Credit card advert, 1972
NatWest Group History 100 object 8: Access credit card branch advertisement, 1972.
Access was launched in 1972 as a joint venture between several UK banks, including NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland. This counter-top advertisement was devised to whet customers' appetites for the many dreams that could be realised more easily with the help of a credit card. The pages could be turned to reveal different aspirations: a foreign holiday; an SLR camera; a home makeover; a smart new polyester dress.
Executive charge cards such as Diners Club had been around since the 1950s, and in fact the UK wing of Diners Club was part-owned by NatWest constituent Westminster Bank. These early cards were, however, aimed specifically at top businessmen with their international travel, wining and dining. It was not until 1966 that the UK's first credit card for the general public was launched. This was Barclaycard, and its success spurred Barclays' rivals into planning a credit card offering of their own. They developed the new card as a joint venture, and called it Access.
Cards offered advantages for customers, retailers and banks
There were several reasons why credit cards offered advantages for customers, retailers and banks alike. For customers and retailers, they represented convenience, security and the facility to make round-the-clock payments, including cross-border and remote transactions. For the banks, they were an alternative to the expensive business of handling and processing ever-growing quantities of cash and cheques.
Credit cards were an idea whose time had come in the late '60s and early '70s. More people than ever before had bank accounts, which equipped them to use more advanced payment methods. In addition, the austerity of the '50s had given way to greater prosperity. More people had more disposable income, and wanted to use it to buy extras such as colour televisions, cameras, home improvements and foreign holidays. Credit cards made these aspirations easier to attain and pay for alongside the more mundane expenses of everyday life.
Access was launched in October 1972. Within five years a million NatWest customers had Access cards. The card could be used in Europe from 1973 and worldwide from 1975. Technology kept moving on, enabling cards to be used in ATMs from the early 1980s. Soon afterwards, point of sale terminals were introduced in shops, allowing the cards to be swiped and payments automatically processed.
In the mid-1990s the Access name disappeared from the UK high street, replaced by Mastercard. Nevertheless, credit cards remained entrenched in our buying habits. By the turn of the millennium, half of British adults held a credit card. The growth of internet retail in the following decade only served to increase the usefulness of credit and debit card payments, and by 2004 the British population was spending more by plastic than by cash.