The Straits Times says

Banking on security where it counts

The seeming ease with which a robber walked into a bank outlet at Holland Village and escaped with about $30,000 raises serious questions about the balance among security, convenience and ambience that banks offer. The man did no more than hand over to a teller a piece of paper with his demands. After she had complied with them, he fled without encountering resistance and even managed to slip out of the country post-haste. No weapon was seen during the incident, which was over in minutes, and there was no security guard present at the bank.

One should be thankful, of course, that the safety of staff and customers was not compromised. But it is disturbing when a criminal believes he can target a bank and get away in this manner, rare though such an incident might be.

Banks are sensitive areas for holding large amounts of cash and for keeping the lifeblood of ordinary transactions flowing. Yet, over time, they have undergone a makeover to appear more inviting to customers, with some offering preferred clients beverages and armchair comfort. Against the safe environment Singapore offers, the public might wonder if some complacency has set in - especially since robbery is treated as a serious offence here and the last bank heist took place over a decade ago. But such breaches of security should never be regarded as a thing of the past. There is no insecurity potentially more damaging than a false sense of security.

Banks must pay heed to the Monetary Authority of Singapore's recent statement which urged them to assess whether their security measures need to be enhanced. The measures could include closed-circuit television surveillance, alarm systems and panic buttons. Certainly, technology is a deterrence to crime by helping to identify suspects, but it might not be sufficient. The human dimension is vital too as bank employees and security personnel have important roles to play when threats surface on the premises.

Banks should collectively review the prevailing architecture of security to determine just how 21st-century banks should operate in an age of heightened threats. Automated and Internet banking services would be generally safe from a robber with a weapon or a menacing note. But these are vulnerable to technology-driven attacks, especially when many critical operations are reliant on Internet networks. In a harrowing example of just how great the threat can be, Taiwan's top banks suspended services on 900 automated teller machines after thieves used malware to make off with millions. In May, a gang took US$13 million (S$17 million) from Japanese ATMs in a coordinated attack. On a larger scale, hackers managed to raid even a nation's central bank this year. Such brazen acts have to be tackled by all banks jointly in order to make banking security impregnable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Banking on security where it counts'. Print Edition | Subscribe