The Origins of the Cashless Society: Cash Dispensers, Direct to Account Payments and the Development of On-Line Real-Time Networks, c.1965-1985

Joint Winner of the James Soltow Award for Best Paper in Essays 2014


  • Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo Bangor Business School, Bangor University; Fundef - Mexico
  • Tobias Karlsson Lund University
  • Björn Thodenius Stockholm School of Economics


This article explores the technological choices made at the dawn of the massification of retail finance. We describe and analyze the early development of electronic banking and the foundations of the cashless society through the experiences of organizations with similar governance in two different competitive environments — Swedish and British savings banks. We document how the adoption of direct-to-account wage deposits and the subsequent deployment of networks of cash dispensers interacted with the adoption of on-line real-time (OLRT) computing, and distinguish on- line and OLRT communication as distinct stages in the evolution of computer networks. We emphasize the role of middle managers in the selection of alternative technologies and show how delivering a cashless society proved more difficult than anticipated.