Before the announcement of its Apple Pay mobile payment system during Apple's much-anticipated September new product event, the concept of paying for goods still came down to good ol' cash, credit cards and, for those tech-savvy individuals out there, the occasional bitcoin.
As we enter a new era of paying for our goods and services (something that other companies have tried and failed at), it not only brings up the conversation about what will end up happening to our wallets and the contents within them, but also...how did we even end up with banks and credit cards in the first place?
In an interesting ELI5 (stands for 'Explain Like I'm Five') thread happening right now on Reddit, a curious Redditor has asked the community a very relevant question as we head into a new era of Apple Pay:
"How did banks work before computers? Couldn't you withdraw all your money from 2 different banks before they contacted each other?"
Here are some highlights from the top-voted answer from Redditor 'xtremity':
- By 1929, the Bank of America had 453 banking offices in California alone, with aggregate resources of over US$1.4 billion. Things worked. Just much more slowly than at present.
- Cash was more important than it is today. It was what you got paid in. It wasn't as though your wages got automatically put into an account and you were forever going to the bank to make minor withdrawals as we tend to today from ATMs.
- The branch at which you held the account was much more important (than it is now). At your home branch, there were ledger cards and other rather Dickensian handwritten books which kept track of your account. If you wanted to withdraw substantial sums, you had to give some days notice, partly so they could get the cash together and partly so they could check the details of your account.
- Since your home branch was so important, the staff tended to know its customers by face -- no banking by phone or machine in those days. So they had a pretty good sense of where your finances stood when you came in to make deposits. Since cash was so important in those days, and was what people got paid in, individual people tended to make deposits (including mortgage repayments) more often than withdrawals.
- If you wanted to do transactions at other branches (particularly withdrawals), you had to wait awhile for phone or mailed confirmation. Bank hours were often quite short -- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- because outside those hours, the staff had to manually update all the ledgers and accounts from the day's transactions, according to Noel Prosequi on the straightdope messageboard.
- A big advance in portability was the check. This was essentially a withdrawal slip filled in and given to someone else so they could get the money, but rather than have to take it to your bank to get the money out, the recipient could deposit the withdrawal slip/check at their bank and the banks would do the paper shuffling for everyone.
You can check out the insightful thread in its entirety over at Reddit.