The true origins are based on the medeival Knights Templar, of all things. By the 1300’s, the Knights Templar organization was one of the richest in the known world. They invented banking, invested in real estate (any medieval church in Europe which is referred to as a temple was built by the Knights Templar), and loaned money to royalty. They had what was essentially the first ATM–a pilgrim to the Holy Land would deposit money with an office of the Knights Templar and receive a receipt. That receipt could be cashed at any other Templar office.
The problem is that they were considered too wealthy. King Phillip of France was on the verge of bankruptcy because of his lengthy war with England, and owed the Templars a great deal of money. He wanted to get rid of the debt and hopefully grab the Templar money, too. He also had the Pope at his mercy–the papacy at the time was located in France. He forced the Pope to sign an order having all the Knights Templar arrested for blasphemy, on charges such as worshipping a severed head (possibly the head of John the Baptist, or the folded Shroud of Turin). Curriers were sent to Templar offices with orders that were not to be opened until Friday, October 13. The orders were to arrest all the Templars on charges of blasphemy. Many escaped, however, but those who were captured were charged with blasphemy. Some admitted the charges under torture, but later recanted, saying they only admitted it because they were being tortured. Phillip didn’t get the relief he had hoped for, though–the Templar gold was never found. One theory is that the Templars went to Switzerland and set up the Swiss banking system–before the arrests, the Swiss had been mainly farmers with no real industry. Also, they were invaded by an Eastern European country not long afterward, and were able to drive off its forces, despite the fact that until the arrest of the Templars, it had no military background.