A good friend of mine was a bank manager for many years. He told me that robberies are much more common than you might think: bank employees are trained to comply with robbers’ demands, minimizing losses by keeping relatively small amounts of cash in their drawers. Typical training also suggests that employees don’t confront or establish eye contact with robbers, activating hidden alarms if possible but not causing a stir.
The reason you don’t hear about them is banks don’t like to publicize robberies — they’re bad for business.
But a new program in Seattle turns all this on its head. Instead of responding passively to suspicious individuals, bank staff are being encouraged to walk right up to them and shake their hands. The theory is that overtly friendly behavior will disorient potential robbers before they become aggressive:
“If you’re a legitimate customer, you think, ‘This is the friendliest person I’ve met in my life.’ If you’re a bad guy, it scares the lights out of you,” said Drew Ness, a vice president of Bellevue-based First Mutual Bank, who advocates the approach.
Carr, who has taught the method to employees at 16 Washington banks over the past few years, credits the system in part for the drop in Seattle bank robberies from 80 in the first three months of 2006 to 44 during the same period this year.
When a man walked into a First Mutual branch last year wearing garden gloves and sunglasses, manager Scott Taffera greeted him heartily, invited him to remove the glasses, and guided him to an equally friendly teller. The man eventually asked for a roll of quarters and left.
Carr said he suspects the man was the “Garden Glove Bandit,” who robbed area banks between March 2004 and November 2006.
The most surprising aspect of this story to me is the number of robberies we’re talking about — over 80 in three months, in one city alone. No wonder banks are trying a new approach!
(via Kottke — and see that site for an interesting update: Apple Store employees are trained in a similar fashion, chatting it up with shoplifters about their “purchase”)