At this time of year my colleague, Dave Birch looks forward, his annual “Live Five” started as a bit of fun, but over the years has become a thought provoking look at what might impact our industry in the coming year, if you haven’t read it yet, please follow this link.

As we come to the holiday season, we know that we will be bombarded with reviews of 2020 on television, in our newspapers and online. A conversation with some colleagues about how long they had worked in the payments industry, prompted my own review when I realised that on the 8th December, I clocked up 40 years in the industry, how technology has changed our lives in that time.

My first job was working for the banknote printer Bradbury Wilkinson, later acquired by De La Rue, “Brads” also printed travellers cheques, certificates of deposits, bonds, bankers drafts and airline tickets, all very familiar then. Over 40 years we have seen a huge decline in the use of cash. Back 1980 everybody at the factory was paid weekly in cash, the wages department team would walk around on a Friday giving out the pay packets that had to be signed for. I tried a quick calculation and think that about £140,000 a week (in today’s equivalent) must have been distributed each week. My wife worked in the accounts department of another company, one of her roles every Thursday was to collect about £12,000 (now c£50,000) from Lloyds Bank to fund payday on Friday. Nichola remembers that she carried the money in a supermarket carrier bag, because her boss through that this wouldn’t attract attention! The switch to payment to your bank account came soon, it was very controversial, especially for the men who had never disclosed their salary to their wife!

We had an internal phone system, but if you wanted to make an outside call, you had to contact the receptionist and she would dial the number for you. If you were away from your desk, perhaps on the factory floor, you would be summoned by tannoy, although in about 1982 – Tomorrow’s World –  we were given pagers which would alert you to dial the receptionist when you had a message. That all worked well when you were on site, but when you were out and about you had to find a phone box to check in. In my first sales role I was expected to check in once in the morning and once in the afternoon, using a calling card to charge the calls to – and of course I was not the only one, you would often have to queue at a motorway services phone box for a hot smoky phone box to become available. Smoky…..it seems strange to reflect that 40 years ago smoking was still permitted in offices, on trains and on planes, BA only stopped smoking on all flights on 29th March 1998 – a quick internet check confirms. The arrival of the internet changed so much of what we do, initially it was very slow with the chirping of dial up, but it is now difficult to imagine business life or personal life without it, how many times a day do we look something up, how did we ever find anybody before LinkedIn?

On international business trips, you would to try to keep in touch with the UK. In the late 80s I made a lot of trips to Africa, a call to the UK often had to be booked a day or two in advance and when you finally got a connection it was not very reliable, you knew that your conversation was being listened to, we used a series of code words so that the listener didn’t pick up any details about your trip. Communication back then would also be made by telex, I was taught how to use one, so that I didn’t have to ask the hotel staff to send my messages, which could also have leaked information.

All of this was a long time before mobile phones, in 1986 I inherited a Saab 900 with a car phone from a colleague, I thought that I was very cool, I loved my Saab, another colleague spoke lovingly about his earlier Daytona yellow Ford Cortina Mk3, with black vinyl roof!! At that time battery size still made mobile phones very impractical, it must have been about 1993 that a colleague of mine wrote and presented a paper to Jeremy Marshall, then CEO of De La Rue, on why we should invest in SIM card production, to support the expected growth in the mobile phone market, Jeremy declined the investment request, he couldn’t see that there would be a mass market for mobile phones.

Work at your desk was very different, I was part of the team that built the Idemia factory at Tewkesbury in 1990, we originally had only two computers, both in the accounts department. My first computer and access to email was not until the early 90s. Prior to that reports and letters were written long hand and sent to a typing pool, if you were close to a deadline you could get your document up the priority list by excessive supply of chocolate.  Imagine life without email, it wasn’t too bad actually!

Reflecting on the ease with which we moved to home working in March, it is interesting to think that a relatively short time ago this wouldn’t have been possible, not many years ago work life and home life had a very clear division, not the environment that we see in 2020.

It was not just at work, technology at home was also very different, I bought my first house in Plymouth in 1983, a three bedroomed semi for £19,000, the previous owner had never had a television, a telephone, a fridge or central heating, imagine telling the previous owner that he would shop online, probably on a mobile phone, only once a week because of his freezer, watch a myriad of television channels and be warm ……not to mention his stacking stereo system.

I hope that over the next few weeks whether you look forward with Dave or backwards with me you will find some time to relax with family and friends over the holidays, have a great time.

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