Staff Reporter

No sooner did L.A. police detectives and FBI agents finish their work at the just-robbed North Hollywood branch of Bank of America on Feb. 28, than a much smaller team of trauma counselors came in to take over.

The counselors, under contract with BofA, are just one of several less-obvious costs banks incur when their branches fall victims to robbers.

In addition to incurring counseling fees of $100 to $200 per hour, with an average post-robbery incident requiring 15 hours of immediate trauma counseling, banks suffer robbery-related losses from absenteeism, employee turnover and negative publicity not to mention added security costs to ease the minds of nervous employees and customers.

Robbers nabbed an average of $36,865 in each of the 222 "takeover"-style heists last year in L.A., Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, according to the California Bankers Association.

FBI officials would neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of those figures, nor would they say how much if any of the money was subsequently recovered.

But one thing is certain: The costs associated with stolen money and subsequent personnel-related expenses and lost customers are relatively minor in overall dollar terms, said Gary Gertz, a director of international audit and risk management services in the L.A. office of KPMG Peat Marwick LLP.

Most of the hidden costs associated with a bank robbery are related to the trauma and subsequent stress suffered by employees and customers during and after a hold-up, he added.

Most major banks have a specific program to help employees and customers deal with the trauma of a robbery immediately after the incident happens. Some larger institutions, such as Wells Fargo Bank, have in-house trauma counselors, while others, such as BofA and Great Western Bank, contract with outside specialists for such services.

BofA spokesman Dennis Wyss confirmed that BofA called on its trauma contractors to meet and talk with employees and customers in the North Hollywood branch after the gunfire ceased and police and FBI agents finished their questioning.

Two blocks away, meanwhile, Great Western called on its own contractor, Trauma Consultants of Santa Monica, to talk with frazzled customers and employees in its North Hollywood branch, who were trapped inside and forced to lie on the floor during the BofA hold-up and ensuing gunfight.

Trauma Consultants President Jane Bryson attempted to visit Great Western employees in the North Hollywood branch after the shooting stopped but was forced to use the phone after police refused to let her in. After her initial contact, she concluded the situation "seemed relatively under control" and returned the next morning for seven hours of group and individual employee meetings beginning at 8 a.m.


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