The security of takings in a store are often overlooked, but cash thefts are on the rise in the current climate. Liz Morrell asks how the issue should be tackled
Retailers spend incredible amounts of time and energy on measures to protect their staff and products, but the one thing perhaps most at risk can sometimes be overlooked – the huge amounts of cash a retailer takes on a daily basis.
Cash thefts in the current climate are on the increase and are likely to remain so, says Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International director Professor Martin Gill. “There is a danger it might become a bigger problem,” he says.
Retailers face a threefold threat – attacks in stores through till grabs or safe breaking, internal staff theft at the till point or in the cash office, and cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies, where the cash is stolen as it is transferred on the pavement from store to cash collector.
In-store internal fraud can be one of the biggest sources of cash loss. “Snatches and staff pilfering is a problem,” says Centre for Retail Research director Joshua Bamfield. Staff will know their way around the systems and find cash is easy to steal. But combating such theft can be tricky. “It’s about understanding what your risks are and making it less easy. Make staff aware of the procedures of good cash management and look for others that aren’t following them,” he advises.
Tony Benson, UK group risk director at cash handling specialist Loomis, says seemingly obvious measures can get overlooked, such as providing a safe and ensuring CCTV cameras are not only positioned, but also focused, correctly. “People take the trouble to install CCTV but don’t necessarily think it through,” he says.
Of course, removing as much cash from the till and limiting how much staff handle cash helps not only reduce the risk of theft – by both staff and customers – but also reduces mistakes and losses. This can include simple measures such as keeping the amount of money in the till down to its float level and depositing excess cash as soon as possible.
Alistair Fowler-Marson, head of retail development at G4S Cash Solutions and a former retailer himself, says shrinkage is on the increase. Across the industry, G4S says cash losses account for around a third of internal fraud, a third of external fraud and a third of procedural fraud.
“Cash management is a cost to retailers. A single note can be handled up to 16 times before it goes back to the customer or the CIT carrier, so every time it gets handled there is a cost, a risk of error and a risk of temptation and fraud,” he says.
As a result, G4S Cash Solutions has introduced two new cash management solutions – one for the cash office for bigger retailers and one for the checkout for smaller, more vulnerable retailers that don’t have a cash office.
Marks & Spencer has installed the cash office device – the Cash 360C solution – to sort the contents of its tills at its Lower Earley store near Reading and is rolling it out to 10 further stores.
Previously the retailer relied on its bank to count takings, with tills counted across sections such as menswear once a week rather than being counted in-store. As a result, the four-day lapse between cash being dispatched and counted and receiving the data back on where losses may have occurred was a concern. “Part of our problem is we have a lack of visibility in certain sections of the cash chain,” says M&S head of shrinkage David Kightley.
The new system sorts notes and coins, issuing a standard float to each till and automatically counting, recording and securely bagging the remaining cash ready for collection by the CIT team. “The solution provides us with a view of losses by till, by day and with no extra staffing cost,” says Kightley. He adds that till losses have been reduced “significantly” as a result.
Fowler-Marson points out the savings to be made. “We say managing cash generally costs retailers 1% of their cash takings. We have found we can reduce that by over 50%, because 75% is the in-store costs of labour and shrinkage, and 15% is how much you pay the CIT company or bank,” he says.
In-store losses are a more constant problem, but the level of violence involved and the hauls obtained in successful CIT attacks can make the latter seem the more acute problem. According to industry body SaferCash, last year there were 1,000 CIT attacks – around a third of which were on retail premises, either when takings were being collected or ATMs being refilled. In the first three months of this year the number of attacks on CIT services to shops and retailers is understood to have risen by 50% already.
As a result, the British Retail Consortium has put together a CVIT (cash and valuables in transit) Working Group to publish best practice guidelines for retailers seeking to increase the safety of their cash.
Phillip Hagon, head of corporate security at Sainsbury’s and a former commander for the Metropolitan Police, says that until 2006 there were only six or seven attacks a year on Sainsbury’s stores. “Then in 2006 it quadrupled and was forecast to double again the following year. From losses of around £150,000 before, we were in line to lose around £1.5m,” he says.
Of course the financial impact is just the half of it. Such attacks pose other risks too, given the level of violence used. “There is always trauma as a result of these attacks. There is the potential for financial loss but also for injury or death too,” says Hagon. And with such incidences often occurring literally on the pavement outside the store, customers and staff can get caught up too.
In its best practice guide, the CVIT Working Group states: “There is a perceived illusion that CVIT attack is somehow a victimless crime. Nothing could be further from the truth. CVIT attacks often involve serious injuries to retail staff, customers and CVIT personnel.”
Sainsbury’s has been working on a number of measures to reduce such attacks, working closely with its cash-management supplier Loomis.
Both M&S and Sainsbury’s are part of the CVIT Working Group and the best practice guide illustrates some of the simple measures the pair have taken. At Sainsbury’s London Colney store in St Albans, a cash docking station has been built that allows the security van to drive up to the facility, electronically raise the shutter and then pull out two protective wings that lock against the side of the vehicle, providing a safe haven for the cash transfer and eliminating the pavement exposure. Hagon says the retailer is now working on incorporating the docking station at other stores too.
Another measure introduced by Sainsbury’s is the handshake – where the CVIT crew give a 15-minute advance warning of arrival, during which the store’s security personnel will check the delivery/collection area. “They will check for any evidence of hostile reconnaissance because we know there are cases where the people who carry out these crimes are already there. That can enable us to call off the delivery if needed or get more personnel out there,” says Hagon.
Such measures are working. “We have reduced our losses by 52% in Sainsbury’s on the 2007 figures – in other words, over half of attacks are unsuccessful,” says Hagon.
As with in-store crime, retailers must understand that they are at risk and that although certain areas may be more vulnerable – the majority of attacks take place in the Metropolitan Police area, for example – any store could be a target. “All stores – whether out in the city or out in the sticks – have a need for cash to be collected or delivered, so the vulnerability is always there,” says Hagon.
And, as BRC head of crime policy Catherine Bowen says, everyone has to be accountable: “It’s not just down to the cash carriers – the retailers have to take responsibility too.”
HOW TO ENSURE SAFE CASH TRANSFERS
- Provide a safe, secure and efficient cash-handling environment for cash and valuables in transit (CVIT)
- Minimise the opportunity for CVIT attacks, eliminating across-the- pavement transfers where possible
- Ensure the security van has clear access to the store
- See that the carrier collects the cash away from public areas
- Check the cash transfer equipment works
- Conduct regular CVIT crime risk assessments
- Conduct a rigorous review of sites subject to repeat attacks
- Install secure transfer hatches
Source: Cash and Valuables in Transit – Best Practice Guidelines for Retailers, to be published on
the BRC’s website this month (www.brc.org.uk)