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Facility Solutions: Evolving Branch Security

November 2017: Vol 40 No 11
Paul Seibert, CMC
Digital delivery has reduced robberies, but not as much as you’d think. Here are cash-handling and other strategies to reduce the risk.

Security camera in the foreground with a teller line in the backgroundFor most of banking’s history, branch security has been defined by developing ways to prevent thieves from stealing cash. The advent of delivery technologies has reduced or eliminated the amount of cash available in branches, which you would expect to significantly reduce the number of robberies. Comparing the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Bank Crime Statistics for Federally Insured Financial Institutions from 2011 and 2016 shows a welcome decline in robberies, though not as dramatic as you might expect or like. 

Type of institution Robberies 2011/2016
Commercial bank 4,495/3,713 (-3.5 percent/year)
Mutual savings banks 16/27 (+13.8 percent/year)
Savings and loan associations 105/65 (-7.6 percent/year)
Credit unions 398/343 (-2.8 percent/year)

Branch security is composed of location, type of cash handling, staff training and branch layout. One could write hundreds of pages about security planning and operations. The National Credit Union Administration provides these thoughts about deterring robbery. Below are my own thoughts about the trends driving security issues related to branch evolution and robbery prevention.

Cash-Handling Technology

Some credit unions are dramatically changing their members’ branch experience by moving to 100 percent use of interactive teller machines, while others are holding back. These more cautious credit unions fear they will lose members to institutions with personal cash handling if they move all the way to ITMs or smart ATMs. 

Notably, use of cash dispensers behind teller lines and pods helps reduce robberies as well. Today tellers cannot access funds to satisfy a robber without a member number, supervisor override or preauthorized (and modest) cash limit.

There are now five levels of cash-handling technology:

  1. Traditional teller line with cash in drawers
  2. Traditional teller line using shared cash recyclers
  3. Teller pods using shared cash recyclers
  4. Remote teller systems that allows members to interact via video with tellers housed elsewhere
  5. Standalone ITMs or smart ATMs

Strategies for Reducing Robberies

So what can we do to reduce robberies at a faster pace than the trends suggest?

  • Train your staff in the attributes of SafeCatch, a security program developed by Larry Carr of the FBI that greets every person who enters the branch. 
  • Plan your branches to include the principles of SafeCatch architecture by creating a path that ensures visitor interaction with staff—a deterrent for criminals.
  • Ensure there is a clear view into the branch from outside so that would-be robbers feel observed at all times. Bonus: You’re inviting the community in to promote your experience and brand.
  • Ensure good lighting of at least 15 lumens on all sides of your building at night, particularly at and on the path to the ATM.
  • Position ATMs for good visibility from major traffic corridors. This will reduce potential robberies and is proven to increase use by 50 to 100 percent.
  • Load cash dispensers/recyclers/ATMs after hours.
  • Position the branch manager adjacent to the entry with full view of the lobby so they can actively greet for relationship-building and security.
  • Position cameras to record transactions. Lobby cameras can also be used to observe staff performance for both recognition of excellent work and identifying areas to improve. Consider adding a small hidden camera at the entry 4.5 feet off the floor to see potential robbers’ faces below the brim of their hats. 
  • Position the queuing line for maximum observation by staff to remove robber anonymity.
  • Use screen shields that limit visibility from the side of monitors. Plan screen locations so they cannot be viewed by others.
  • Test branch acoustics. Three years ago, I told a board I could hear social security numbers shared at the teller kiosk from the back of their newest branch. I thought they might not believe me, so I gave them the name and first four digits of the member’s number. The head of operations checked and found that I was correct. Acoustics are a big risk for member privacy and should be planned into new and renovated branches.
  • Let potential robbers know with messaging at the front door that staff have no access to cash, if this is true in the location.
  • Be certain security combines both effectiveness and operational simplicity. For example, electronic entry systems are great when they work, but a recent client returned to a key system after many electronic system failures. Completely vet all systems.
  • When you build new, relocate or renovate, consider the evolving security risks and relationship-building opportunities of today’s branches to reduce operating costs and maximize performance.

While robberies may not be declining as rapidly as we would like, good branch design and constant staff training can significantly reduce risk. The good news is that exceptional design and training can both reduce robberies and increase member development and target market growth at all our branches.

Paul Seibert, CMC, is an independent facilities and real estate consultant under Paul Seibert Consulting, Seattle. 

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