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For financial institution managers and employees, bank security requires constant vigilance. However, the opening and closing procedures can be a particularly vulnerable time. How can you implement or strengthen your security practices to ensure the safety of your employees, your customers, and your assets?

Under the Bank Protection Act of 1968, all financial institutions must have a written bank security plan in place that establishes opening and closing procedures, among other minimum standards. Security plans are never one-size-fits-all, however. Your opening and closing procedures should be unique to your location and circumstances, including some factors we’ll discuss below.

Understand the Risk.

First, it’s important to know why opening and closing hours are susceptible to robberies and burglaries. Criminals assume that the bank is most vulnerable during these quieter times, when there are few customers and employees. They may assume that the bank has the most cash on-hand during these times, and may hope to catch an employee off-guard while the vault is open or while the security system is disarmed.

There’s also an important difference to note about the crimes that generally happen during opening and closing procedures. The perpetrator who knows when these procedures take place has likely taken the time to case the property, learn employees’ routines, and carefully plan the robbery. These criminals tend to be more sophisticated and better prepared than those who approach a teller during normal business hours—and your security plans should reflect this.

Use the Buddy System.

At minimum, there should always be two employees involved in opening and closing duties, and it’s a good idea to assign someone to be on backup in the case of unexpected illnesses, etc.

Although procedures depend on a variety of factors, there are some general guidelines to follow. Both opening employees should drive around the parking lot once or twice, looking for cars or individuals that may raise a red flag. One employee should enter the building as the other remains in their vehicle and watches attentively. Only when the first employee establishes that it is safe to enter and displays a given signal should the second employee exit their vehicle and approach the building. To progress seamlessly, the employees’ roles and signs must be designated ahead of time.

Of course, all employees assigned to this task should have a responsible track record within the company; they should be given keys to the building as well as a personal alarm passcode. Review procedures with them periodically to ensure they thoroughly understand what to do if they encounter suspicious or unusual activity while opening or closing.

Consider Your Surroundings.

In 2019, most bank robberies and burglaries happened at branch locations in commercial districts of metropolitan areas. While this information is useful when assessing your bank’s risk level, it should not excuse looser procedures if your bank is within a rural or suburban area. Never underestimate what criminals will take note of.

Walk through your opening and closing procedures periodically to ensure that they take the building’s layout into consideration, including the location of entrances and exits (and their distance from employee parking areas), the positioning of surveillance cameras, and your exterior lighting and landscaping. Should more time be allotted for certain procedures? Should more lighting be added?

Along the same lines, your bank’s exterior grounds should be regularly inspected. Ensure that all exterior lights are functioning and that all bushes and shrubbery are trimmed so as not to obscure the line of sight around the building.

Utilize Technology.

In conjunction with your existing alarm system—which should include surveillance cameras, audible alarms, and remote monitoring—consider investing in technology to assist your associates during these procedures. Employees can use their own smart phones or company mobile devices to complete opening and closing checklists, automatically file and send reports, and, if needed, discreetly send an SOS signal if something feels “off.”

Review Your Security Plan.

Your bank’s security plans should be reviewed with your employees not just upon hire, but throughout the year as well. Again, you must ensure that associates who perform opening and closing duties are thoroughly versed in the relevant security procedures. Your security plan is only as good as it is realistic—work with your staff to account for the unique risks your branch faces, and to confirm that all security measures are compatible with day-to-day practices.

If there have been major changes since your security plans were drafted—for example, your building has been remodeled, new businesses have moved into surrounding properties, or the neighborhood has seen a large increase in foot traffic—then it’s time to look at your bank’s security plans with a fresh eye.