Before electronic banking, how did wealthy businessmen keep track of their earnings?


Before electronic banking, how did wealthy businessmen keep track of their earnings?

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Paper and ink. They also had secretaries / accountants to help deal with the paper and ink. Even if you go back far enough, the banks themselves were using paper records, in some countries they still do.

Just like today, they would employ a bunch of accountants and work with bankers to generate reports about revenues, profit, costs, ect., the main difference was that more people were needed without the help of computers and the information would be on paper/phone/fax/telegram rather than over a computer network

They had an army of accountants writing things in ledgers. Double-entry bookkeeping was invented to accurately keep track of the money flowing in and out of various accounts, and it was common for large businesses to have entire _floors_ of accountants whose job it was to keep track of those entries.

There’s a whole field of professions called accountants. These were people who’s sole purpose was to keep track of financial transactions. Then every month or quarter (totally up to the business) all the accountants would put together reports and say “this division spent and made this much money in these ways” then the CFO or VP of finance would aggregate all these reports to determine how well a company is performing financially. *That person* would then write another report covering basically the same information but company wide. This report would go out to the rest of the company.

What you think accountants are for?

Ebenezer Scrooge ran an accounting firm thats why he was so aware of how much everything cost. all day everyday he spent his times recording the gastly expenses of other people.

Before computers, everyone (wealthy businessmen and everyone else who owned a business) used paper and pencils to keep track of their finances.

They used large paper books called ledgers.

FYI electronic banking is not the same as financial statements.

Fun fact prior to the wide spread adoption of calculators and digital computers the math for things like loans and insurance had to all be done by hand. This was a job primarily done by women, and the term for this career was Computers. That’s where the term originated.

Prior to digital Computers banks, businesses, business men, etc relied on Accountants just like they do today but everything was done on ledgers with pen and paper.

Paper ledgers and armies of clerks. All transactions were recorded by hand in books, then the books were periodically brought together and reconciled with the other books.


Banks kept a paper ledger and tracked deposits and withdrawals.

Balancing a chequebook was a thing to people did.

Stock certificates were paper and you kept them in a safe. Same with things like government bonds. Same thing with land deeds.

One of the reasons that the bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd was popular with the public was that he burned the mortgages that the bank he was robbing kept on file. Once mortgage document was destroyed, the mortgage ceased to exist, unless other copies could be found.

Other times wealth was kept in physical objects like paintings, the silverware, jewels, or gold coins in a safe Scrooge McDuck style.

Everything was recorded on paper.

At one point, there were entire floors of office buildings were full of desks for accountants that were there simply to track all the financials. Payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and so on. There’s a story of a manager of one of these accounting floors who wept when he saw a computer manipulate a single change throughout a spreadsheet nearly instantaneously because he knew it would have taken his entire floor of people over a week to accomplish the same thing and he also realized that hundreds of his people were about to lose their jobs.

Go back far enough and things were recorded on clay tablets. Basically the king/lord/emperor owned everything and an army of scribes made sure the common folk fulfilled their responsibilities.

In South America, they recorded sums using a complicated system of strings and knots.

For a long while in England, the tax department would break a stick in half and give you one piece while they stored the other. If there was ever a question of you having paid your taxes, you could bring your half of the stick in to verify that you paid if it matches the other half they had ‘on file’. There’s still mountains of sticks in storage in museums over there as ancient financial records.

As explained to a 5yo- “Timmy pay attention in math class, you might become a wealthy businessman and need to keep track of your earnings.”

As explained to you- Math, more precisely accounting.

With documents. Banking is actually a pretty ancient industry. They’ve known how to keep track of assets, capital, interest etc. for a very long time now.

They would convert it to gold coins and keep it in a giant vault in the back yard so they could swim in it.

Had an elderly weird aunt in the family who kept her money in a half dozen or more local banks. She used the bus to go to every bank, every weekday, and had them add in the interest earned onto her passbooks. (yes, she had substantial deposits)

Also people could to a bank and have something called a passbook filled out for them, which would be the equivalent of an account statement for their records

When I started in insurance, we used spreadsheets… Paper spreadsheets. 11×17″ paper with rectangular grid. You put one digit per rectangle and you could construct free form calculations. I did large group underwriting. We would set rates based on the recent experience of the employer.

Later, I would see calculation sheets laid out by actuaries and filled in by clerks with calculators to calculate tables of rates and reserve factors. One pricing memo from 1966 which I had occasion to review 20 years later, opined that it would take “65 girl hours” to calculate all the rates for a new form.

ETA: Bonds used to have physical coupons. To collect your semi-annual interest, you had to cut out the coupon and present it to a bank. As a fundraiser for charity, my company used to sell worthless, pre-Revolution Russian paper bonds denominated in rubles with the coupons still attached.

People are talking about doing math with pencil and paper (or with calculators or adding machines) which is a part of it, of course.

But as for things like keeping track of current stock prices, commodity prices, bond and interest rates, those values were published in newspapers at the end of each day. Especially wealthy and well-connected traders would have stock tickers — physical printers connected to telegraph lines that would print out the latest market prices continuously. They would also have men (they were always men back then) calling up brokerages on landline telephones, once those became a thing.

The “Stock ticker” apps and websites are called that because of the ticking sounds the teleprinters made banging out the numbers.

Bookkeepers out the ass. Redundancies on top of redundancies.. kinda like disinformation and flushing a turd to see where it pops out. They didn’t get wealthy by being un-clever.