The Eulogy of Cash

For many years the use of physical cash has been in decline with digitalised currencies becoming the norm. This blog explores how the trend began back in 1967.

The worlds first ATM

Bank cards first came into existence in 1967 when Barclays launched the world’s first ATM (automated teller machine) in Enfield, north London.

Sir Thomas Bland the then Barclays deputy chairman was given the honour of drawing back a velvet curtain which unveiled the worlds first ATM. Barclays gave actor Reg Varney, the distinct honour of making the first withdrawal. Unlike today where users can withdraw amounts often up to $1,000, Barclays’ first ATM only permitted users to withdraw a maximum amount of £10 at a time, which in today’s money equates to about £150.

Two years later, after ATMs began to grow in popularity in London, the US followed suit, with Chemical Bank opening their first ATM  in Long Island, New York.

What has today become the norm, was in its day, revolutionary. Prior to the advent of ATMs, getting hold of cash required a trip to your local bank during opening hours. For many, this represented a major inconvenience, especially for the elderly or those who lived in rural settings.


In 1972 a whole string of UK high-street banks including NatWest, Midland, Lloyds & RBS joined together to issue the Access credit card under the Joint Credit Card Company (JCCC).

Personal Identification Number (PIN)

The next major development in digitalised banking came when Lloyds changed the bank card forever, by including an information-encoding magnetic strip. This personalised coding added the first real security mechanism onto bank cards, helping users to feel more comfortable carrying them around. Prior to the PIN code, a bank card was widely considered a risky item to keep in your pocket. However, due to the lack of ATMs, card fraud was a relatively rare occurrence.


Barclays again changed the game in 1977 offering the first UK company card. Prior to this point, cards were only available to individuals.

The 1980s

In the 1980s the Joint Credit Card Company began to fade away as major players Visa and Mastercard entered the market. Still to this day, Visa and Mastercard remain the industry leaders.


In an effort to simplify the process of withdrawing cash and boosting high-street expenditure, the link cash machine was launched in the UK. The link cash machine was available to use for the customers of all 33 member banks including Abbey National, Nationwide, Co-Operative Bank, Girobank etc.



Cashback emerges as a means of acquiring cash. In 1990 alone there were 7m cashback withdrawals recorded.


50% of adults in the UK now own debit cards


A mobile phone – the Nokia 6131 NFC with built-in contactless payment card technology (and Oyster card functionality for travel) piloted in London.


Barclaycard joined forces with Orange to launch the first mobile device that allowed users to make contactless payments


Contactless payments introduced on London buses.


Apple Pay was first introduced in the U.S. on October 20, 2014. The company invested millions into the development striving to offer consumers a more secure payment option. CEO Tim Cook described the magnetic stripe card payment process as broken for its reliance on plastic cards’ “outdated and vulnerable magnetic interface”, “exposed numbers”, and insecure “security codes”.

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2015 was a major year of transition for digital finance, challenger banks began to emerge and grow in popularity with firms such as Monzo entering the market.

With more and more consumers owning smartphones, the process of sending and spending more via online banking was quickly becoming the norm.


COVID-19 is still reshaping the way consumers spend. The most notable change has been the mass decline in the use of cash in-part due to the fear of spreading infection.

For years, annual reports have shown that UK cash and coins are laden with life-threatening bacteria.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised people to use contactless technology instead of cash as banknotes may be spreading COVID-19. The WHO said the infectious coronavirus could be carried on the surface of banknotes for several days.

In the UK contactless payments previously had a maximum spend of £30, in light of the situation, the limit was increased to £45.

Smaller businesses who refused to accept card payments for various reasons will now be under increasing pressure to adopt digital payments as customers become nervous exchanging cash.

It’s also been noted that the coronavirus pandemic has made things easier for swathes of society’s most vulnerable — those collecting welfare — by using digital assessments and payments.

It is beginning to look like one of the most historic changes caused by COVID will be the death of physical cash.

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