Bank tellers out-earn bank robbers

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When you think of bank robberies, you probably imagine daring criminals taking crazy risks for vast sums of money that will tide them over for the rest of their lives in some exotic locale, and you’d be right — except for that last part.

According to a study by British researchers Barry Reilly, Neil Rickman and Robert Witt written up in this month’s issue of the journal Significance, the average take from a U.S. bank robbery is $4,330. To put that in perspective, says bank tellers can earn as much as $28,205 annually. So, a bank robber would have to knock over more than six banks, facing increasing risk with each robbery, in a year to match the salary of the tellers he’s holding up.

From the article:

It is here that we can answer our original question of why, statistically speaking, robbing banks is a bad idea. The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest 12,706.60 (British pounds) per person per raid. Indeed, it is so low that it is not worth the banks’ while to spend as little as 4,500 (British pounds) per cashier position at every branch on rising screens to deter them.

A single bank raid, even a successful one, is not going to keep our would-be robber in a life of luxury. It is not going to keep him long in a life of any kind. Given that the average UK wage for those in full-time employment is around 26,000 (British pounds), it will give him a modest lifestyle for no more than six months. If he decides to make a career of it, and robs two banks a year to make a sub-average income, his chances of eventually getting caught will increase: at 0.8 probability per raid, after three raids or a year and a half his odds of remaining at large are 0.8 × 0.8 × 0.8 = 0.512; after four raids he is more likely than not to be inside. As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired.

Why the low take? Blame it on inflation, at least in part. Last month, Willy Staley of The Billfold had an article on how inflation has made it much harder for robbers to make off with large sums of money quickly because it’s just physically bigger.

From the story:

Consider this: In 1889, when Butch Cassidy robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colo., for $21,000, that cash could have weighed just a couple of pounds, and would have nearly 20 times that value today, as far as spending power is concerned. In today’s dollars, Cassidy’s take was worth about half a million dollars — nearly a quarter-million per pound of cash. Nowadays, a pound of $20 bills has about $9,000 in spending power. You’d need 55 pounds of cash to meet Cassidy’s 1889 take.

A lot of people talk wistfully about when a dollar could buy you a couple of gallons of gas or a six-pack of beer, but at least inflation has made bank robbing a little less attractive as a profession, and that’s unambiguously a good thing. It may be really annoying — even devastating — to have your checking account emptied by cybercriminals or have your identity stolen and used to open fraudulent credit card accounts, but it beats the heck out of being caught up in a bank robbery where your physical safety is in jeopardy.

I’d personally much rather live in a world where people have greater economic incentive to work at a bank than rob one.

What do you think? Are we better off with cybercrime over robbery at gun point? Why do you think bank robbery has gotten so unprofitable?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.