There were zero bank robberies in Denmark last year, but thieves are still keeping busy


As It Happens5:55There were zero bank robberies in Denmark last year. But thieves are still keeping busy

When it comes to crime, cash is no longer king — at least in Denmark.

For the first time ever, the country recorded zero bank robberies in 2022, according to Finance Denmark, the industry association that represents the country’s banks.

In fact, bank robberies have been ticking downward for more than a decade. In 2021, there was just one.

That’s a dramatic shift from 20 years ago when Denmark saw about 220 bank robberies a year, says Michael Busk-Jepsen, Finance Denmark’s director of digitization.

“It was very nice to see this statistic, especially because of the people working in the banks, and that they’re not being exposed to that anymore,” Busk-Jepsen told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

Busk-Jepsen credits beefed-up security measures and a move toward cashless transitions. But despite the welcome change, he warns that criminals in the digital era are finding new ways to pick people’s pockets.

Traumatized bank tellers, deadly holdups

Busk-Jepsen says that a few decades ago, bank robberies were almost a daily occurrence in Denmark. 

The consequences for bank employees, customers and police officers were at best traumatic — and at worst deadly.

That’s why the Danish bank employees’ union on Tuesday welcomed the latest news.

“It is just amazing,” spokesman Steen Lund Olsen said in a statement, noting that robberies “put an absolutely extreme strain on the affected employees.”

A gray-haired man in a suit leans against a red wall, his hands clasped in front of him.
Michael Busk-Jepsen says bank robberies have disappeared because security is better and cash is no longer king. (Finance Denmark)

Busk-Jepsen says these crimes were common for two reasons. One, it was easy. And two, it was fruitful. 

“The business case was, so to speak, too good for the robbers. It was too easy to get away with the money from the banks,” he said. “That was not a healthy place to be at, so we decided to do something about it.”

The first thing financial institutions did was beef up security, he said. Between 2000 and 2010, Busk-Jepsen says Danish banks focused on improving their surveillance measures, alarm systems and relationships with police.

That helped, Busk-Jepsen said. But the thing that really made a difference was the move away from cash.

Starting in 2005, he says, payment by cards began superseding payment by cash in Denmark. That trend has only continued. 

Today, Busk-Jepsen says many banks don’t even have cash on the premises.

Finance Denmark says about 20 bank branches across the country currently have cash holdings. The number of bank branches has also fallen from 219 in 1991 to 56 in 2021, it said.

If there’s no paper, Busk-Jepsen says, there’s not much point in a caper.

A Visa credit card sticking out of an Interac machine.
Cashless payment methods, like credit cards, have been increasing in popularity in Denmark since 2005. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Initially, robbers switched their attention from bank branches to automated banking machines, with such attacks peaking at 18 in 2016.

But those, too, have come down to zero amid better surveillance and technical protection, the industry association said.

Digital crime on the rise

But just because your money’s no longer stored in a safe, doesn’t mean it is safe. As banking becomes an increasingly online activity, so does crime. 

“Of course, [thieves] went digital like everybody else,” Busk-Jepsen said. “Internet banking was introduced, and the numbers of different sorts of digital frauds are just growing at the moment.”

That can mean cyberattacks against banks, Busk-Jepsen says. But most often, digital fraudsters tend to go right to the source and target customers directly. 

Anyone can fall victim to a grift online, he said, but the elderly are a particularly vulnerable target. 

To push back, he says banks are investing heavily in public awareness campaigns teaching customers how to watch out for scammers.

“In the older days, the criminals went for the physical bank, whereas today the criminals, they go for the digital customer,” Busk-Jepsen said.

With files from The Associated Press. Interview with Michael Busk-Jepsen produced by Chris Trowbridge.

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