The history of payments

Throughout human history, we’ve developed new ways to assign value and exchange goods and services.

From the bartering of surplus livestock and grain in Ancient Egypt to the evolving examples of physical money found in China and the Mediterranean, the means and systems of payment were refined to the round coins and paper money we recognise today.

Soon, this standardised concept of currency allowed international trade to flourish. Banknotes were printed and England introduced the gold standard – tying a currency’s worth to its value in gold.

The 19th and 20th centuries brought yet more innovation.

In 1860, Western Union started transferring money via telegram, and in 1946, John Biggins introduced the world to “Charg-It” — the first example of a credit card.

Direct Debit was launched in 1964, and the world’s first debit card landed in 1987. Meanwhile, the 90s gave us a glimpse of rudimentary online and mobile payments, thanks in large part to trailblazing brands like Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola.

All in all, this breathless evolution of payment now sees us standing on the edge of something exciting – a future where physical money is consigned to the past.

Societies around the world are edging closer to being cashless, and thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and wearable devices, modern consumers are more than ready for the switch.

  • Concerns over security have been dispelled, with biometrics, two-factor authentication, and end-to-end encryption making digital payments safer than ever before;
  • And the speed, convenience, and ease-of-use of contactless cards and digital wallets have made cashless transactions an attractive prospect to the time-poor, tech-savvy shopper.

Today’s consumer now expects a seamless shopping experience — both online and offline.

Read more about payment in our free payment guide