Since Northern Trust’s earliest years, its embrace of technology has played a key role in enabling it to both operate at the highest level of efficiency and provide clients with the most effective service possible. The roots of that progressive attitude trace back to the Bank’s founding principles, which pledged to “lead, not follow, in the areas of financial expertise, products and technology.”
Even before the rise of automation in the late 1940s transformed the daily rhythms of office work, Northern Trust was making the moves of a modern company. In 1930 it installed “manufactured weather” — a radical concept for its day — and became Chicago’s first air-conditioned office building. A new Bank facility opened in 1948 included modern addressograph and tabulating technology to replace handwritten and typed records.
At the time, shaving time off a process was a tantalizing goal. Northern Trust added its first photocopier and multilith — a type of duplicating machine — to its growing technology inventory in 1953, relieving the tedium of typing multiple document copies. The following year, it created a Methods and Machine Research department with the sole goal of supplying employees with newly available technologies.
When the first computing technologies appeared after WWII, the IBM 407 accounting machine won the hearts and minds of Northern Trust’s forward-looking staff. The rudimentary machine, installed at the Bank in 1954, prepared reports and records from punched cards fed into it. A fully integrated electronic accounting and check-processing system — a first for a Chicago bank — followed a few years later.
The innovations of the 1970s brought widespread use of bulky but powerful mainframe computers. In 1978, Northern Trust owned three IBM 370-168s, all dedicated to its master trust business. When computers shrunk to desktop size, Northern Trust supplied offices with new models and increased IT support.
Behind the scenes, the Bank’s IT staff created programs and processes powerful enough to handle ever-growing volumes and varieties of transactions and reports. By the late 1980s, Northern Trust was one of the top 10 banks in the United States in electronic funds transfer. In 1995, it joined 11 other U.S. banks to create EDIBANX, a new electronic payment clearing house.
In 1995, Northern Trust launched Private Passport, offering online account access and bill payment to personal clients, with full integration to their trust, brokerage and mutual fund accounts. Passport broke new ground by tapping into the power of the Internet — still largely uncharted territory for businesses in the mid-1990s.
A focus on continuing technology investment helped Northern win significant new business — around the world — on the strength of its platform, while simultaneously fueling product development and enhancements. In 2012 Northern extended to clients the flexibility and convenience of mobile banking with Private Passport Mobile.
Today, technology continues to underpin the Bank’s global business and earn it accolades. In both 2012 and 2013 Northern won the title of “Best Private Bank for Innovation” by Professional Wealth Management and The Banker magazines; WealthBriefing named it “Best Global Custodian, Wealth Management Technology Offering” in 2013.