The move to the Computer Department, as it was called, was convoluted. I’d been running the Cripps Warburg rundown for the best part of a year. The job consisted of checking the list of defunct loans every morning, making a few phone calls if required, booking a dollar rate at eleven o’clock with Ken in the dealing room, sending out some telexes, filling in some forms, and going down the pub. In the afternoon I’d set up the next day’s routine and then go home as soon as I could decently get away with it – that wasn’t hard, as I was sitting in a backwater where everyone’s key objective was to keep their heads down and not rock the comfy boat. I was stultifyingly bored.
So when the offer to join something called a ‘test team’ came, I said yes, even though I had absolutely no idea what this meant. To be fair, nor did the person who made the offer. It turned out that a new computer system had to be created, tested and installed, by a given date (1st May 1977, I think), in response to something called SWIFT, standing for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, which tells you most of what you need to know about it.
The brand new idea was that computers could be made, using internationally agreed messaging standards, to talk to each other; the actual banks, and their computers, would just have to agree and fall in line. Imagine it: banks from thirty countries across the world, having to agree for the first time ever to a single rulebook - written in English but spoken in as many dialects of computer as there were banks - working together to a self-imposed timetable in which failure wasn’t an option. It was a bold, visionary initiative, which couldn’t happen now.
(I say that because today, the spirit of co-operation has almost been obliterated in favour of that of self-advantage, whereas back then everyone was just avid to make it fly.)
I turned up on day one, along with the other eight misfits, to find we’d been sat round a horseshoe desk layout. Tom and Dave, the computer guys who were more or less on their own trying to get this system designed, specified, programmed, tested and implemented, whilst running on empty, had rightly decided this was the best way of getting the help they needed. They gave us a pep talk, then we all went for a drink. Then we came back, pissed and laughing, and worked out how to do it.
It was the most intense eighteen-month period of my working life, and the most exhilarating. Who can say how we managed it, but we did. My bank actually sent the very first live message over the brand new SWIFT network. A few days later, to my honest surprise, I was offered a full-time job, with a modest salary increase, as a Systems Analyst with the Computer Department. As always, I said ‘yes’. This time, I meant it.