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BNZ celebrates 50 years of decimal currency

From Abacuses to Apps: BNZ celebrates 50 years of decimal currency and banking technology

• New Zealand first adopted decimal currency 50 years ago on 10 July 1967

• BNZ was the first New Zealand bank to introduce computers into the banking sector

Today marks the 50th anniversary of decimal currency adoption in New Zealand and for BNZ, coincides with the introduction of computers into banking – a first for the sector.

Fifty years ago, New Zealand was a country where cash was the only way to pay and the conversion from pence to cents heralded a time of independence and change. Catchy jingles and clever TV adverts can still be recalled with the iconic ‘Mr Dollar’ dancing across screens explaining, ’a 10-shilling note becomes a dollar note and a pound note become two dollars - and there’ll be 100 cents to a dollar!’.

As the day grew closer, 27 million bank notes and 165 million coins valued at $120 million and weighing more than 700 tonnes were distributed around the country. All banks were then closed from Wednesday 5 July until Monday 10 July, giving bank staff the time to convert their records into dollars and cents.

It wasn’t just the currency changing at BNZ though as the bank was the first in New Zealand to introduce computers into the workplace.

Stephen Bowe, Head of Digital at BNZ says the introduction of technology and its continued influence on banking has connected people with their money in a way we haven’t ever experienced before.

“Being the first bank to introduce computers back in 1967 really positioned us as a forward thinking organisation that was committed to providing innovative solutions. Fast-forward 50 years and we still aim to push the boundaries and provide the best solutions for our customers, but the influence of technology on our environment means we are doing this in very different ways.

“In many ways, digital evolution has been the norm for us since way back then and we are now at the point where 89 percent of our transactions are either through internet banking or our app. That equates to about 14m sessions each month – something that was virtually unheard of 10 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. Mobile phones are fast becoming the remote control to people’s financial lives with technology providing a level of comfort and accessibility that has ultimately changed the way Kiwis interact with their money.”

Ministry for Culture and Heritage Chief Historian Neill Atkinson says the decision to move from imperial to decimal currency was a defining moment in the country’s history.

“While we retained strong links with Britain our move to the dollar currency showed the world that our identity was more than colonial,” he says.

“Discussion of decimalisation started in the early 1900s and by the 1960 general election both the National and Labour parties supported the move. Work on the change, overseen by then under-secretary for finance and future Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, began in 1963.

“But the first proposed designs for the new currency drew unfavourable comment when sent to England’s Royal Mint.”

For more information about the switch to decimal currency please visit BNZ Heritage, Te Ara or NZHistory.


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