioneered through Barclays online banking in 2008), or social media (embraced by Barclaycard in 2010).
Barclays continues to lead the way, not only in deploying technology for marketing its products, but with providing wider help for customers, as a strand of the Group's citizenship policy. Digital Eagles was launched in the UK in 2013 as a drive to recruit 5,000 staff to help customers (especially those over 50), to feel more at ease using digital technology, as well as training their colleagues across the bank. By 2015 there were 8,000 Eagles, who have helped people to use iPad and other devices, with online banking, shopping, money-saving, financial awareness, information security, using Skype, or staying in contact with family and friends via social media, and even helping parents to assist their children with the coding element of the new national curriculum. The success of the Eagles programme has led to its adoption by Barclays in Africa.
Likewise the Accessibility Roadshows, which since 2014 have been helping customers with accessibility problems - particularly the elderly and people with disabilities - to use modern technology, and which have also led to the development of ingenious aids such as high visibility debit cards, talking cash machines, and SignVideo which connects the customer with the bank via an immediate interpretation service, another 'first' for Barclays in its aim to be the Most Accessible Bank.