## Economic Analysis of Bank Robberies

Yes, it’s clever:

The basic problem is the average haul from a bank job: for the three-year period, it was only £20,330.50 (~\$31,613). And it gets worse, as the average robbery involved 1.6 thieves. So the authors conclude, “The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest £12,706.60 per person per raid.”

“Given that the average UK wage for those in full-time employment is around £26,000, it will give him a modest life-style for no more than 6 months,” the authors note. If a robber keeps hitting banks at a rate sufficient to maintain that modest lifestyle, by a year and a half into their career, odds are better than not they’ll have been caught. “As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired.”

Worse still, the success of a robbery was a bit like winning the lottery, as the standard deviation on the £20,330.50 was £53,510.20. That means some robbers did far better than average, but it also means that fully a third of robberies failed entirely.

(If, at this point, you’re thinking that the UK is just a poor location for the bank robbery industry, think again, as the authors use FBI figures to determine that the average heist in the States only nets \$4,330.00.)

There are ways to increase your chance of getting a larger haul. “Every extra member of the gang raises the expected value of the robbery proceeds by £9,033.20, on average and other things being equal,” the authors note. Brandishing some sort of firearm adds another £10 300.50, “again on average and other things being equal.”

We all kind of knew this — that’s why most of us aren’t bank robbers. The interesting question, at least to me, is why anyone is a bank robber. Why do people do things that, by any rational economic analysis, are irrational?

The answer is that people are terrible at figuring this sort of stuff out. They’re terrible at estimating the probability that any of their endeavors will succeed, and they’re terrible at estimating what their reward will be if they do succeed. There is a lot of research supporting this, but the most recent — and entertaining — thing on the topic I’ve seen recently is this TED talk by Daniel Gilbert.

Note bonus discussion terrorism at the very end.

EDITED TO ADD (7/14): Bank robbery and the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Some people do these things for the thrill of it, and some times desparate people do desparate things.

I think the distribution is the key.

What the stats appear to say is you have an e.g. 1/3 chance of getting away with a large haul. Most people plan a robbery assuming they will succeed, rather than get caught, so they don’t make the full assessment of expected value, only an assessment of expected value assuming everything goes to plan.

Peter June 22, 2012 7:43 AM

I think the answer is actually really simple. Unlike the diabolical masterminds you see in the movies, real criminals are (by and large) just plain stupid.

Ian Eiloart June 22, 2012 7:48 AM

Erm, I’m not sure that I did know that the returns were low. I kind of assumed that the risk of capture was high, and more importantly that it’s morally wrong.

I think you do your fellow humans a disservice by assuming that the low rate of return is a significant disincentive. It’s not at all a disincentive to honest people who have a satisfactory standard of living.

Ninja June 22, 2012 7:50 AM

“Every extra member of the gang raises the expected value of the robbery proceeds by £9,033.20, on average and other things being equal,” the authors note. Brandishing some sort of firearm adds another £10 300.50, “again on average and other things being equal.”

Ok, so at my next robbery, I’m gonna bring 100 guys with 100 guns.. That should do the trick, no?

Think about it like this, 100 guys would be harder to round-up than four. And, they are mostly ‘extras’ anyways so they get a smaller cut. In the end I make out better.

These figures are well known in criminology/sociology. Gottfredson and Hirschi did a pretty serious study of violent criminals 20 years ago and found (as I recall) that the primary contributing factor for bank robbery (or any robbery) was lack of impulse control. Offenders didn’t even case the joint in many instances; the robbery was literally a spur-of-the-moment choice driven by immediate need — with no consideration of any longterm consequences either positive or negative.

The same is equally true of assaults and murders; violent attacks are almost exclusively driven by an immediate impulse with no forethought or planning. (This is also why the UK has far more attempted murders than murders relative to the US; the lack of easy access to firearms means that these violent impulses are acted on with knives and bludgeons, which have a much higher survival rate.)

For a full rundown, I recommend “A General Theory of Crime” — it’s dated but still very relevant. http://criminology.wikia.com/wiki/General_Theory_of_Crime

Taipan June 22, 2012 7:55 AM

Wherever someone can calculate a risk/ reward ratio, theyll have a crack at it. But statistically they look like crap risk managers.

Kasper June 22, 2012 8:01 AM

Some people are not in a position make a purely economic choice. For example people with a substantial drug debt might be given an ultimatum: Rob a bank, or lose your kneecaps.

I think you are figuring the comparison wrong. You are figuring a person in stable employment vs bank robbery, when these are the kind of people unlikely to take up bank robbery. Whereas what you want to consider is more like the earning potential of someone in unstable employment, with no doubt a range of other problems. People take up bank robbery because they don’t want or can’t get the stable employment in the first place and see crime as a way of getting the money and lifestyle they want. Just like other people with low and unstable incomes, they are poor at long term considerations, treating all income as a short term windfall to be spent immediately.

dimon June 22, 2012 8:27 AM

those robberies are just grab and run, so what do you expect, the people who can rob a bank of billions and get away with it and do it again next year are called CEO’s
and they do it with “derivitives” not guns.

Urban Garlic June 22, 2012 8:38 AM

There are a couple of points I’ve seen in related discussions.

Firstly, these data are apparently averages. A highly skilled bank robber who plans carefully to hit a rich target may get much better returns, and also, if his planning is good, have a lower risk of getting caught.

Secondly, the article is not clear on whether the data are about bank losses, or about arrests and convictions. The difference between these is, of course, the losses for which there is no corresponding arrest and conviction — the ones that get away with it. It’s possible that these are the economically successful bank robbers, who may take a much smaller number of much larger hauls.

And thirdly, of course, for those who are cynical about the financial sector, the most economically successful bank robbers of all are right before our eyes. The absolutely best way to rob a bank is to own one.

brazzy June 22, 2012 8:55 AM

I believe that these low numbers are simply the result of various security measures put in place by banks over the decades.

50 years ago, robbing banks was probably a lot more profitable, and that’s why the idea of robbing a banks as a one-off action that makes you rich if you don’t get caught lingers on.

Hans Grueber June 22, 2012 8:55 AM

Identity theft is much more profitable and less dangerous. The only ppl who rob banks where I live are desperate junkies usually armed with pepper spray.

Google the name Travis Baumgartner. He was an armored truck guard who last week decided to murder 4 of his coworkers to run off with a small bag of loot. Who risks quadruple life sentence for\$ 300k i guess he does

Stephane June 22, 2012 8:58 AM

If people where rational with their investment choices, lotteries would have gone out of business a long time ago.

I wonder how this distribution compares to other career choices? Very few politicians become President of the United States. Most are local city councilmen.

Gavin Schalliol June 22, 2012 9:19 AM

Here’s a lighthearted take on how deflation killed the bank heist. Still plenty of numbers, though, with a particular emphasis on the changing value of American banknotes by weight.

kingsnake June 22, 2012 9:24 AM

Most criminals are not bad at calculating odds. That implies some forethought, no matter how poor it might be. Instead, they don’t think at all. Pure id. “I see. I want. I take.” The rest become bankers and politicians.

balex June 22, 2012 9:50 AM

Hmm, no it’s not clever I think. If you take the time spent into consideration, robbery is still very interesting. The hourly wage must be highly superior to the one of the average employee.

Stephen June 22, 2012 9:52 AM

Carl Gugasian actually DID make a full career out of being a bank robber. He robbed over 50 banks in 30 years before he was finally caught when some teenagers stumbled across one of his stashes in the woods. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Gugasian If you approach bank robbery as a professional, your odds are much better than the typical bank robber.

Andrew Burday June 22, 2012 9:59 AM

I’m a little confused. You write, “We all kind of knew this — that’s why most of us aren’t bank robbers.” But then you go on to explain the small number who are bank robbers in terms of a general characteristic of people: “people are terrible at figuring this sort of stuff out.” If that’s the explanation, why aren’t there more bank robbers?

An answer postulating a normal-ish distribution of good judgment with the robbers in the left hand tail won’t work. That wouldn’t amount to “people” being unable to calculate risk and reward. And if we’re all terrible at risk/reward calculations, but there are other reasons why only a few rob banks, then those other reasons for robbing banks are the real reasons, and the point about risk/reward is just a background condition.

Randy June 22, 2012 10:03 AM

About 10 to 15 years ago here there was a bank robber who would rob different banks every few months for a total of about 8 – 10 times. He turned out to be just an average Joe, robbing the banks only when he ran out of money from the last robbery. He was making his living by robbing banks. He was polite, completely non-violent and non-threatening. It took so long to capture him because he was so completely ordinary. In fact, he was caught almost accidentally. I wish I could find a link…but can’t.

Randy

Agate June 22, 2012 10:05 AM

I don’t think people are terrible at making these sorts of decisions: I think the cost/benefit tradeoff looks different depending on your situation.

If you’re a middle-aged security analyst and author, robbing a bank is clearly a losing proposition. Especially since going to jail means the end of your career.

But if you’re unemployed and homeless, the payout looks a lot more attractive, and the downside risk (3 square meals a day in a nice warm prison cell) doesn’t seem so bad either.

In fact, this is one of the main reasons for welfare programs: by providing baseline food and shelter to everyone, we make the meager profits of crime not worth the effort. The dole isn’t just charity: it’s a crime prevention technique.

You don’t need two raids of ~£12k each to get to the same point as someone on a salary of ~£26k unless you’re expecting the bank robbers to pay income tax on the loot.

One of my favorite-ever local bank robbers (I live in what seems, some days, to be the capital of idiot-bank-robbers) really gives a sense of the poor impulse control: he was caught, after the robbery, because he bought drinks for everyone at his local pub, and when asked where he had the money – <ahref=”http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007703200303″>explained that he’d just robbed a bank.

Taking into account the size of the haul (about \$1,000), and the prices of drinks at that pub, I think we have a complete refutation of the concept of rational actors in an economic environment – especially taking into account that this guy was 35, so had nearly 20 years of economic existence before robbing that bank.

Another local bank robber hit the big city banks in a series of loner-hits, but was caught & had to pay back the ~100,000 he bought and serve 10 years in prison. If he wasn’t forced to pay it back, the \$10K/year still puts him below the poverty line.

(And there was always the one who robbed a bank wearing a banana suit. Impulse control meets fruit costume – for real.)

“an” not “and”

Randy June 22, 2012 11:04 AM

@ewan: But then you would be committing a second crime. I wonder what the cost/benefit analysis would be then?

I am always amazed at the amount of time and effort some criminals put into their illegal activities. If they held a legal job and their boss made them work that hard, they would probably spend their time complaining about it and wouldn’t bother.

Andrew Price June 22, 2012 1:04 PM

I think the first commenter has it right; at least for repeat offenders. I have seen a number of interviews with bank robbers that indicate it is a highly addicting adrenaline-fuelled activity.

Nick P June 22, 2012 1:19 PM

@ Bruce Schneier and others

Paul (06/22 8:09AM) already hit on it a bit. I agree with him and think the study seems bogus in a way. I live and work around one of the nation’s top crime cities. I moved out of the hood (again…) a few months ago. I’ve been around our crooked types. They’re usually pretty up-front about how they see things & brag about anything they do. I also see the poor (started out that way) and know their circumstances very well. Here’s my perspective on it.

Many crooks like bank robbers certainly have impulse control or don’t think way through things. Most of those I met fit the bill. Other commenters suggest they didn’t want to do enough “normal” work to make that money or they liked the thrill. Both true, although many have normal jobs (at least part time, some full). Most of our crooks are also “hustlers” who always look for opportunities to scheme more for themselves.

Here’s how they see it. They figure working a normal job is BS. They’re making someone else money, hardly getting what they feel their owed, & they’re treated with disrespect by bosses & others. They’d rather run their own stuff. They also want cash & fast. So, they look into drugs, robbing people, whatever they think they can pull off.

One group at a tattoo parlor bragged that they just got done going from unlocked car to unlocked car in a “low crime” neighborhood & got away with plenty of stuff. (The \$1000-3000 SLR one had was probably part of the loot.) Nobody even called the cops during the raid. Many of the rural crooks also regularly tore copper out of houses under construction, siphened off gasoline from cars, etc. So much for risk/reward analysis…

The few times these guys are caught for anything, little happens. They usually make bail. They try not to rat on each other. I’ve known plenty to do all kinds of crime, with legit work on the side, for years without being locked up. I knew a few that did get locked up. TV and stats want to convince us that being a crook doesn’t pay & they always get caught. Yet, young or desparate people hanging with these crooks will see them get away with it day in & day out, always showing off whatever new cash they make. Makes me wonder how accurate these stats are. If they’re accurate, they’re no deterrent.

The other element is poverty. I laughed when the article said two robberies would only get them a modest living for six months. REALLY? Near where I live, a person can live quite comfortably day-to-day, go to many events, party plenty & buy new stuff making that kind of money. Many people around this city are also in the poverty level, struggling to pay bills, getting welfare or buying food with food stamps. It’s also common for hustlers to scheme their way into many stamps feigning unemployed (hustlers are never unemployed ;), then trade food stamps for cash. Free money. Even better, a number of them that are related or friends will pool the cards together for this purpose, just in case any one of them get’s “slighted”.

So, these people have plenty of bills, family, bill collectors, etc. Additionally, the job market out here is HORRIBLE. People are bragging when they’re “lucky enough” to have 2-3 part time jobs at once with no time for their family. These two things & the above said, is it really irrational for someone to try to get 3-6 months pay in one day? Esp. if they’re not smart enough to realize the take is low? If anything, impoverished people (there’s many in the US) don’t have too many options. People in the hood have less options than most, although most of my comments can apply to non-hood impoverished people too.

Robbing people & conning companies out of stuff, including jobs they’re not qualified for, are valid options when you only have a few “not good enough” options to choose from. That’s at least how many of these people think. And they don’t loose any sleep over it, either. Moments of conscience are sincere and fleeting, followed by “psh!!” and bouts of laughter.

John David Galt June 22, 2012 4:14 PM

I don’t know if anyone’s gone looking for this factor, but there are at least some people who have no prospect of any opportunities on the job market. For example, someone who owes 7 figures in back child support is routinely not allowed to get or keep an occupational license of any kind or even a driver’s license, and is denied welfare too. What can he do but steal, or con, or sell drugs?

There is such a thing as being forced into crime. There ought not to be, but there is.

Commenting on the TED talk referenced

Assessment of value is hard because the value is not a number. I worked with someone who had gone to jail twice because she had assaulted someone she perceived as insulting her. When I asked her if it was worth it, her response was that in the moment when she felt insulted inflicting pain on the person was worth more than going to jail for it.

Emotional satisfaction does not have a numerical value and hence Bernoulli’s equation is irrelevant for many situations, for example deciding whom to marry, or being altruistic for that matter.

I will pay more to buy something if I have a personal (and positive) relationship with the seller than from someone I don’t know because the relationship is important to me. This varies depending on the relationship, a small amount more if I am simply buying locally vs on-line and more if I know the person by name … I can’t put an absolute number on that though.

Nick P June 22, 2012 4:54 PM

@ John David Galt

Excellent point. I totally forgot them. Two people Ive met come to mind. One was a guy whose ex wife got custody over the kid, although her parents raised the kid. She made \$50k/yr as a lawyer & the guy could only get \$8/hr spare labor. Nonetheless, he was forced to pay \$110 on a \$120-140 paycheck for child support. He lost everything and still scrapes by, while the kid benefited none.

The other example is a woman who married a guy hiding tax problems. Upon divorce, due to technicality, IRS bothers her instead of him. She cant afford a fight bc they garnished her checks within two weeks of getting a job. With barely gas money left for each check, she decided to just quit those jobs.

There are many more peoplewho, for various reasons, cant pay bills or live on a normal job. For them, they must choose dependence on aid, odd jobs, or crime.

nobodySpecial June 22, 2012 11:31 PM

@sam – I think the distribution is the weak point. Given that there are multi-million GBP robberies, Brinx-mat/Belfast bank etc – the chances are that your robbery of a post office is going to be a few 100 quid.

Nakatomi Plaza June 23, 2012 3:15 PM

Anybody remember the Graff diamonds robbery in the UK? The culprits used mission impossible style film prosthetics and makeup to conceal their identity so the guards would let them into the store. They sucessfully made off with £40 million in diamonds and gold.

You also hear about epic UK airport robberies, like ripping entire cargo containers full of gold and platinum.

Article is correct about bank robberies though. Nobody does this anymore unless they are desperate junkies or complete fools. It’s easier to rob gas station or restaurants which is becoming more common as they are low hanging fruit and give up the same profits of a current bank heist.

I remember when I was a bike courier in Toronto the police came to talk to us about criminals targeting couriers for identity theft, and they explained the average bank heist netted a little over \$5,000USD whereas ID theft was netting them million per year.

The people writing comments that 26,000GBP is enough to live off comfortably have never lived in the UK where cost of living is much higher than N. America. Article is correct you will only get maybe 6mos living comfortably off that then have to rob another bank.

Yusuke June 25, 2012 1:03 AM

This article reminds me of an Freakonomics article about drug dealers being exposed to substantial risk compared to its actual income. An average drug dealer earns less than the minimum wage. Still, some people are attracted to the business because of the lavish lifestyle of a few members that are sitting on the top of the whole hierarchy.

Gomez June 25, 2012 5:11 AM

A small percentage of criminals are smart and professional and hardly ever get caught.

Many of these bank robberies I suspect are not from CAREER bank robbers, but from small-time crooks who fancy a shot at something more glamorous.

I’d like to know what the average haul is for a person who has made more than three hits.

Roger June 25, 2012 9:12 AM

Apparently, more than half of major prize lottery winners end up bankrupt. It is caused by a particular type of perceptual error, and I wonder if many of these bank robbers (and indeed some of the commenters above) are making the same mistake?

Most people are used to drawing a weekly wage, so a lump sum of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in cash seems like an enormous amount of money, a treasure to set you up for life.

But it isn’t. Thanks to inflation, a hundred grand or even a million just isn’t a princely sum anymore. Sure, I’d love to get a \$100,000 windfall — it would take a massive chunk of my mortgage. But that’s all it would do. \$100,000 isn’t enough to buy a house (except maybe the smallest cottages in depressed communties), and it certainly isn’t enough to quit your day job. If you invested it wisely, and kept turning some back into the investment to offset inflation, you will be getting somewhere around \$40 to \$60 return per week at current rates.

Even a million doesn’t go far if you want to actually change your lifestyle. If you invest it carefully, and spend time managing that investment, you can live off a million dollars indefinitely — but only paying yourself a working stiff’s wage. You will not be “comfortably off and independently wealthy”.

If instead you decide to spend your million on a fancy house and a luxury car, bankruptcy beckons — because you won’t have enough left to cover the property taxes.

The same sort of thing may be happening here. For most peope, £12,000 seems like a lot of lolly if it arrives as an unexpected windfall. But as an income, it is not much at all and won’t go very far before you need to do it again just to get the bill collectors off your back.

This is a funny discussion, kind of like arguing about the number of angles in the head of a pin.

The banks themselves are the ones stealing trillions of dollars from the public, and it is very profitable for them.

Talking about criminals robbing banks is like worrying about a few people stealing napkins from the Titanic as it sinks, and ignoring the criminal incompetence of the captain and crew from causing the accident, delaying evacuation, and then allowing many half-empty life-boats to depart.

This topic was explored in great detail by How to Succeed in Evil (a podcast novella, the main character of which is an “efficiency consultant” for supervillains) — not just the specific question of the economics of bank robbing versus a mundane job, but also the follow-up question of why criminals undertake to break the law in a manner that results in such lousy returns.

I’m not sure that I did know
that the returns were low.

Then you hadn’t really thought it through.

Banks keep enough cash on hand to cover expected withdrawals, with a bit of a margin in case somebody unexpectedly wants to close out a particularly large account. (Note that, unlike in the movies, where a particularly large account could be a hillion quadjillion dollars, in real life that’s no more than the limit of what the FDIC will cover in the event the bank goes under.)

Yes, I know, in bank-robbery movies the criminals always know that Bank X is going to have a quarter of a billion smackers lying around in the vault over the weekend because, umm, it’s being stored there on that date especially for the MacGuffin Event the following Monday. In the real world, however, there’s never any reason for a bank to have that kind of money laying around in cash. I don’t think it has happened once in the entire history of banking.

Although it is well know that banks, at least in the US, are required to retain liquid assets sufficient to cover a percentage (10% last I recall) of deposits, they are NOT required to keep this much on site in cash, and they don’t. They have it available to them, e.g., they have funds on deposit (electronically these days) with a federal reserve bank. That counts. (What doesn’t count is money they’ve lent back out as loans and other investments of that nature. That all has to come out of the other 90%, which is not required to be liquid.)

Mundane bank theft, then, of the kind that involves walking up to the teller and flashing a black squirt gun and demanding a sackful of green paper, is never going to be able to get more than what cash the bank has physically on hand. Indeed, as most banks are located inside municipalities (and thus are relatively close to police coverage), time constraints frequently require the perpetrators to settle for what’s in the teller’s drawer, which is generally a small percentage of the cash the bank has on hand. (In that case, you might actually get more from the cash register of a busy retail business, if you catch it near the end of the cashier’s shift.)

White-collar bank theft (of the kind depicted in the movie Ghost, though of course the movie depiction is not strictly realistic) can potentially net much more, but it also requires a great deal more skill to even attempt, let alone succeed, so it’s always going to be the minority case.

And yeah, all bank robbers get caught (unless they, like, have a heart attack and die first, or something). If they don’t get caught the first time, they blow through the money rather more quickly than they expected and find themselves trying it again, and it doesn’t take very many times to get caught. As I said above, almost all banks are located in towns and cities, so the police are seldom very many minutes away. Larger banks (which are tempting because they’re more likely to have a slightly larger amount of cash on hand) are especially likely to be located near police stations.

Reality is a harsh mistress for bank robbers.

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June 22, 2012
Economic Analysis of Bank Robberies

Yes, it’s clever:

``````The basic problem is the average haul from a bank job: for the three-year period, it was only £20,330.50 (~\$31,613). And it gets worse, as the average robbery involved 1.6 thieves. So the authors conclude, "The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest £12,706.60 per person per raid."

"Given that the average UK wage for those in full-time employment is around £26,000, it will give him a modest life-style for no more than 6 months," the authors note. If a robber keeps hitting banks at a rate sufficient to maintain that modest lifestyle, by a year and a half into their career, odds are better than not they'll have been caught. "As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired."

Worse still, the success of a robbery was a bit like winning the lottery, as the standard deviation on the £20,330.50 was £53,510.20. That means some robbers did far better than average, but it also means that fully a third of robberies failed entirely.

(If, at this point, you're thinking that the UK is just a poor location for the bank robbery industry, think again, as the authors use FBI figures to determine that the average heist in the States only nets \$4,330.00.)

There are ways to increase your chance of getting a larger haul. "Every extra member of the gang raises the expected value of the robbery proceeds by £9,033.20, on average and other things being equal," the authors note. Brandishing some sort of firearm adds another £10 300.50, "again on average and other things being equal."
``````

We all kind of knew this — that’s why most of us aren’t bank robbers. The interesting question, at least to me, is why anyone is a bank robber. Why do people do things that, by any rational economic analysis, are irrational?

The answer is that people are terrible at figuring this sort of stuff out. They’re terrible at estimating the probability that any of their endeavors will succeed, and they’re terrible at estimating what their reward will be if they do succeed. There is a lot of research supporting this, but the most recent — and entertaining — thing on the topic I’ve seen recently is this TED talk by Daniel Gilbert.

Note bonus discussion terrorism at the very end.

Posted on June 22, 2012 at 7:20 AM • 41 Comments

Some people do these things for the thrill of it, and some times desparate people do desparate things.

Posted by: Dan at June 22, 2012 7:34 AM

I think the distribution is the key.

What the stats appear to say is you have an e.g. 1/3 chance of getting away with a large haul. Most people plan a robbery assuming they will succeed, rather than get caught, so they don’t make the full assessment of expected value, only an assessment of expected value assuming everything goes to plan.

Posted by: sam at June 22, 2012 7:38 AM

I think the answer is actually really simple. Unlike the diabolical masterminds you see in the movies, real criminals are (by and large) just plain stupid.

Posted by: Peter at June 22, 2012 7:43 AM

Erm, I’m not sure that I did know that the returns were low. I kind of assumed that the risk of capture was high, and more importantly that it’s morally wrong.

I think you do your fellow humans a disservice by assuming that the low rate of return is a significant disincentive. It’s not at all a disincentive to honest people who have a satisfactory standard of living.

Posted by: Ian Eiloart at June 22, 2012 7:48 AM

“Every extra member of the gang raises the expected value of the robbery proceeds by £9,033.20, on average and other things being equal,” the authors note. Brandishing some sort of firearm adds another £10 300.50, “again on average and other things being equal.”

Ok, so at my next robbery, I’m gonna bring 100 guys with 100 guns.. That should do the trick, no?

Think about it like this, 100 guys would be harder to round-up than four. And, they are mostly ‘extras’ anyways so they get a smaller cut. In the end I make out better.

Posted by: Ninja at June 22, 2012 7:50 AM

These figures are well known in criminology/sociology. Gottfredson and Hirschi did a pretty serious study of violent criminals 20 years ago and found (as I recall) that the primary contributing factor for bank robbery (or any robbery) was lack of impulse control. Offenders didn’t even case the joint in many instances; the robbery was literally a spur-of-the-moment choice driven by immediate need — with no consideration of any longterm consequences either positive or negative.

The same is equally true of assaults and murders; violent attacks are almost exclusively driven by an immediate impulse with no forethought or planning. (This is also why the UK has far more attempted murders than murders relative to the US; the lack of easy access to firearms means that these violent impulses are acted on with knives and bludgeons, which have a much higher survival rate.)

For a full rundown, I recommend “A General Theory of Crime” — it’s dated but still very relevant. http://criminology.wikia.com/wiki/

Posted by: Jay Garmon at June 22, 2012 7:54 AM

Wherever someone can calculate a risk/ reward ratio, theyll have a crack at it. But statistically they look like crap risk managers.

Posted by: Taipan at June 22, 2012 7:55 AM

Some people are not in a position make a purely economic choice. For example people with a substantial drug debt might be given an ultimatum: Rob a bank, or lose your kneecaps.

Posted by: Kasper at June 22, 2012 8:01 AM

I think you are figuring the comparison wrong. You are figuring a person in stable employment vs bank robbery, when these are the kind of people unlikely to take up bank robbery. Whereas what you want to consider is more like the earning potential of someone in unstable employment, with no doubt a range of other problems. People take up bank robbery because they don’t want or can’t get the stable employment in the first place and see crime as a way of getting the money and lifestyle they want. Just like other people with low and unstable incomes, they are poor at long term considerations, treating all income as a short term windfall to be spent immediately.

Posted by: Paul at June 22, 2012 8:09 AM

those robberies are just grab and run, so what do you expect, the people who can rob a bank of billions and get away with it and do it again next year are called CEO’s and they do it with “derivitives” not guns.

Posted by: dimon at June 22, 2012 8:27 AM

There are a couple of points I’ve seen in related discussions.

Firstly, these data are apparently averages. A highly skilled bank robber who plans carefully to hit a rich target may get much better returns, and also, if his planning is good, have a lower risk of getting caught.

Secondly, the article is not clear on whether the data are about bank losses, or about arrests and convictions. The difference between these is, of course, the losses for which there is no corresponding arrest and conviction — the ones that get away with it. It’s possible that these are the economically successful bank robbers, who may take a much smaller number of much larger hauls.

And thirdly, of course, for those who are cynical about the financial sector, the most economically successful bank robbers of all are right before our eyes. The absolutely best way to rob a bank is to own one.

Posted by: Urban Garlic at June 22, 2012 8:38 AM

I believe that these low numbers are simply the result of various security measures put in place by banks over the decades.

50 years ago, robbing banks was probably a lot more profitable, and that’s why the idea of robbing a banks as a one-off action that makes you rich if you don’t get caught lingers on.

Posted by: brazzy at June 22, 2012 8:55 AM

Identity theft is much more
profitable and less dangerous.

Fraud in general is more profitable and less dangerous than outright theft. It’s possible to make a VERY nice living selling worthless junk (or worthless investments) under false pretenses, and the legalities in many cases are sufficiently blurry that you can avoid going to jail by spending most of the take before anyone figures out how to prosecute you, apologizing and giving back what little is left, then drive a hundred miles and start a new scam the following Tuesday.

If you take the time spent into
consideration… The hourly wage
must be highly superior to the one
of the average employee.

You forgot to count the time spent in prison after getting caught. Throw that in, and you can expect to make less than minimum wage, even if you only count the prison time for forty hours a week (as opposed to 168).

AgentX June 26, 2012 12:58 PM

The numbers are off because of averages. The more prepared bank robbers make off with more money, the less prepared bank robbers make off with very little money.

There are specific times when to hit a bank, and specific things a bank robber wants to look for.

Some of the more prolific bank robbers did and do live quite well. (Excepting they are hunted hard core and live under serious stress.)

The non-wage compensation of bank robbery might be quite impressive. Bank robbers used, at least, to enjoy high status among criminals in the UK, which among other things might have helped a lot with other criminal enterprises, brought in access to stolen goods, got you into clubs at the head of the queue, etc.

If it is true that this has evaporated (see comments about “note passers”), this won’t be an issue.

I’d say most people don’t rob banks because they know it is wrong. And against the law.

Ethics, morality, societal norms makes us do and not do a lot of things that makes more or less rational sense.

I robbed a bank trust me in the end not worth it..your lucky to walk out with 5 grand. A month later I was broke ; it was a cheap thrill that lasted shortly and I learned an expensive lesson money not earned has no value.

And yes I payed my debt to society for all you curious minds.

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.