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A hundred years of cash

A hundred years ago, things were different but the same.

We needed to eat, but what we ate was very much a national rather
than international cuisine.

We had to travel, but we would walk, bicycle of take the
train.

We enjoyed entertainment, with a visit to the cinema once a
month as a treat.

We had to talk, and most of this communication would be
face-to-face.

A century later, we eat an international cuisine, catch a
plane as easily as a train, watch the movies on our telephones and communicate
24 by 7 by remote media.

But one thing hasn’t changed much.

Cash.

We still pay for stuff and the majority of us pay with cash.

Notes and coins.

Cash.

Sure, we know cash usage will change significantly with mobile
internet, but it shows what a slow burn it’s been when you look at the posters
I discovered the other day.

The posters are for cash machines, and the first is from
1912.

IMG_1689

It’s a lovely looking poster, but the writing for the ad is
what really gets me:

Cash Machines: we make them for all kinds of businesses. Prices from $20
to
$795.

All sorts of stores, factories,
garages, dining cars, county and city offices, commissaries, public service
offices, hotels, theatres and newspaper offices are included in the list.  They are used in the largest stores and on
the smallest corner stands.

They are used in the
store farthest North and the store farthest South.

Certain kinds are made
especially for department stores, railroads and banks.  They give quick service and protection and do
things no other machines sold can do.

Our office registers
certify and classify accounts and records. 
They give the most positive checks for bookkeepers, auditors and
mangers.  No other machines sold give so
much information and protection with as little work and in in so short a time.

We have spent 30 years
in studying the needs of all businesses where money is handled and records
kept.  We make cash registers to fit
every need and this was why we make over 300 styles and sizes.

Our registers safeguard
all transactions occurring between employes (sic) and customers.  They save time, work and worry and insurer to
proprietors all their profits.

They cost so little
and do so much.

Write or call and have
the kind of register suitable for your business explained to you.  Investigation will cost you nothing.

We have a representative in your vicinity.

IMG_1690

Beautiful marketing that would work today, but over 300
machines to handle cash for different businesses?  Well, I suppose we still have that today when
you consider the different machinery being used by airlines, retailers and
banks.

Then we move on a decade, and find that technological
breakthroughs abound

IMG_1685

This time, we can see things have really changed when the
wording tells us:

It is more than a cash
register.  Besides doing all a cash register
should do, it adds the items of a sale as the amounts are registered and prints
their total on a ticket for the customer.

Wow!  Automated
customer invoices using paper ticketing with a total on it.

I love it (wish I’d been blogging back then!).

This was significant progress, with not a great deal
changing beyond this until the 1950s when the machines not only gave paper tickets
with totals, but also told staff how much change to give the customer.

IMG_1683

All of the messages are about speed, service and cost.

Not a great deal has changed today to be honest.

We are still using cash and cash registers, we are still focused
upon the customer expdeirence, speed and cost, but the messaging is more subtle
and technological.

We are still using cash and cash registers, we are still focused upon the customer expdeirence, speed and cost, but the messaging is more subtle and technological.

Just look at how the cash register of 2012 advertises itself:

NCR Silver

Source: NCR Silver

So things haven’t changed much … except that, if you didn’t spot it, the last ad doesn’t involve cash.   It's a card payment.  So maybe cash has had its day, after all, and if the cash register is just a smartphone dongle then you may want to checkout some other ads.

For example, here's one from Times Square:

Square

Source: techcrunch

Talking of Square, here's another one:

So today's cash register is mobile phone and today's cash is … cashless!

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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3 comments

  1. Chris,
    Initially your article seems to rest on the assumption that cash = notes and coins. While colloquially this may be people’s understanding (and historically this has been the case), the terms cash is not used today only to means notes and coins … THEREFORE it must be referring to something different. Then you point out that increasingly today’s ‘cash’ is ‘cashless’ … which is a bit confiusing! Surely the point to make is that whereas previously we thought of cash in tangible terms, increasingly practice shows that it is essentially an accounting phenomenon – an intangible value. So we need to catch up in our language by distinguishing between ‘cash’ as value in exchange and the form in which it is embedded (such as notes and coins).
    Otherwise it makes no sense to talk about companies being ‘cash rich’ etc unless we mean Henry Ford with banknotes stuffed into a strongbox in his factory. It is surely only the physicalism of present day consciousness that connects us to cash as notes and coins in the same way that we are bound to the idea that gold still has a monetary significance.

  2. Hey Arthur
    I’ve had the debates about the semantics of cash being a euphemism for any form of value exchange before, but the industry generally uses the term ‘cash’ to mean the exchange of physical notes and coins as a value exchange. Money is slightly less specific, and the general discussion is about the move away from physical exchange (cash) to electronic exchange (value).
    Chris

  3. Cash, remind me….
    Oh yes, that funny stuff which now accounts for less than 10% of my personal payments.

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