Making space for computers in the business of banking: Barclays and Britain in the 1960s

Martin, Ian (2008). Making space for computers in the business of banking: Barclays and Britain in the 1960s. In: Connecting Disciplines: Three Societies Conference, 4-6 Jul 2008, Oxford, UK.



In July of 1961 Barclays opened Britain’s first computer centre for banking in London, England. This building was not just an operational home for a British-built EMIDEC 1100 computer; it was also a site for public display. Prior to the start of the sixties Barclays had been cautious in its use of technology to mechanise, let alone computerise, its banking operations. Yet, at the beginning of this new decade that was to see Britain "forged in the white heat" of a technological revolution, Barclays purposefully set about carving a reputation for itself as a technological innovator.

Rather than revolutionising the business of banking, however, Barclays slowly accommodated computers within traditional banking structures in order to carefully manage the public and private perceptions of its customers and staff. Internally the computer was firmly portrayed as the slave to the master of the bank manager in the branch. Externally, anthropomorphic representations of the computer in the media and an emphasis on branch staff now freed from the mundane in order to focus on customer service ensured that the gradual process of automation was not seen as a route towards depersonalisation.

In my analysis I examine the places and spaces of Barclays computer operations throughout the 1960s and show why the shift in accounting and accountability from bank branch to computer centre needed to be a gradual process in order that the business of banking be preserved.

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