1969 Australia’s first ATM

Automatic Telling Machine, installed by the Queensland Teachers Credit Union on St Paul’s Terrace, Fortitude Valley in 1977

Australia’s first ATM, or Automatic Telling Machine, installed by the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney in 1969 was not the kind of ATM we know. It swallowed the card and when the customer entered the correct “combination” – a six-digit number – it disgorged $25. That was obviously estimated to be enough to see you through the weekend, or any unforeseen emergency. The card was not returned by the machine but sent back to the customer by “the fastest possible method”. In other words, snail mail.  It wasn’t until 1977 that computerised ATMs were introduced – the first being in Brisbane.

The early machine was really only a cash dispenser and was only available to customers with cheque accounts. The first of these machines, designed by John Shepherd Batton, was installed in a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield, north London, in 1967.

The first computerised ATM in the world was introduced by Lloyds Bank in the UK in December 1972. The machine was linked to a central computerised accounting system that could identify the customer using the card’s magnetic stripe and a PIN number.  It could check the balance, give out variable amounts of cash and report the transaction to the bank’s computer system. It was developed in partnership with IBM. The PIN (Personal Identification Number) was invented by a Scot, James Goodfellow,  in 1965.

Australia’s first ATM in the form we recognise today was installed not by one of the big banks but by the Queensland Teachers Credit Union on St Paul’s Terrace, Fortitude Valley. It was a time when, despite the arrival of Bankcard in 1975, most purchases were made with cash. Food retailers generally did not accept cards so cash was essential for grocery shopping.  Given that banks closed at 3pm on most weekdays, access to money after hours was a boon.

The Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of New South Wales began installing ATMs in 1980. Initially, the machines only operated from 7am to 11pm. In 1982 the Commonwealth Bank reported that around 12 per cent of its customers were using the new system. Some protested about the introduction of the new technology and in 1982 an anonymous group injected glue into the insertion slots of several machines operated by the National Bank and the Bank of New South Wales. There was a fear that the new technology would take away jobs.

The number of ATMs exploded during the 1980s and 1990s as all banks moved to electronic banking. However, by 2017 numbers were declining as “Tap and Go” cards were increasingly replacing cash, even for small transactions.

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