How 'Best Banks' get back to normal after a robbery

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Tiffani Davis had been a regional manager for Centier Bank for two years when she first got a call that one of her branches had been robbed.

She hopped in a car with her boss to go to the location in Hammond, Ind. Along the way, Randy Shepard, senior vice president of retail sales, gave Davis some words of wisdom.

He told her to be calm, be supportive of the team, stay out of the way of the police officers and speak with every employee individually.

"At the time, I had written everything down — thinking 'in case I gotta do it again,' " Davis said.

A few months later when she was dealing with her fourth robbery — one at one branch, three at another — she no longer needed the notes.

Bank robberies have declined dramatically in the past 25 years, but when they happen, managers like Davis have to be ready to act.

"You literally drop everything and rush to the branch to offer support," including consoling employees and easing them back into work when the branch reopens, Davis said.

For most banks, the first goal, after ensuring the safety of employees and customers, is to restore normalcy. Those in our ranking of Best Banks to Work For have some strategies in common for achieving that, though the details of how they go about it vary.

Managers like Davis help re-establish employees' peace of mind at Centier. The bank then offers a group counseling session for everyone at the branch, along with individual counseling sessions for employees and their families.

First Tennessee Bank in Memphis, a unit of First Horizon National Corp., requires employees who have experienced a robbery to participate in at least one group counseling session, said Linda Bacon, manager of employee relations. Before returning to work, employees also must visit the branch. The policy, which has been in place for about a decade, is based on the advice of local counselors.

If the employee does not want to continue working in that part of the bank, First Tennessee helps them find a different position. But even in those cases, the bank requires employees to go back to the scene for closure.

Affected employees also find comfort from colleagues who had a similar experience. Centier facilitates that communication by sending out a bankwide email.

"Those who have gone through robberies themselves reach out to those who are going through them," said Chrisanne Christ, vice president of human resources at Centier. "No one is asking them to do that."

Managers at Centier also treat employees to a day that includes massages and a lunch outing.

Dealing with bank robberies is not all about figuring how to get back to normal. Banks also need to train staff on how to help prevent a robbery and what to do during one.

For instance, employees at Happy State Bank in Amarillo, Texas, are instructed to greet every customer who walks in. If more than one employee says "hello" to a potential robber, it makes that person less likely to follow through on the crime.

"Robbers don't want to rob a bank that can ID them," said Greg Houlette, a senior vice president at Happy State.

His bank hasn't experienced a robbery in the last five years, and Houlette attributes that streak to its customer service.

See more Best Banks to Work For coverage:

During a robbery, people matter more than money to the bank. "We never want employees to go outside the boundary by doing something heroic," said Terri Boswell-Williams, a senior vice president at Amarillo National Bank. "The most valuable possession we have is our customers and our employees."

This is what new employees are taught in annual training and mock robberies. "Our main focus is to protect employees and customers," said Jerry Ivy, Amarillo's security officer. "We tell our employees to do what the robber says and get him out of the bank as fast as possible. No sudden moves."

A teller or a manager locks the doors after the robbers leave so they can't re-enter the bank.

Happy State employees are instructed to keep any notes that the robbers give them as evidence. The employees also try not to talk to each other after a robbery has occurred. "They don't want to contaminate what each other thinks," said Renee McNeely, Happy State's director of human resources.

When the bank had a spate of robberies in a short period of time, it installed external cameras. "If we knew what direction the robber went after he exited the building, the police were more likely to catch him," Houlette said.

The cameras also have helped its rivals — a branch next door to one of Happy State's branches was robbed and the footage helped nab the robber.

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Community banking Robberies Best Banks to Work For