Despite being FIRST to demonstrate the day-to-day processing of current accounts by computer, Martins Bank’s other financial commitment – the expansion of the branch network – means there is little progress in the full automation of branches outside London and Liverpool before the merger with Barclays. This is indeed a great shame, as the initial experimentation paved the way for the cheque clearing systems that existed into the twenty-first century, and the LONDON COMPUTER CENTRE pioneered BRANCH ACCOUNTING – a program whose main features were used by Barclays for more than forty years. By the spring of 1968, Martins Bank Magazine feels it appropriate to try and allay some of the fears of staff, many of whom still know little or nothing about computerisation or what it will mean for them…
Computer – friend or foe?
Many new colleagues have joined us since computers were last featured in the magazine. This article, written by C.A. Brockbank, Head Office Superintendent (Administration), should ease any misgivings in the minds of those branches who are to undergo a change from time-honoured routine in the near future…
nowadays the word 'computer' seems to be before us all the time. The papers regard computers as news and only on rare occasions do they omit some mention of them, while journals of various kinds frequently print articles on computer topics. We read that computers help one to select the ideal marriage partner; they predict election results, control traffic, guide astronauts in space and are engaged in a multitude of commercial operations. We are led to believe that it is 'with it' to have a computer and one begins to wonder how private life, business or research ever managed to function without the varied benefits of these remarkable devices. Of course it is the unusual that makes press headlines. It certainly is not news that 100,000 consumers receive correct bills at the right time, although a good proportion of the consumers might be more pleased if the issue of the bills were delayed. If, however, one individual receives a bill for a peculiar amount then this is news. Obviously one's feelings regarding the ability of computers is influenced by such brain-washing and one tends to regard them, quite wrongly, as rather erratic devices. Mistakes are almost invariably the result of human errors in systems or programming or operating faults or in the incorrect preparation of input.
The word computer is an overall word for a configuration of machines working together to produce the desired end-product. A computer set-up requires a device for feeding information into a central processing unit, and a printer which provides the end-product in an easily assimilable form. So often one visualises computers as 'thinking machines', which they are not. All a computer can do is to work on a series of instructions or programs produced in a form that it can understand. It is primarily a two-stage device, which means that it can differentiate between 'yes' and 'no', 'go' and 'stop', or 'black' and 'white'. It recognises these differences in a magnetic form, that is to say whether or not a particular core has a north or south polarity.
When feeding information into a computer, therefore, we can use only two symbols but can transmit these symbols in various ways: e.g. on magnetic tape, down a telephone line or by punched paper tape. What we want to do, of course, is to put numbers and words into the processing unit and we achieve this by translating the numbers and letters into a form of arithmetic known as binary arithmetic. This arithmetic represents all numbers by ones or noughts, or in paper tape format by holes or 'no holes' and, in a similar manner, letters and various symbols such as %, +, —, &, etc. Having decided on the job to be processed we write the programs to enable this to be achieved, these programs being either held within the computer or fed in as above when required. The relative facts and figures for processing are introduced in a similar manner. But what effect does all this have on our daily lives ? Under our present system, if we load the accountancy work of a branch onto a computer, the system will undertake a whole variety of routine tasks that are at present carried out by hand or by the use of accountancy machines.
Let us look at a typical day's branch work
One of the first things we do every morning is to list the debit clearing twice and, when the totals have been agreed, sort the cheques into alphabetical order and pay them. On a computer system, when the cheques have been sorted and listed by the reader/sorter machines, which read the E13B characters on the bottom of each cheque, the information is stored on magnetic tape and all accounts are automatically updated (or posted) subject to any cheques being returned unpaid. This in itself saves a tremendous amount of work, including the necessity to machine ledger and statement sheets and to call off balances.
Need for accuracy
The rest of the day's work, having been put through the waste, is punched onto tape on a special machine. This tape is sent to the Computer Centre daily, being used to update all accounts. Standing orders are dealt with in a similar manner to clearing cheques and, as well as the branch being advised of orders due on a particular day, they are also given the relative credit transfers for inclusion in the credit clearing. Besides updating accounts and producing statistical information and balance lists, the computer will perform a variety of other functions including the calculation of debit products and the half-yearly production of interest and commission that should, subject to consideration by the manager, be applied to each account. It will thus be seen that the volume of routine accountancy work handled by a branch is considerably reduced, which must lead to the day's work being more interesting with much of the routine tedium removed.
This brief description merely refers to the present stage of automation developments. We shall soon see branches linked directly to computer by land-lines. There will be remarkable developments over the course of the next few years which will, in themselves, further simplify routine work while providing all the statistical information required by the Bank. It is not long since all these developments were considered desirable but impractical, and as we move rapidly into the automation age we can really regard ourselves as fortunate in that we are personally going to enjoy the benefits. The establishment of computer systems requires a tremendous preliminary effort, not only by technical staff but by all those involved in the branches and in Head Office. Above all it requires accuracy but it can be said confidently that such an effort is well worth while.