From Barter to Blockchain: The Evolution of Payments

February 16, 2018

Man first began to barter back in 9000BC in Ancient Egypt. Since then, the way we pay for goods and services has arguably evolved beyond all recognition, and in ways that might surprise you.

600 BC: The first coin

Putting an end to arguments over whether 1 sheep was worth 3 or 4 sacks of grain, the first coin was minted in what is now modern Turkey. Featuring a roaring lion, the earliest coins were made from electrum – a natural mix of silver and gold – and were weighed, not counted. Of course, the Chinese had been using a form of circular coin since 1100BC.

1290 AD: The first banknotes hit Europe

In fact, paper money had also been around in China since the 11th century, but it was Marco Polo who introduced it to Europe. Slow to catch on, paper currency was first adopted by the Swedes 300 years later.

1871: The start of e-money

It’s true, the first fund transfer by telegraph took place in 1871 after Western Union finally connected the East and West Coasts of America. It had taken 10 years to complete the line because Sioux Warriors would use the ‘talking wire’ for making bracelets.

1950: The dawn of the credit card

When Frank McNamara had to phone his wife to bring him cash to pay for his dinner, he vowed the situation would never happen again. The Diners Club card was the first ever credit card and now over 50% of all transactions in the UK and the US are made using plastic.

1967: The ATM conquers the high street

John Shepherd-Barron was said to have had his ATM ‘Eureka!’ moment in the bath, just like Archimedes. Barclays installed the first one in North London in 1967 – it doled out £10 notes in return for radioactive cheques. Now ATMs are a fact of life around the world.

1983: Telephone banking

The Bank of Scotland’s Homelink service used a telephone and a TV to allow customers to pay their bills and paved the way for:

1990: Internet banking

The height of the dotcom boom, and internet banking seemed the obvious next evolution in payment. Customers didn’t see it that way, however, with the Bank of America taking 10 years to amass 2 million customers.

1997: Contactless fuel payments

Mobil Oil’s Speedpass electronic payment tag paved the way for modern contactless payments.

2005: Chip and pin arrives

It seems strange to think of a world without effortless chip and pin payments but they’ve only been around for as long as YouTube. At the time this now ubiquitous technology was introduced there was retail chaos, as only 4 in 10 bank cards actually had a chip.

2010: Mobile pay

The first Android phones were developed using NFC technology, paving the way for mobile payments. But it was Apple that had an app for that in 2014 and really kickstarted the adoption of mobile payment methods with Apple Pay.

2016: Blockchain

Cryptocurrency was born in 2009 and the first bitcoin payment made in 2010 when 2 Papa John’s pepperoni pizzas were purchased for 10,000 bitcoin, making them worth over $2 million apiece at today’s exchange rates. But it’s blockchain that’s currently attracting all the buzz and over $1 billion in investment.