We all enjoy gazing into the future and trying to predict what the world will look like ten, 50 or 100 years from now. But it’s often more entertaining to look back and see what people from 50 years ago imagined 2017 would look like.
Disappointingly, there still aren’t any jetpacks or flying cars (though we’re very close to self-driving ones, at least). But when it comes to some of the everyday technology we use to manage our finances, some of the predictions of past futurologists have turned out to be far closer to the truth than you might expect.
I recently came across this report from the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World program from 1969, preserved thanks to the wonders of YouTube (which was one development it didn’t see coming). It envisaged what the future of the banking sector would look like, and what’s fascinating about it is not only how accurate it is, but how it touches on many of the same themes and ideas we talk about today.
What we got right – and what we didn’t
Some of the predictions made in the piece turned out to be eerily accurate. For instance, it showcased a “revolutionary” new way of making payments in-store, where a terminal at the checkout is connected via the existing telephone network to the bank’s central computer.
The customer then inserts their “magnetically-coded card” and enters a secret code to confirm their identity and the money is moved directly from the customer’s account to the store’s. Sounds a lot like the chip-and-PIN system that wouldn’t become commonplace for more than 40 years, doesn’t it?
On the other hand, though, the report also claimed that this system “could, in time, make cash entirely redundant”. Yet here we are almost 50 years later, and not only is cash very much still with us, but it seems we’re still having exactly the same conversation about its imminent death. Who knows, perhaps in another 50 years, we’ll be making the same confident predictions that cash is on its last legs.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
What’s remarkable about much of the video is how many of the themes and ideas it puts forward are still very much relevant today.
For instance, the video talks about the need for convenient solutions that save time and effort for both consumers and merchants. It forecast: “No longer need [consumers] be stuck without cash or a pocket full of unacceptable checks or credit cards – a situation that’s frustrating for the customer”. This is still something that’s at the forefront of banks’ thinking today as the industry works to offer consumers a wide range of payments choice through new technologies.
Branch transformation was also something that was on the mind of the 1960s Tomorrow’s World report, much as it is today. Listening to the narrator express the same fears of automation taking over from human employees that we hear today makes you realize that some things have changed far less over the past 50 years than you’d think.
Looking back to predictions like this can also inform our thinking going forward. With the same themes of customer convenience, in-branch experience and payments choice still holding sway, it’s clear that investing in innovative technology and placing customer experience at the heart of this is still the way forward. Banks that do this well have the opportunity to lead the way and help create a more customer-centric future.