Saturday, May 22, 2010


I was on my way to work the other day when the guy on the radio said the man who invented the ATM had passed away. Apparently back in 1965 or so, John Shepherd-Barron devised his ATM machine while lying in his bath. The grandfather-of-six had arrived at his bank too late to cash a cheque, and wondered why banks couldn’t operate a system more like chocolate vending machines. The first ATM was installed at Barclays’ Enfield branch in north London on June 27, 1967.

I remember clearly back in the late 60’s and early 70’s when banks were open from ten in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. A short day was referred to as “Banker’s hours.” Money was something you planned. If the week-end was coming up you had to get to the bank by three. Once you were out of cash, you were done. Things were much simpler then. There were no debit cards, no PIN numbers and the only credit card I ever heard of was “CHARGEX”. Credit was used by “those kind of people”.

In my first year university I opened up a bank account at the Royal Bank because it was the only bank close to campus. It was actually right across the street so I am sure all of Wilfrid Laurier were their clients. I remember having to have your pass book with you or you could not deposit or take out any money without it. Let’s face it, I only remember taking out, I have no recollection of depositing. Then near the end of the school year I distinctly remember a bit of construction going on at the front of the bank. Within a few days this machine has appeared. It was a cash dispenser! I can’t remember what we really called it; I know the letters ATM didn’t come along for awhile later. I just remember the thrill of being able to take out $5.00 to go to the pub at the last minute even if it was late at night. The fact five dollars was more than enough for a night out is a topic for another blog.

I also distinctly remember the pressure of choosing a suitable PIN number. It had to be four numbers but not your birthday and you weren’t allowed to write it down anywhere. I remember thinking it had taken me all year to remember my new telephone number and now I had to put another number in my head to memory? That’s when I decided to just use my telephone number as my PIN. So even to this day the last four digits of my telephone while living in first year university is still my PIN number on my personal banking account. I can remember details of so many things, birthdays of people I knew in Kindergarten (Gail Whitendorf – June 6th) but I can’t remember my cell phone number. Now my new credit card has a PIN number assigned with it. I went to use it the other day and it was declined because I couldn’t remember the number. The sales clerk over-rode the system so I was still able to make my purchase – I hope she didn’t get fired for that one!

So while we marvel at all of this technology and the convenience, maybe my mind would be less cluttered and my bank account much fuller if Mr. Shepherd-Barron hadn’t had a bath that night!

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