Mitigating risks in wake of mobile money & agent banking robberies

By Samson Tinka

In 2012, while working for a private security firm in Kampala, I was woken up by an early-morning call from our supervisor in Masaka that one of the clients near a Masaka town petrol station had been attacked the previous night and robbed.

The only money that was taken was that which was in the hands of the pump attendant. This client had a chain of petrol stations across the country.

However, he had put in place a small underground safe for staff to keep money in, especially evening collections. None of the pump attendants was allowed to carry more than sh200,000 at a time. This practice stopped the money at the station from being stolen that night.

Petrol stations are vulnerable to being attacked by robbers because of the nature of business which includes presence of cash at all times. Therefore, this client had engaged us to carry out a security audit and advise the best way to water down this risk. I did carry out this audit and submitted the findings. Lucky enough, my recommendations were taken up and house underground small safes were installed. These are actually easy and cheap to construct and maintain.

Another vulnerable business is the mobile money one that is facilitated by cash transactions. With agency banking in place and operated by mostly mobile money owners, the risk of being attacked by robbers has now increased. The robbers are ready and they will endeavor to attack because they know this is a sure deal.

Multiple aggravated robberies have been reported with both death and injuries of mobile money operators in the past few months.

Agency banking and mobile money business is lucrative and does not require any form of high education or capital investment. Because of these two advantages, a number of people have since taken on these businesses.

Agency banking and mobile money business requires some huge amounts of cash since both deposits and withdraws are cash-facilitated transactions. MTN has a limit of 20m UGX transaction in a day. For business owners to make meaningful profits, they must have many transactions in a day. The more the transactions the higher the commission and hence the profitability at the end of the month. This requirement means that Mobile money operator has to be with huge amounts of cash both at hand and in the bank. The cash at hand aids in withdraw transactions while money in the bank- that is termed as float – assists with cash deposits.

The description above means that cash money is a necessity for mobile money and agent banking business. This also literally means that the higher the amount one has in agency banking or mobile  money business, the higher the risk and threat of being robbed.

Steps that can be taken to reduce on risks   

  1. Bank cash by 5 pm.

Its advisable that by 5pm, three quarters of the cash at hand be deposited in the bank. Most businesses practice this routine. If cash at hand is 100m, 70m should be banked by 5 pm. The remaining 30m will take care of the remaining customers. The argument often by mobile money dealers is that most customers come evening time. This maybe a fact but doesn’t take away the risk of being robbed and killed.

  1. Have an internal safe.

Its important to have an in house safe that is domiciled within the premises. This safe can be heavy duty safe which is placed within the premises or it can be a small underground safe. The small underground safe is more safer than the physical mobile safe that is placed within the premises. The underground safe is hard to reach and it takes time for the would be robbers to reach the money. What saved the money of the petrol station in Masaka during 2012 attack was because the money was being kept in the underground safe. The robbers who had initially connived with the guard, tried to open the underground safe unsuccessfully.

  1. Install panic buttons.

Installation of panic buttons can quicken emergency response teams. These panic buttons can be remote or physically installed within the premises. The remote ones can be kept either in the pockets of MM agents, or guards. When attacked, the agent will swiftly but discretely press it and the emergency rescue teams-ERT will respond immediately. These gadgets are normally linked to Police stations or private security control rooms. The recommended response time by ERT is between 5-10minutes.

  1. Install intruder alarms.

Intruder alarms assist when the facility is attacked at night with no presence of staff. This system will sound very noisy alarms and in most cases, the robbers run away. This system communicates with control room of a security firm that is linked with to compel ERT to come and check the premises. Intruder alarms and magnetic contacts are normally installed on doors, windows, ventilators and safe doors. Before the last staff exits the premises, he or she arms the building, office or shop.

  1. Hire private secuirty guards.

This is the most underutilized resource especially with a very lousy excuse of cutting costs. Business without safety and security guarantee is a bad business. Anytime it will diminish. It may not be armed security personnel, even un-armed askari (guard) can be an asset in securing your business. Apart from robberies, business face other threats like fire, floods, accidents, thefts. Askaris are important in averting these threats and risks or even fighting them.

  1. Avoid routine.

Routine is a big threat because would be robbers follow and get to know the routines practiced within the business especially, banking hours, balancing time, closure of business timelines, opening hours, when the boss comes in and everything else. It’s important that business owners and managers avoid creating and sustaining routines so that the bad guys are not aligned with the in-house processes and procedures.

  1. Do background checks on the employees.

Background checks assist in eliminating the would be bad employees. It’s a form of sieving out the bad guys.

  1. Use CIT-Cash in transit services ( Bullion vans)

The cost of transporting money from Luzira, Nansana, Kyengera, Najjera, Mukono to any bank within Kampala metropolitan area is around sh160,000. This is affordable to any serious business owner. Imagine losing 72m because you don’t want to part with sh160,000. I know some businesspersons do not know that CIT services are as cheap as that.

  1. Train staff in safety and security.

Safety and security awareness to critical staff like MM and Agent banking personnel is vital especially on how to secure their lives. The Luzira man would have survived if he did not attempt to go back and lock his premises. The fundamental call in such circumstances like robberies is life first. However, because of lack of safety and security awareness and training, people lose lives in an attempt to save money or any other property. Life should be first then valuables next. With life, you can replace what has been stolen, lost or damaged but without, all is gone.

  1. Balance when the doors and windows are closed.

While balancing days collections, it is important that entry to premises are firmly closed from inside. This gives robbers a second thought to either attack or leave. As long as accessibility is slowed down, the ability to commit a full-scale robbery is halfway mitigated.

In conclusion, where there money, there is a risk and threat. As long as your business receives or gives hard cash, it is at risk of being attacked. The attack my result into loss of money, assets and on a bad day loss of lives. Business owners and managers, risk assessments of your businesses is no longer a wish, but a MUST. It is advisable that you seek security and safety practitioners or experts to carryout security surveys, audits and assessments so that by the time, you commit resources for your businesses, you have at least mitigated on the foreseeable risks. Losing a life is unreplaceable, and losing a business may send you and your family back to the village, hence a drop in standard of living.

Money and agent banking business owners, up the game. The bad boys who are chilling in ghettoes, are already planning on how to share on your sweat. The earlier you walk an extra mile ahead of them the better or else you will forcefully share both the capital and the profits.

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Samson Tinka is a safety and security consultant | Director of Matts Secure Solutions Ltd

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