Robbing banks: Crime doesn't always pay, econometrics study shows

June 11, 2012, Wiley

Contrary to images of unimaginable wealth in the movies, the takings from the average bank robbery are small, according to a report published today in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association. 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, today's Significance paper presents an of the bank heist, balancing the robber's efforts against his gains or and concluding that it is often a poorly paid career path.

The average proceeds from a 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 (labour input), and whether firearms were displayed (capital input). The presence of firearms 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, which are present in only 12% of UK banks and in even fewer banks in the USA, were most significant, reducing 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 screens, which might explain their low prevalence. The authors acknowledge that bank robberies involve other costs (such as social and psychological ones) and that these may increase the social gain available from such measures. They also note that additional data would allow valuable follow-up research.

"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."

Explore further: Caller ID spoofing scams aim for bank accounts

More information: Barry Reilly, Neil Rickman and Robert Witt; Robbing banks: Crime does pay – but not very much. Significance (2012); DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-9713.2012.00570.x

Related Stories

Bogus training offer opens hacker doors to bank accounts

February 5, 2012

( -- Mischief-making hackers, always willing to try clever ways to bypass advanced security safeguards, have figured out a way to make off like bandits, literally. According to a BBC report, the exploit first ...

Shocks and Stress Tests

August 21, 2007

In response to federal banking regulators' concern about community banks' increased participation in commercial real-estate lending, a University of Arkansas researcher has developed a system that allows banks to perform ...

Banks team up for online payment system

May 27, 2011

Online and mobile customers of three major banks will be able to instantly zap funds from their accounts to other depositors at the banks under a program to be rolled out across the country over the coming year.

Recommended for you

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

February 17, 2018

Musee national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' ...

Humans will actually react pretty well to news of alien life

February 16, 2018

As humans reach out technologically to see if there are other life forms in the universe, one important question needs to be answered: When we make contact, how are we going to handle it? Will we feel threatened and react ...

Using Twitter to discover how language changes

February 16, 2018

Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, have studied more than 200 million Twitter messages to try and unravel the mystery of how language evolves and spreads.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.