THE MAGAZINE

Robbers Can't Bank on Lax Security

By John Barham

Good news in the war against crime is rare in Mexico, but banks there are making progress. They have reduced the amount of money stolen from their branches, ATMs, and armored cars through a steady investment in technology, training, and improved cooperation with the police. In 2006—the latest year for which data are available—Mexican bank robbers made off with about as much money as they did in 2005, even though the number of assaults went up by nearly one-third. The average take in each assault dropped from nearly $11,000 in 2005 to about $8,000 in 2006. Although up-to-date survey data are lacking, the same trend continued through 2007 and 2008, says Miguel Angel Carlos Jaime, director for prevention and corporate security at Santander in Mexico.

Mexico’s banking industry has grown up fast since a financial crisis pushed most local banks into bankruptcy a decade ago, following a 30 percent devaluation of the Mexican peso. Today, all but one of Mexico’s big banks are owned by international groups such as HSBC of the United Kingdom, Santander and BBVA of Spain, and U.S.-based Citibank.

As they came under new management, Mexico’s banks increased security budgets, raised the standard of security professionals, invested in technology, and transferred best practices from around the world to Mexico.

In 2003, the banks negotiated a standard 10-point code of security practice with government financial regulators. The code, presented in a manual, includes common transmission standards for protocols of CCTV feeds, linking bank alarms to local police stations, and stricter certification of security personnel. The manual also specifies standard security features for ATMs, magnetic cards, and checks. Banks can only open new branches if they are fully compliant with these standards.

Banks have spent $200 million to upgrade their branches to meet the requirements of the code, with each bank making additional modifications to conform to their individual corporate security codes. The changes have made banks less attractive to robbers.

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