Dutch banks are seeking new ways to prevent ATM robberies using explosives as the number of such crimes spiked in 2019, forcing lenders to shut down cashpoints and stop overnight withdrawals.
The number of ATM bombings increased to 71 in 2019, after falling to 48 in 2018 from 87 in 2017, NOS.nl reported on Dec. 31. The chances of such attacks succeeding is very slim, but criminals will always keep trying so long as there is a chance, according to the Dutch Banking Association NVB.
The association has been working with authorities on countermeasures since the first attacks occurred in 2006, an NVB spokesman told S&P Global Market Intelligence. These have been successful in limiting the chances of robbers actually getting away with the money.
"In most cases, there is no loot but a lot of damage to machines and buildings," the NVB said.
The attacks have become "much more violent" due to the use of more powerful explosives, which has a huge impact on the safety of people living near an ATM, it said.
The association is working on further steps to prevent future attacks and make ATMs more secure. It is looking for safe locations for the cashpoints, and is discussing a solution that would make cash worthless after an ATM bombing, the spokesman said.
In December 2019, the NVB imposed a temporary closure of all ATMs overnight, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., which is still in force. The measure is not expected to affect the access to and availability of cash for bank customers, as only 2% of total ATM withdrawals occurred overnight, the association said.
ABN Amro most affected
Dutch banking group ABN Amro Bank NV — which has faced the most attacks, 52 out of the 71 ATM bombings in 2019 — announced the temporary closure of 470 out of its 870 ATMs on Dec. 2. Since then, it has reopened about 20 and will soon reopen at least another 100, a spokesman for the bank said.
It is replacing the damaged ATMs with new models and is taking measures to secure the new machines that are accessible to customers outside, he said. In the interest of security, he did not provide further details about the exact safety features of the new machines.
The old ATMs, which were targeted by criminals because they had a feature allowing the placement of explosives, have all been taken out of service and will not be used outside anymore, the spokesman said. Some of them may be used within bank branches where there is additional security, he said.
ABN Amro has no estimate for the potential costs which it will incur as a result of the ongoing replacements, the spokesman said. Because customers are worried, some municipalities may require that machines are moved to different locations away from residential areas, which will be more costly than replacing them at their original location.
Meanwhile, some ABN Amro ATMs may not be reopened at all as the bank recently entered a new partnership with fellow Dutch banks ING Groep NV and Rabobank. Earlier in 2019, the three teamed up to create a joint ATM network with brand-neutral cash machines, dubbed Geldmaat. This project will result in a reduction of the existing number of ATMs, as currently there are cash machines too close to each other at about 3,000 locations in the Netherlands, according to Geldmaat estimates.
If there is an ING or a Rabobank ATM in the vicinity of one of the affected ABN Amro machines, there will be no need for ABN Amro to reopen its one, the ABN Amro spokesman said. He did not say exactly how many ATMs may disappear in the process.
The declining use of cash by the general public is one of the main reasons behind the Dutch banks' tie-up. In the past decade, the number of ATMs in the Netherlands has fallen by 25%, with cash withdrawals dropping by 40%, according to a Dec. 3 Dutchnews.nl report. Figures from the Dutch consumer association Consumentenverbond show that 62% of all payments in the Netherlands in 2018 were made by smartphone, versus 37% in cash.
Similarly, the four biggest banks in Belgium — Belfius Banque SA, BNP Paribas Fortis SA, ING and KBC Group NV — joined forces earlier in January to set up a neutral ATM network in the country, which has one of the greatest densities of ATMs per person in Europe.
There was a spike in ATM bomb attacks in Belgium in 2019 as well. According to the latest reported data, there were 22 attacks over the first 10 months of 2019, more than all those recorded for the whole of 2018.
Belgian authorities have been on high alert and there were some closures of the 14,000 ATMs in the country. For example, Argenta Bank- en Verzekeringsgroep announced the closure of 364 ATMs for an indefinite period in October 2019 as it was facing a wave of "increasingly aggressive bomb attacks," NRC.nl reported at the time.