Physical security technology to know

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New ways to upend security at branches can leave community banks vulnerable to criminal episodes. From cameras and recorders to network-based solutions and even biometrics, we highlight four of the newest technologies that can protect bank assets, associates and customers.

By Jen A. Miller

While cybersecurity is a consistent concern for community banks, physical crime is still a problem. Albuquerque, N.M., saw more than 20 bank robberies or attempted bank robberies in early 2022, and in March, authorities apprehended a man suspected to have conducted at least 12 bank robberies in southern California.

Upgraded security technologies, including better cameras, lighting and controlled lobby access, can make workers and customers feel comfortable coming into a bank, according to Charlie Crawford, chairman and CEO of $288 million-asset Hyperion Bank, which has locations in Philadelphia and Atlanta. “It’s important for the customers and employees to come into a safe environment,” he says.

Community banks can avail themselves of both upgraded classic technology and new tech that makes it easier to identify a crime as it’s happening or who did it after the fact. Here are four technologies to know.

High-definition cameras

Cameras aren’t new technology, but they’ve improved. High-definition cameras “provide a much better picture of what happens during a robbery or other incident that a bank might want to document,” says Joel Williquette, ICBA’s senior vice president of operational policy risk.

Quick Stat


The number of bank robberies or attempted bank robberies in Albuquerque, N.M., in early 2022

Source: FBI

When upgrading, he recommends banks reevaluate camera placement to cover parking lots and vaults and to account for changes in customer traffic patterns, which might have shifted during the pandemic.

Better cameras became key during the pandemic, when most or all customers were wearing masks, says Bill Wayland, vice president of banking for ADT Commercial. “The better the picture around the face and height and physical characteristics of the bad guy, the better chance [authorities] had in catching them.”

Community banks are also now more likely to install high-definition cameras above teller lines pointing down at where cash is counted for customers, Williquette adds. “This is often helpful in resolving disputes about the amounts of money given to a teller or distributed from the teller.”

Hyperion Bank has also put its security feed and stored security images in a cloud-based system “where we can access it from our computers and phones,” says Crawford.

Stronger barrier technologies

Physical barriers between bank employees, bank assets and criminals are getting better and stronger. Wayland says that some community banks have added “bandit barriers,” which are bullet-resistant partitions that go across the teller line up to the ceiling. They “protect the tellers as they’re doing their transactions,” he says. If a robber were to shoot a gun, the bullet embeds in the barrier instead of passing through.

Some community banks are also requiring an extra step to get into a bank lobby. During the worst of the pandemic, Hyperion kept its lobbies open—its locations don’t have drive-thru ATMs—but designed private access areas where customers had to be buzzed in from the lobby.

To support that, the community bank also added a Ring camera outside the entrance so when somebody’s trying to get in, explains Crawford, “[employees] can see who they are without physically going to the door.”

David Uberig, business development manager, financial, at security vendor Hanwha Techwin, notes that safe technology itself is also improving. Safes for bank branches, cash drops and inside ATM machines can now be constructed of a combination of steel and high-strength concrete composite instead of steel plating alone, which “gives them strength and ability to withstand impacts and resist cutting blades,” he says.

Analytics, powered by AI

While cameras can help community banks see what’s going on inside and outside their branches at all times, a human isn’t always watching those feeds. Artificial intelligence and analytics can help security systems be smart about when to ring the alarm, according to Uberig.

For example, object-based analytics can tell if an object crossing toward a drive-thru ATM is innocuous, like a pedestrian, deer or shadow, or a threat, such as a vehicle approaching an ATM in the wrong direction to attempt a “hook and chain” robbery. Object-based analytics can better identify if something left in a bank vestibule is worth investigating (a person loitering) or not (an expected delivered package).

Analytics can also help save community banks time during an investigation, Uberig notes.

“We could scrape through 24 hours of video,” he says, “or we have an analytic that detected when somebody entered an area.” The analytic would flag it and “go straight to that video and verify if it’s what you’re looking for.”

Biometrics’ legal status

Biometric technology—fingerprints, palm prints and facial measurements—is becoming more popular in identifying customers and staff members, says Joel Williquette, senior vice president of operational policy risk for ICBA.

However, biometrics also come with mounting regulation. More than a dozen states either have biometric privacy laws already on the books or have bills proposed regarding what can be taken and how it can be stored, according to Bloomberg Law. Community banks should ensure any biometric option they’re considering does not violate these laws or won’t be in violation should a proposed bill in their state pass.

Jen A. Miller is a writer in New Jersey.