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A short time ago I was asked by Tom Harper, president of Networld Media Group, co-founder of the ATM Industry Association and publisher of ATMmarketplace.com, whether I would be interested in reviewing a book he coauthored with Bernardo Bàtiz-Lazo, professor of business history and bank management at Bangor University in Wales. A few days later, the book arrived on my doorstep.
"CASHBOX — The invention and globalization of the ATM" is a delightful coffeetable book that proved easy to read. For the ATM community, it is not only an enjoyable read but a likely compendium of much-needed, and often hard to find, source material that I am sure will find its way into many PowerPoint presentations for some time to come.
(If you follow this link and enter the discount code "cashbox10" between now and May 31, you'll receive a $10 discount on the book.)
The introduction simply lays out the background of why the book was written, but even so, there were a couple of gems, starting with "In many ways, this book is the story of how self-service technology has helped us as a society overcome some of the limits of time and space, bringing greater convenience and mobility to the human race in terms of how we pay and move our money around."
As the introduction ends, you will find an even more compelling observation, "Consider the trends reported by the world's central banks. In the past few years, the amount of cash in circulation hasn't just grown — its pace of growth has increased."
This is followed by, "A truly cashless society would deny countless people the choice of using cash when it's more convenient, or when using a card or a phone is impossible at the point of purchase."
This book (no surprises here) is all about cash — from its earliest introduction to the many attempts to move away from dependence upon it. Altogether, it's hard to escape the authors' points about just how disruptive to everyone everywhere it would be if the choice to use cash disappeared.
At one point, the book highlights how checks, introduced to lessen the need for cash, are disappearing well ahead of any prospect of seeing cash disappear. Towards the end of the book, the authors observe how there's still a "considerable vagueness" (that) plagues proponents of the cashless future. Moving credit around the world and transferring value from one person to another do not preclude the presence of cash. They simply offer more flexibility and choice … "
The book is richly illustrated with ATM-related pictures from the late 1960s through the present. I even found myself scanning a number of the pictures to see if there was one of myself at a trade show or event.
For me, Chapter 8, "Cold Hard Cash: ATMs in the Antarctic (and Other Unlikely Locations)," was as entertaining as the opening chapter, "A 2,700-year History of Cash and Payments," and for those not familiar with the history of the ATM Industry Association, it was well covered in Chapter 5, "The History of the ATM Industry Association."
Even as these chapters flanked the main content, the topics covered kept me turning the pages. However, it wasn't until the end of the book that I came across a number of tables and graphs that really drove home the book's central message of how dependent upon cash we really have become.
The explosive growth in ATM deployment, and the cash transactions they support today has given rise to nearly 3 million ATMs worldwide (and 8.6 billion cash withdrawals every month) — "a mind-boggling number."
Overall, very few topics have escaped the attention of the authors. Still, coverage in Cashbox, while extensive, misses a couple of items from my perspective. Considering my own career saw me working for companies such as Tandem Computers, Nixdorf Computers and ACI Worldwide, more attention could have been given to the "server-wars" of the early 1980s when the likes of Stratus and Tandem battled for dominance of the new "intelligent front-end" business.
Perhaps not quite as important, but relevant all the same, as we saw the need to monitor these vast populations of ATMs, was the war waged between NetView from IBM and NET/MASTER from the Australian startup Software Developments, which led to the industry-standard, open solutions available today.
Cash will continue to be under attack and the world will continue to pursue cashless alternatives. There's no question that more of us are doing our banking online, capturing and depositing those last remaining checks on our smartphones. Even this week, Starbucks said it now sees "more than 3 million mobile payments per week," according to CEO Shultz, and that "exceeds the combined mobile payments of the next 10 companies."
A total of 8.6 billion cash withdrawals every month versus some 12 million mobile payments per month at Starbucks brings considerable weight and indeed focus to the debate — there's still a very long way to go before we see the end of cash.
Even at Starbucks, we have to carry cash for the tip, of course, but that's still only part of the story. It's going to be about retaining options and being able to make a choice that ensures cash will be with us for a very long time.
In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reflection on all that is proving popular within the media today, Cashbox ends with a salute. "Here's to the cash box — ironically, the killer app of the new mobile, global economy." And with that, few, I suspect, will argue.
Topics: ATM History
Companies: ATM Industry Association (ATMIA)