Top 5 Cost-Effective Ways To Help Secure CU Branches From Robberies

With the recent — and somewhat lingering — recession causing many folks to ponder new ways to make money, some of them venture down the wrong path and take desperate measures like robbing, people, banks and credit unions. To mitigate this criminal activity, we researched and came up with five cost-effective ways for credit unions to help secure their branches from these violent crimes. Here are a few things we discovered that can be implemented for under $2,500:

1. Train staff to look up and verbally acknowledge everyone who walks in the door.

The FBI lists an alert staff as a top defense against robbery. Robbers will often "case" a facility prior to a robbery. Staff is much more likely to identify this activity if they are alert to each visitor. If necessary, install a low volume door chime (about $150 installed) that alerts staff when someone enters the building.

2. Design lobby to deter/slow down would-be robbers.

Place physical barriers, such as check writing stands or queuing lines between the entrance and teller area to prevent a robber from making a straight line from the door to the teller and vice versa. By using existing branch components this can normally be accomplished at no cost.

3. Install time delay locks on vault cash.

Robbers want to get in and out in a hurry. By installing a time delay lock (about $850 installed) on vault cash storage, staff will need to wait five to 15 minutes after entering the lock combination to access vault cash. Signage posted on the vault door identifies the lack of immediate access to the area. Robbers will generally not wait for the necessary time to expire.

Time delay locks don't prevent the robbery, but they do reduce the chances of a large loss associated with the theft of vault cash. The delay in access to vault cash generally requires an adjustment by staff and management, but with a little planning, operations generally does not suffer from the lag time.

4. Review images on security equipment and make adjustments, if necessary.

Security cameras should be adjusted to ensure each teller window is covered by at least one camera, with the head of a member standing in the teller window filling a minimum 15% of the image. The lenses should be focused to make certain that the image quality is sufficient for positive identification of the subject's facial features.

Security cameras and lenses have improved in quality and reduced in price over the last several years. If your current equipment cannot be adjusted to provide quality images strategically replacing a few cameras or upgrading lenses on your existing equipment is a very affordable option. Consider installing a pinhole camera (about $650 installed) at eye level within the doorframe of the entry/exit door. Robbers often hide their face from an exposed camera over the teller line, but they are usually looking straight ahead as they exit the branch.

5. Make branch security a priority for all staff.

Schedule quarterly security meetings for branch staff and review before, during, and after robbery procedures. A well-trained staff with fresh information will help when an actual robbery occurs. Networking with the police and other local financial institutions to share procedures and details of robbery activity will help refine internal practices and alert staff of recent local robbery activity.

For example, there were 10 shared branch network branches in Indiana that were prone to being robbed as the recession intensified the last couple years. Within these 10 branches, employees were subsequently trained to be alert and notice who was entering the branch-and even say, "Hello." It's all about paying attention. If a robber is watching the branch for any amount of time, they won't go near it because of how alert everybody is. They will go somewhere else.

As a result of these cost-effective security efforts, robberies at the 10 branches in the last year were reduced to one. And the one time the branch was robbed, images from the branch surveillance system along with physical descriptions provided by an alert staff allowed police to apprehend the robbers quickly after the robbery.

Credit unions and most other organizations during these challenging economic times are on a tight budget, so implementing some common sense and cost-effective ideas that not only promote security but foster great member service is a great move. Getting to know your members, greeting them at the door, and looking up when they walk in to a branch shows members and possible criminals that you're alert. That's great service coupled with great security. Best of all, simply saying, "Hi," doesn't cost anything.

Dan Davis is EVP/CFO with Credit Union Centers and can be reached at DanD@icul.org.