It is difficult to find a
reliable number of gold shops in Thailand or specifically the gold shops in
Bangkok. One Internet
source put the number at 6,000 gold
shops in Thailand. Iíd venture a guess there are at least a couple of thousand
gold shops scattered throughout Bangkok. And China Town along Yaowarat Road is gold shop Mecca. There are
2,170 bank branches in Bangkok according to the Bank of
Thailand and 405
banks in Bangkok.
The above statistics show
how Bangkok dominates the banking industry by centralizing it in Bangkok. But
that is another story. This essay is about robbers.
Off-Duty Police officer working as
gold shop security guard
An American bank robber
Willie Sutton is alleged to have said in
reply to a question of why he robbed banks, ďThatís where the money
Thai robbers also know
that gold shops are as good as gold when it comes to a robbery. Gold shops,
along with banks, are a natural target for robbery. This makes it natural to ask
a few questions:
1) Is there a serious
problem of robbery of gold shops and banks?
2) What security
precautions do gold shop owners and bank branches use to protect their staff and
inventory against robbery?
3) What role does the new
technology play in improving security?
4) Have traditional
security jobs been disrupted by the new technology?
Is there a
According to one report in
the Bangkok Post (which gives no statistics to support the claim), gold shops
have become a high-profile target and the robbers are running off gold worth in
excess of one million baht. The police, it is reported, have made little headway
in solving these robberies. That is alarming on the face of it. Until you read
the lead story in the same edition of the Bangkok Post stating that between
August 2013 and July 2014 there were a total of 5 gold shop robberies (4 banks
were robbed during the same period). I donít know about you but the robbery of
five gold shops out of several thousand and four banks out which operate
thousands of branches qualifies as a rounding off error.
It amounts to low
probability of any one gold shop or bank being robbed over the course of a year.
Of course, if it is your gold shop or bank, the robbery is hardly insignificant.
Like lightning, when it strikes, it can cause considerable damage, and that is
why landowners buy insurance. Itís also why gold shop owners buy insurance. Some
in the insurance industry can set me straight, but I suggest that the premiums
paid for robbery and theft insurance were increased based on the 5 gold store
and 4 bank robberies reported during the one-year period. Only one arrest was
recorded for each category: one gold shop robber and one bank robber.
Thatís 20% and 25%
clearance respectively of the caseload. In the other 80% and 75% cases, the
police, one presumes are still looking for clues. With a total of 9 robberies in
one year an observer might conclude this falls below the threshold of a crime
spree. The police low success rate supports the Bangkok Post theory that these
are well-planned heists, unlike the convenience store robberies committed by
drunken teenagers who live in the neighborhood and act on an impulse. Robbing a
neighbor when you are drunk is bound to cut down on your odds of getting away
with the crime.
A senior police officer
was quoted as saying gold shops are the hardest nuts to crack. Certainly
compared to the convenience store robbery, which is a nut with a very soft
We can conclude that, in
the scheme of things, gold shop and bank robberies are a minor part of the crime
industry operating in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand.
security arrangements are used by gold shop owners?
Iíve written about the
poor pay of the police in Thailand in an essay titled The High Cost of Badly Paid
Many rank and file Thai cops work a second job to make ends meet. One of
the popular moonlighting gigs is working as a security guard in a gold shop. For
many years, you could walk past a gold shop in the main shopping areas along
roads such as Yaowarat, Silom, or Sukhumvit and spot a uniformed Thai police
officer through the window. He (I never saw a female cop working in a gold shop)
appeared inside the shop, usually seated on a chair, looking bored.
The use of regular police
officers rests on two premises: 1) the presence in a gold shop or bank of a
uniformed cop, a gun strapped to his hip, means only the most hardened and
determined criminal are expected to rob the place; and 2) there is a ready
supply of police willing to act as security guards as they are underpaid. With
enough of the security moonlighting jobs for lowly paid cops, it takes the heat
off the politicians to increase police pay. The authorities can factor in the
second-job income received from the security detail and conclude that overall
the average cop is able to get by. In the traditional system, everyone
benefited. The shop owner from enhanced security, and the government in
underpaying the police.
What role has new
technology played in disrupting the old arrangements?
Two things have
CCTV cameras became cheap,
reliable and robbers except for the total morons know that gold shops and banks
have cameras recording everyone coming in and out. The thing with CCTV cameras
is they work 24/7, they never get tired, bored, or read newspapers. They arenít
fitted out with guns (wait five years for that development), which deter
robbers, though may also terrify some customers. A terrified customer is less in
the mood to buy gold.
Point the finger in the
direction of the Internet. The trail of disruptions mostly leads back to new
technology and the use of the Internet. CCTV cameras can be linked directly with
police stations. Why continue to employ human security guards when CCTV cameras
can do the job cheaper and better?
The disruption of
the security job sector in gold shops and banks
Most employment sectors
are bleeding jobs. It started with ATMs, an easy way to do banking without
joining a queue. This trend line will only become worse over time for bank
employees. Computers and robots can simply do the work cheaper, longer, better
and without expecting a bonus at New Years. Gold shops and banks are in the
business to keep costs low, revenues increasing, and profit margins high. In the
cold-blooded, rational world, security guards are a cost to be measured against
the costs of alternative methods of providing security. If the costs of new
technology plus the insurance premium paid to insure against theft and robbery
are lower than the wages and benefits paid to an off-duty police officer,
doesnít the capitalist mind concludeóno more security guards. Money is saved.
Profits go up. Shareholders are rewarded with higher dividends.
If the premiums on the
insurance are low, then the cost to the bank for a robbery is not the money
stolen, but the premium paid. Itís like health insurance, you have a heart
attack, and the insurance company pays the cost. But if you are in good health
the premium is low and the probability is you wonít have one. Thatís why
insurance companies become rich. We overestimate the probability of something
bad happening because we read about someone who died of a heart attack, or we
read about a plane crash, or a bank robbery. We suddenly feel vulnerable. Itís
irrational. And business is there to take money from irrational people who want
This didnít stop a senior
Thai police official from telling the Bangkok Post that Kasikorn Bankís robbery
record (it is not clear how many of the 4 bank robberies occurred at a Kasikorn
Bank branch) happened because the bank failed to hire security guards. As the
police are mainly the ones hired as security guards, one would expect a senior
cop to take that position. Heís looking after the welfare of his men and
packaging it as the welfare of the bank. That sleight of hand is normal in such
A senior vice president of
Kasikorn Bank agreed with this official assessment. It seems that the bank
hadnít employed security guards at its branches because it feared clashes
between the guards, thieves and customers. Thatís an interesting scene in a
movie. A shoot out in the bank as guards and thieves and customers trade
gunfire. Though there was no evidence this has happened in a bank or gold shop
in the immediate past. Still, it makes you understand how fear drives corporate
policy when it comes to security and worst case scenarios are used to justify an
Banking moves online around the
The possibility of a
shootout, however improbable, raises another point in the disrupted banking
employment world. Itís not just that security guards are no longer needed, most
bank employees are in the cross-hair of losing their jobs. Itís called internet
banking. Which of course raises another issue: in the past customers had no
choice but to go in person to a branch to transact business, but with online
banking most transactions can be conducted on line.
What has the bank decided?
To hire security guards for its 1,000 branches (this number of branches isnít
consistent with the Bank of Thailand numbers, but that is, likely a mistake in
the report or another story). Thatís good news for the moonlighting police. It
is good news for the Thai taxpayers who wonít worry the officials in charge will
seek a tax hike to pay higher salaries to the police. Instead that money comes
out of dividends paid to the shareholders of the bank. I am certain the
shareholders will be happy to subsidize police salaries. When it comes time to
layoff tellers, it will be interesting to revisit this issue and find out as
compensation is fought over amongst the dwindling staff, whether robbery is the
least of the problems faced by an industry in the midst of major