Decimalisation: the Standing Order system
Article reproduced from the Savings Banks Institute Journal, January 1970
When the many aspects of decimalisation, within the Birmingham Municipal Bank, were first considered, it was realised that conversion of standing orders payable by credit transfer to decimal amounts would be one of the most exacting tasks. Probably no two banks will have identical systems for dealing with credit transfers but the conversion programme, which is now being systematically completed, may be of interest.
The standing order department is located within City Branch premises and serves as a centre for embossing standing order plates, printing the perforated credit transfer/debit slips and for despatching to the commercial banks both the cash and standing order credit transfers dealt with at branches on the previous working day.
Embossed plates are stored in branch code and account number order in three sections:
    1  Yearly and half-yearly (two embossed plates)
    2  Quarterly
    3  Monthly
Card index tabs fastened to embossed plate frames show name, due date and account number and a central card index is maintained, in alphabetical order, of all current standing orders, together with a register of final payment dates and any different final payment amounts.
Coloured cards bearing copies of embossed plates are forwarded to branches and filed in due date order within one of the three sections, being rotated and checked against corresponding credit transfers or debit slips before payment is made.
One possible programme to deal with conversion of the 50,000 standing orders would have necessitated alteration of the amounts on annual payment embossed plates to decimal as soon as printing for the final payment in .s.d. was completed, ie from 15 February 1970, likewise half-yearly from 15 August 1970. Between August and November 1970, printing would have to be gradually advanced from the usual three weeks ahead of requirements to three months, to enable three clear months before Decimal Day to be used for conversion of all quarterly and monthly payments, together with those remaining in the annual and half-yearly section. It was estimated that this programme would entail amendment of over five hundred embossed plates on each working day during the three months to D Day. The timetable, based on the capabilities of the printing machine, as then known, left no margin of time for safety, and therefore the advice of the printing machine suppliers was sought.
It was fortunate that on the seven line embossed plates used in the bank, the space immediately below the amount had always been left blank, and it was shown that it was possible for this space to be used for the decimal amount to be embossed but not printed until required.
The printing roller, which rotates a half revolution, and returns to the original position after each print, was cut to avoid pressure on that part of the plate embossed with the decimal amount. In addition a new ribbon cover plate was cut to give added protection to this 'non print' space.
Decimal amounts were embossed on some cancelled plates immediately below the .s.d. amounts and the cut out was shown to eliminate decimal amounts effectively from prints. Another roller and ribbon cover plate were similarly prepared but so as to exclude .s.d. amounts. These will be stored until the printing of decimal amounts begins.
A few thousand current standing orders will expire before D Day. These have been marked on the embossed plate index tabs with a bold 'X' to denote that no further action is required.
Standing order department staff were issued with instructions for expressing amounts in decimal currency, and a large whole pence conversion chart was provided, because, with an average of 150 new and amended standing orders each day, it was advantageous to emboss both .s.d and decimal amounts on the plates, and to mark index tabs with an 'X'.
When the embossed plate index tabs with .s.d. final payment dates had been marked it was estimated that about one-eighth of the total number required no further action. To show the progress of the conversion a chart showing the layout of the embossed plate storage cabinets was designed by a member of the staff.
Until decimalised amounts have been embossed on all of the relevant plates, a cross will continue to be marked on all new and amended plate index tabs.
Since annual and half-yearly standing orders attract less amendments than other sections, the decimalised conversion of this section is being completed first. Each relevant plate index tab is being marked in pencil with the decimalised amount to assist the embossing machine operator and in strict order, tray by tray, each plate requiring a decimal amount, is embossed and immediately returned to its original position in the tray.
When a tray holding up to 150 plates has been completed, a check is made of each conversion and a coloured card denoting type (pink for monthly standing orders, blue for quarterly and yellow for annual and half-yearly) is printed on a small hand machine. It is then forwarded to the appropriate branch where it replaces the existing due date card which is destroyed.
The work chart shows that the progress made so far has surpassed expectations. It is envisaged that, even excluding the busy period around each month end when conversion work is set aside, the programme will be completed during the summer of 1970. All due date cards must then be examined in branches to ensure that the necessary conversions have been correctly made.
Many internal standing orders are operated within the bank and, for some time, they have only been accepted with amounts exactly convertible to decimal currency. The same has applied to amendments to existing internal standing orders.
(Article by Alban Clemons: SBI Journal, January 1970, page 200)
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