Centring the computer in the business of banking: Barclays Bank and technological change, 1954-1974

  • Ian Martin

    Student thesis: Phd


    The introduction of large-scale computing technology into British high street banking in the 1960s was a solution to shortages of space and staff. Computers required a first-time dislocation of customer accounting from its confines in the branch, where it had been dealt with by paper-based and mechanised systems, to a new space: the bank computer centre. The implications of this shift have, up until now, not been explored. While historians of business and technology have stressed the continuities between computerisation, punched-card machines, and centralised work, the demands of the computer on decentralised business activities have received little attention. This thesis addresses that shortcoming.The main vehicle for my analysis is a case study of Barclays Bank. I begin in 1954, when the bank took its initial steps towards branch computerisation, and end twenty years later, when the last of its branches was connected to the system. Blending oral testimonies with visual and written sources, I follow activities inside and outside the computer centre to consider the relationship between computers, business, space and work as the material and discursive aspects of computing technology are connected to existing banking practice.I contend that while computers did not appear to achieve the quantitative changes in staffing and space that the banks initially desired, there were qualitative effects that reveal different dimensions to technological change. I demonstrate how the computer centre was constructed as an iconic symbol of modernity to project a new organisational identity for the banks; how technology's materiality changed the look of banking and signalled the approach of "Americanisation"; how the computer could provide opportunities both for learning and for expensive failure; and how the computer centre was a place that reconfigured temporal, occupational and organisational structures to become a nexus of new careers for bank workers turned computer specialists. The result is an analysis of computing use that moves beyond simple causal connections between computers, space and work to highlight the reciprocal and changing nature of their relationships.
    Date of Award31 Dec 2010
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorJames Sumner (Supervisor) & Jeff Hughes (Supervisor)


    • history
    • computing
    • automation
    • banking
    • technology

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