Mother Robbing Bank Shows Why Italy Leads EU Thefts

Italy’s biggest banks rank no higher than ninth in Europe by market value. They come in first by another yardstick: robberies.

Heists at Italian banks accounted for almost half of all thefts in the European Union last year, according to a June 30 report by banking union FIBA. The report concluded that Italian banks have too much cash on hand at too many branches.

Italy recorded 1,744 bank robberies last year, more than six times the number in Germany and 20 times the U.K. figure, FIBA reported. Italian banks lost 36.8 million euros ($46.8 million) to thieves last year, according to data compiled by Italian banking association ABI.

“The less that cash circulates in branches, the fewer robberies we’ll have,” said Pierfrancesco Gaggi, the Rome-based head of infrastructure at ABI, in an interview.

The abundance of branches in neighborhoods with minimal police presence makes Italian banks easy picking for thieves, said Alessandro Spaggiari, FIBA’s national secretary in Rome.

Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Italy’s biggest bank by branches, has 5,921 outlets in its home market, more than twice as many as France’s BNP Paribas SA and about 1,000 more than Banco Santander SA has in its Spanish network.

Santander is Europe’s second-largest bank by market value after London-based HSBC Holdings Plc and Paris-based BNP Paribas is third, while Milan-based Intesa places 14th, data compiled by Bloomberg show. UniCredit SpA is Italy’s biggest bank with a market value of 39.9 billion euros, ranking ninth in the region after Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG.

Surveillance Breakdown

Italian banks spend more than 700 million euros a year on anti-theft equipment such as closed-circuit cameras and alarms, Spaggiari said. Little of the funds go to smaller branches, since those locations have relatively limited amounts of cash, he said.

That suits crooks, as most Italian bank robberies are small-time jobs, with two out of three heists bringing in less than 15,000 euros, according to a June 10 report from the ABI. Many of the perpetrators are amateurs, often armed with little more than knives.

A 41-year-old mother robbed three banks in the Turin area in one day in May, while her seven-month-old infant waited in the car.

“I haven’t got a steady job,” the Turin thief told police when she was arrested after her fourth attempted holdup of the day. “I didn’t know how to get by with a small child.” Police have declined to disclose her identity.

Poor and Homeless

With unemployment approaching 9 percent and the economy only now emerging from its worst recession since World War II, robberies by “desperate people” are on the increase, said Mario Furlan, founder of Milan-based CityAngel, a non-profit organization that helps the poor and homeless. In many underprivileged neighborhoods, robbing a bank isn’t even considered a crime, Furlan said.

The ABI is trying to get Italians, who like using cash, to switch to credit cards and other non-cash instruments to improve security and bring Italy in line with the rest of Europe. Italians make an average 66 non-cash transactions per person every year, about one third of the euro-zone average and four times less than in the U.K, according to a Bank of Italy report.

(Adds UniCredit’s market value in seventh paragraph.)
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