The announcement of the death of John Shepherd-Barron – recognised as the inventor of the cash machine – was a reminder at how far technology has come in the past 50 years.
Back in the late ‘60s Shepherd-Barron was working for printing firm De La Rue when he had a ‘eureka moment’ in the bath. Developing upon the concept of chocolate bar dispensers he decided on formulating a way of taking his money out of the bank anywhere in the world.
The first ATM (automatic teller machine) was commissioned by Barclays and opened in London in June 1967 with over 1.7 million now around the world. Yet, back then even plastic bank cards hadn’t been invented and withdrawals required special radioactive cheques impregnated with Carbon 14 that matched the 4 digit pin we have all come to know and love. With a maximum of £10 paid out at a time it was a revelation then but few would have predicted how big an influence it would be on our lives.
Shepherd-Barron went on to become the managing director of De La Rue Instruments now the world’s largest commercial security printer producing over 150 national currencies, passports, etc and was awarded an OBE in 2005. Yet, it is perhaps only on his passing that the majority of the world realise how much they have to thank him for. The introduction of the ATM broke down traditional ways of working in one of the most staid business sectors and led to other businesses thinking beyond the way they had always done things.
The ATM of course, went through further development, with the plastic card aiding its growth. The concept also played a role in the development of the internet with the cash machines the first computer terminals linked across the world that many people will have encountered. Without that one flash of brilliance who knows what might never have happened?
It appears Shepherd-Barron, who died aged 84 after a short-illness, remained forward thinking in his later years. In an interview with the BBC just three years ago he said “Money costs money to transport. I am therefore predicting the demise of cash within three to five years.” With the widespread increase of smartphones and their ever-evolving usage it may well be that this latest prediction might come true within that timescale, with the irony that he perhaps bowed out when his biggest invention was at the height of its fame.