Time machine: Financial innovations through the centuries

04 November, 2019Juno Baker

As we look forward to this year’s Financial Innovation Awards, we celebrate the brilliant inventions in banking and finance from the first cheque to digital payments.
Odhner pin-wheel perforating machine

The earliest known cheque, for the value of £400, was made payable to a Mr Delboe and written in London by Nico Vanacher.

We don’t know who these people were, or what the £400 was for, just that, on 16 February 1659, the humble cheque changed financial services for good.

Our industry has always innovated to find better ways of conducting business. By the Victorian age, cheques had become commonplace, banking was more complex, and there was a demand for banking education.

So, in 1879, a small group of bank workers came together, united by a common purpose – to provide leadership on banking practice that would be available to everyone working in the sector.

They set up the first Institute of Bankers in England and Wales, what is now The London Institute of Banking & Finance. We held our first exams in 1880 and in 1885 set up our own publication, Questions on Banking Practice, to share expertise as an educational body.

We expanded exam centres across the country and around the world, opening our exams to women in 1917 – a year before women were given the vote.

Burroughs calculating machine

Financial innovation

Some of these women no doubt found themselves operating the Burroughs Calculating Machine, pictured left.

A financial innovation that had been in production since 1911, it was invented to compete with the Comptometer – the first commercial key-driven mechanical calculator.

Around the same time, the Monroe Calculating Machine Company was launching its mechanical calculating machine worldwide and the International Coin Counting Machine Company Ltd was selling contraptions that counted one-penny coins. (See below, right.)

Coin counter

Fast forward to the age of technology. 

The first internet banking service appeared in 1997, although in those days of ‘narrowband’, access to the internet was through dial-up – slow, unreliable and very laborious.

We’ve come a long way since Mr Vanacher promised to pay Mr Delboe £400. Technology and innovation continue to change the way we do banking and finance, as well as the way we do banking education. Our qualifications now cover the whole finance sector, in the UK and abroad, and we work closely with the sector to ensure our training is leading the way.

In this, our 140th year, we’ve launched our Centre for Digital Banking and Finance to offer short courses and training in fintech, digital innovation and transformation. Banking has a long history and a bright future, and we’re proud to be part of it.

Image at top of page: The Odhner pin-wheel perforating machine, circa 1955, was of American origin and used for cheques, bills and financial documents

Read more in our Time machine series

Find out more about the Financial Innovation Awards

See our Centre for Digital Banking and Finance