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Pages from World Bank History: Computers Come to the Bank

A presentation of historical events by the World Bank Group Archives

April 4, 2003—Today computers are ubiquitous in the Bank. Just about everyone has their own personal computer, and other computers perform many different functions in the institution. Of course, this was not always so. In this article, reprinted from the April 1961 issue of International Bank Notes, Victor Chang of the Treasurer’s Department recounts one of the very first introductions of computers into the work of the World Bank.

Automation Takes Over!

The Bank has had a Data Processing Section with IBM equipment in operation since last November [1960]. As the activities of the Bank and its associated organizations continue to increase, record keeping becomes more voluminous, and the need for prompt information regarding previous activities becomes more frequent and imperative. In order to meet these needs, the Bank has obtained the latest equipment suitable for its purposes and is now in the lengthy process of transferring to IBM punch cards the records relating to the past and present activities of the Bank.

Mr. J. Albert Schaech in the Treasurer’s Department is in charge of this section and is beginning to see the results of many long weeks of preparation and planning. His first job was to transfer the entries on the Bank’s financial books to a punch card system of accounting. The general accounting records of the Bank, including statements to borrowers, are now being produced on IBM equipment.

The Bank’s statements to borrowers have always presented a problem for conventional bookkeeping equipment because of the diversity of currencies and the magnitude of the sums involved. The word "billion" is often heard in the Treasurer’s Department. Until the past year or so there was no conventional equipment that would present the information in a form suitable for Bank needs. The new IBM equipment permits showing borrowers their statements of account in a much more concise and presentable form. Eighteen currencies is the maximum number charged so far to any one loan. Previously the statement of such an account would involve twenty or more separate pages, whereas the new statement can now be shown on a little over three pages.

As soon as Al Schaech has completed his work on the Bank’s general and loan accounts he will then be ready to help other hard-pressed people elsewhere in the Bank with their record keeping problems. The arduous work of programming and recording previous statistical history is a job that ordinary mortals would prefer to avoid. The Data Processing Section thrives on it!

Without records there is no history. Courtesy of ISG’s World Bank Group Archives.


Al Schaech (seated) gives President Eugene Black (right) an explanation of the inner workings of the new computer.


Schaech demonstrates how the computer works…


Grethe Hasal, at the verifier, checks on the accuracy of the key punch operation.


Al Schaech and Robert Stewart examine the "hard copy" as it comes out of the 407 accounting machine – in this instance part of a borrower’s statement.


And the audience eagerly views the results


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