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Why there may still be a role for paper …

I know it's a sign of my age, but am I the only one lamenting the loss of paper?

The fact is that I've visited several bank archives and actively collect rare bank notes, as well as a selection of bank notes from around the world, and the move to digitise everything just feels a little bit like we are losing something.

By way of example, I visited the HSBC archives in London a few years ago. These archives show how the bank grew from its humble Asian origins into a global powerhouse, with bits and bobs from not just the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corp, but the many other acquired banks along the way.

The archive has records of Midland Bank going back to the 18th century; the books of the last branch manager in Russia, who was banker to the Tsar; the documents showing the first bank to be established in Persia; and thousands of records of employees, showing the first female workers joining the bank during the Great War; and more.

HSBC is not alone in keeping such records and, like Biblical tablets, these records show in graphic detail the development of economies and societies. They are a record of social history and are treasured as such.

In a similar way, bank notes reflect countries and societies. Invariably, they also always have the leadership of the country there somewhere. For us, it is the Queen and great people who shaped Britain's history (including one woman!).

For America, it is past Presidents.

Therefore, my collection of notes gets interesting when you see the old Libyan and Iraqi notes with Colonel Quadaffi and Saddam Hussein on the front.


Therefore, as we move to digitise everything, do we lose something?

It's a little bit like the loss of the LP cover when vinyl disappeared. Sure you can have a digital cover, but it's not the same. The loss of the tactile feel and smell of new vinyl has lost something from our sensual inputs that digital cannot replace.  Maybe that’s why vinyl sales continue to astound industry watchers (more and more people are buying vinyl and sales hit a record 6.1 million units in the U.S. last year).

Similarly, we may all read books digitally, but how do you get your ebooks autographed? Take a selfie with the author? It's not the same.

So yes, I may be an old fart, but the loss of books and albums, alongside bank notes and document archives, is a big loss.

After all, 1000 years from now, does anyone really believe our descendants will have electricity to power up a hard drive to access the photographic records and other media we produce today on our iPads and Samsungs?  I can’t even get my old Intel 80486 PC to start!

When a magnetic wave or faulty USB cable can mess up the most precious of our memories, can banks – and more importantly you and I? – really rely on a pure digital archive for all of our history in the future?

Maybe yes, maybe no, but either way the thought process above is another reason for banks to focus upon becoming secure digital archive stores.  After all, that may be the only way we can protect our rich tapestry of human history.

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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  • oblivia

    Pretty sure that people in the future will find our technology trivially easy to understand. And if they can’t… well, they’ve probably got bigger things to worry about than digging up old books.

  • Good thoughts. I love technology (work in technology startups and use technology). But I (still) love reading paper books and doing hand printing and sculping. I take it as a backup security mechanism. They will always be full-compatible to read by anyone (provided they use the same language). This is usually not the case with technology that becomes not compliant the moment it is replaced by a new one. p.d. BTW, loved the story about the blocked iPhone and the Apple customer care guy (very funny written).