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Los Angeles
Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023




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.

She estimated the average robbery from initial visits to follow-up phone calls costs a bank between $2,000 and $3,000 in billings from her firm, at a billing rate of $150 per hour. In addition to Great Western, 10 other financial institutions in the L.A. area have relationships with Trauma Consultants.

Bryson said past experience has shown that immediate attention to employees after a bank robbery is the best way to effectively deal with trauma-related problems, both psychologically and from banks’ bottom-line cost perspective.

“Not only is (immediate trauma counseling) the most empathic way to help the situation, but it’s also a way to reduce workers’ comp claims ,” she said. “It also addresses the employees’ needs right away.”

Several banking officials agreed that trauma counseling immediately after a robbery can help reduce costs from future workers’ comp claims.

“If the one intervention is sufficient to resolve the (psychological) injury, it wouldn’t need to be reported as a workers’ comp claim,” said Charlotte Gore, employee relations manager for Great Western. “Then we can provide immediate care without investigation from our workers’ comp company.

After the initial trauma of a robbery is over, subsequent issues can arise that end up costing banks money. Two of those are increased security costs and absenteeism in the days and weeks after a robbery.

Two of nine BofA employees at the North Hollywood branch failed to report for work on the Monday after the robbery because they weren’t “ready to return,” according to a bank spokeswoman. (The branch was closed the Saturday after the robbery.)

In addition, BofA had to bring in eight security guards six more than usual to ease the concerns of nervous customers and employees when the North Hollywood branch reopened on Monday.

In addition to more guards, many banks often add other security measures after a hold-up to discourage future robberies and ease the minds of customers and employees.

These measures, such as new bulletproof shields at teller counters, costing $60,000 to $70,000 each, and booby-trapped money bags, costing $300 each, also add to robbery-related expenses, said Mike Devitt, a vice president and state security manager with Wells Fargo.

Costs from higher employee turnover are another added expense, though the financial impact of employees quitting after a robbery is probably not very big, Devitt said.

“I think most banks have a large turnover rate anyway, so I wouldn’t consider that a big cost,” he said.

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