Security Threats: Are Banks Leaving the Doors Open?

Thursday, Jul 28 2016 04:53 PM

Security Threats: Are Banks Leaving the Doors Open?











The recent bank heist at Standard Chartered’s Holland Village branch is a stark reminder that there is no place for complacency in bank security.

On July 7th 2016, 26-year-old Canadian citizen, David James Roach stole S$30,000 from the branch in broad daylight, having slipped the teller a note saying he was armed.

Standard Chartered confirmed in a statement that there was no security guard present at the branch when the robbery occurred, but said it had taken “immediate actions to further enhance” security measures, without elaborating.

The incident has raised concerns that complacency about security has set in, due to the country’s low crime rate and reputation of being one of the safest countries in the world. The reasons behind this fact may be less widely known. Guns and other firearms are strictly controlled by the government and police. Also, the penalties for crime in Singapore are often severe.

Crime and punishment

Singapore is infamous around the world for its use of both corporal and capital punishment. The country has one of the most strictly enforced penal codes with some of the most severe penalties; caning and the death penalty. The number of canings in Singapore remains high as of 2012 (around 2,500). Capital punishment is handed out much less frequently; as of 2016, two executions were reported.

A person convicted of robbery can be punished with a jail term of between two and 10 years and caning. If he was armed with a deadly weapon, the offender will get at least 12 strokes of the cane added.

However, punishment after the crime cannot erase the damage that was done to the individual or organization. Many banks have invested in a variety of security products; CCTV cameras, alarm systems, panic buttons and security guards. But are they working and is the bank really protected?


APAC Security equipment requirements

Security equipment hardware comprises of intrusion detection and prevention, access control systems, and other products. The intrusion detection and prevention segment is further divided into video surveillance, intruder alarms and locks, and intrusion detection systems. The access control segment comprises of radio frequency identification (RFID), biometrics and card-based access control.

Each APAC country has its own regulations pertaining to equipment standards. As of 2002 there have been 82 robberies recorded by the police per 100,000 of the population in Australia. Standards for intruder alarm systems and CCTV are set by the Australian Security Industry Association Limited (ASIAL).

In recent years Australian banks have been changing their traditional set-up to not only be more appealing to customers, but also allow for greater surveillance of entries. Tellers have been located at the rear of the branch with various barriers between them and the entrance, making it more difficult for robbers to get in and out of the bank quickly. Bank branches have also installed bullet resistant glass, pop-up screens, and a counter anti-jump screen. To reduce the potential for large losses, banks have streamlined the management of cash holdings at the counter and in the branches.

“More in-branch automation and systems found in these new types of banks very likely means that they may not have the same levels of cash that traditional branches have,” said Matt Frowert, Director of Marketing for Financial Services at Tyco Integrated Security. “During a robbery attempt, the suspect may be confused when he discovers there is limited teller cash and no safe like there would be in a traditional bank set-up,” he explained.

Also with 82 robberies per 100,000 as of 2006 is Malaysia, where nine ATM machines and three banks have been robbed as of May this year.  According to Deputy Inspector-General of police Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Mohd Zinin, the reason for this is that Malaysian bank branches are located in unsafe, isolated areas and tend to hire security personnel that are “unqualified to handle a weapon.” Bakri recommended Malaysian banks to employ auxiliary police as their security personnel, though at a higher cost. He acknowledged, however that Maybank, Bank Simpanan Nasional and Public Bank already employ auxiliary police as part of their security teams.

In Canada, (94 robberies per 100,000) there were 591 bank robberies in 2012, according to the Canadian Bankers Association, but this is gradually declining thanks to the installation of IP-based surveillance systems and like Australian banks, limiting the amount of money available in branches.  Then there are “dye packs” – the flexible packs, placed inside a stack of bills, usually contain red dye. Once a robber leaves the bank, a radio transmitter triggers an explosion of dye that stains both money and miscreant. Canadian banks are also considering implementing biometric scanning to enhance their security systems.


An activated dye pack stains bills with red dye

An activated dye pack stains bills with red dye


Biometric technology has already been adopted by Japan, which has relatively low incidences of bank robberies. Ravi Ahluwalia, Deputy General Manager for The Information Systems Group (EMEA) at Hitachi confirms that biometric technology is very strong in the Japanese ATM market: “This is where you use your card and place your finger which is then scanned and checked against a template stored on your card. There is no need for a PIN. Already 80% of ATMs in Japan use our technology.”

The United States of America has the most robberies per 100,000 of the population, at 146, even though bank robberies in the country have witnessed a general decline. The main document in the U.S. for banks to follow is the Bank Protection Act, which sets the physical security standards for banking institutions. However, it was passed in 1968 and last amended in 1991; many question whether it provides the best protection in today’s very different banking environment.

While most countries refer to European standards intrusion alarm systems, there doesn’t appear to be an explicit government standard in the U.S. “Intrusion alarms have to be registered with local jurisdictions in most cases,” said  Chris Mullins, North American Inter-Company Sales Manager — Banking and Financial at American Dynamics (Tyco Security Products). “[This way], if the police departments receive an alarm, they have prior knowledge about the location of that alarm.”

The general decline of bank robberies in the U.S has been attributed to a shift by criminals to cybercrime and the swift response of the authorities in apprehending the bank robbers. The “clearance rate” for bank robbery is among the highest of all crimes – nearly 60%, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2012.


Guarding Singapore’s banks

Certis Cisco Security provides security services to banks such as Maybank, OCBC, UOB and DBS and happens to be one of the three companies in Singapore that provides auxiliary police force services in Singapore. OCBC Bank said its CISCO guards are “trained and equipped to handle situations such as management of suspicious characters and armed robberies.” Certis Cisco itself claims to maintain high standards to be awarded a licence for armed guard service.

“It is the assurance and guarantee that our guard post will not remain empty. We make sure that there is back-up and we also make sure that the reserves are equally competent,” said Wilson Chow, Certis Managing Director in charge of consulting and education.

While it is recommended by security firms and the Monetary Association of Singapore (MAS) to employ security guards to complement security and surveillance technology, it is up to the bank to make this decision, based on risk assessments.

What happened to Standard Chartered is a reminder to us all that thorough security is a framework that includes dependable security staff as well as security system solutions that minimize risks of such a nature. It is simply not a negotiable asset, even if we run our businesses in ‘low-crime Singapore’.


July 27, 2016 / By Mizna Doray

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(Article / Photo: Business Capital Asia Singapore)