Published here September 2012


Musings Index

Project View of Bank Robbery

I must admit that I have never really thought much about the idea of robbing a bank as a project. In fact I don't think I have the necessary qualifications and experience. But apparently a well-organized bank robbery successfully planned, executed and rendering the expected benefits is an excellent demonstration of solid project management achievement - or not depending on your point of view.

Just in case anyone should think seriously about this activity as a substitute for soul-destroying job-hunting, now we have an Econometrics Study that states categorically: "Robbing Banks: Crime does pay - but not very much".[1]

Here's what the authors have to say by way of introduction to their report published in the June, 2012, issue of the magazine Significance,[2] the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association:

"Crime is an economic activity like any other: it has its profits, its losses, its risks, and its returns. It has also its inputs, of labor and of capital, and its costs. So it can be analyzed in just the same way as any other economic activity.

It sounds rather glamorous. A few hours of planning, a few minutes of adrenalin-packed work, a truckload of 100-dollar bills or 10-pound notes, no taxes to pay. Then have the rest of your life on the Costa del Sol or somewhere else warm and sunny with swimming pools and no extradition treaties - why would anyone not choose bank robbery as a career path?

Turn either to morality, to law, or to statistics for the answer. For morality and law, consult other sources - your vicar or your local friendly police station will be happy to advise. For the statistics, look no further. We can help. We can tell you exactly why robbing banks is a bad idea."

In a promotional write up, Wiley-Blackwell observe:[3]

"Contrary to images of unimaginable wealth in the movies, the takings from the average bank robbery are small. Indeed, they often appear to be lower than the cost of installing some security devices designed to deter them.

With unique access to a set of data from the British Bankers' Association, this Significance paper presents an economic model of the bank heist, balancing the robber's efforts against his gains or losses and concluding that it is often a poorly paid career path.

The average proceeds from a bank robbery in the UK are 20,331, with one third of robberies yielding nothing at all. The average takings per person per successful raid are a modest 12,706.60, equivalent to less than six months' average wage in the UK. In the USA the average raid yields considerably less at $4,330. If a robber carries out multiple raids to boost his sub-average income, probability says that after four raids he will be inside for some time and unable to earn at all.

The authors, leading economists from the Universities of Sussex and Surrey, highlight factors influencing the success of bank raids. These included the number involved in the raid (labor input), and whether firearms were displayed (capital input). The presence of fire arms increased the rewards across all bank raids to an average return per person of 10,300.50. There was a clear connection between the number of raiders and total takings - the bigger the gang, the greater the success, with every extra gang member raising the take on average by 9,033.20. Even so, with extra gang members to share the proceeds, the haul per person decreases.

Deterrent factors working against the raiders such as bank security measures, activated alarms, and the number of bank staff and customers present were also examined for their effectiveness. Of these, fast-rising security screens,[4] present in only 12% of UK banks and in even fewer banks in the USA, were most significant. These reduced the probability of a successful raid by one third. Even so, the financial losses to banks through raids are reasonably low compared to the cost of installing additional fast-rising security screens.

'Although bank robberies will take place for a number of impulse-related reasons, our evidence suggests that the takings they generate appear to be consistent with economic theory,' said Professor Rickman of the University of Surrey. 'This is useful information if we are thinking about how such activity may be combatted in the future.'"

And so the authors of the study conclude:[5]

"It is here that we can answer our original question of why, statistically speaking, robbing banks is a bad idea. The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest 12,706.60 per person per raid. Indeed, it is so low that it is not worth the banks' while to spend as little as 4500 per cashier position on rising screens at every branch to deter them."

However, the authors do not seem to have taken into account the obvious benefit to the robbers of free board and lodging for an extended period of time after an average of only four heists. Indeed, with less planning, some robbers have achieved this benefit after only one heist.

1. Reilly, B., N. Rickman & R. Witt, Robbing Banks, in Significance bi-monthly magazine, The Royal Statistical Society, UK, June 2012, pp17-21.
Barry Reilly is Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex. Neil Rickman is Professor of Economics at the University of Surrey and also a Professor at the Research in Law and Economics Institute at Erasmus University. Robert Witt is Professor of Economics and Head of the School of Economics at the University of Surrey.
2. Significance is a bi-monthly magazine for anyone interested in statistics and the analysis and interpretation of data. Its aim is to communicate and demonstrate in an entertaining, thought-provoking and non-technical way the practical use of statistics in all walks of life, and to show informatively and authoritatively how statistics benefit society. It is published on behalf of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association.
3. By Email, June 8, 2012.
4. Bullet-resistant, fast rising security screens are the ultimate defense against attempted armed robbery or violence. They are normally hidden from view but, when activated, instantly present an assailant with a steel, bullet-resistant barrier from counter to ceiling. They are typically fired by compressed air to reach a height of 6 feet within half a second of being activated. All screens within a bank branch are triggered at the same time to create a secure zone with no physical, visual or audible communication possible from the public area.
5. See Robbing Banks above. The study report includes a mathematical description of the basic economic model of crime used in the analysis.
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