Moneyweb’s Nompu Siziba says cash crimes are crippling the retail sector

Richard Phillips and Yusuf Abramjee discuss targeted retail outlets, levels of violence, crime syndicates and available deterrent technology.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Last week the crime statistics for 2017/2018 showed that business robberies had declined by 3.1% to just over 20 000. However, observers note than an average of 65 retail cash robberies a day remains way too high. They are calling for the police to be as attentive to these types of crime as they have been in cracking down on cash-in-transit heists. This as retailers, workers in the sector and consumers now visit retail centres with a level of fear that something could go down. Today Cash Connect held a media briefing about how bad the situation is.
To speak further on this matter, I’m joined on the line by Richard Phillips, the CEO of Cash Connect, and Yusuf Abramjee, an anti-crime activist.
Perhaps we can start with you, Richard. Which retail outlets seem to be the main targets, and what’s the level of violence involved?
RICHARD PHILLIPS: The main targets are the small retailers [SMMEs], the large retailers and the fuel industry. Seventy-eight percent of the activity lies in that terrain.
NOMPU SIZIBA: In terms of this particular area, Yusuf, what sort of campaigning have you been doing, and what sort of observations have you made?
YUSUF ABRAMJEE: Well, there’s been no campaigning per se. The whole idea with the panel discussion that Richard and Cash Connect hosted today was to create awareness to see how we can collaborate and partner with law-enforcement agencies.
But it needs to be said that business robberies have become a major scourge. Although the latest crime statistics released recently show a slight decline, if you look at the overall figure, we have a massive onslaught. On average, 55 businesses get robbed each and every day. No wonder that it’s affecting our economy. These retailers often just have to put up their arms and give the cash to these gangs. I believe it’s part of organised syndicates. I believe that many of these businesses are being targeted by these syndicates.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Richard, when retail businesses are unfortunate enough to have these type of experiences, what are some of the implications – do some of them go out of business as a result?
RICHARD PHILLIPS: They certainly have a serious knock to their commercial viability. Just to clarify the statistics, if we just look at the eight-month period January to August for 2018, we’ve seen a 6% increase in the number of armed robberies against the retail sector. When we talk about armed robberies, we are talking about organised crime, we are talking about guys – 15, 20 members of a gang – walking into stores, terrorising everybody in the stores, just for starters, and then stealing whatever they’ve come to steal. So you can imagine the impact of that, the impact on staff, the risk, of course, to life and limb is always present, there is major cash loss, and then you have the post-attack depression, as it were. It takes as much six months for a store to recover its turnovers.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yusuf, [places] like Cash Connectors have been calling on the police to deal with retail cash crimes in a manner similar to the way they deal with cash-in-transit [CIT] heists, and there seems to be a view that syndicates are involved, and that the very same ones involved in CIT are also involved in retail crimes. I think you alluded to that earlier. Just tell us what you think about this.
YUSUF ABRAMJEE: Well, I think business robberies need to be prioritised. Most certainly they are affecting our economy, just like cash-in-transit and other robberies. We must also face reality. The police cannot protect us 24/7; the police cannot be everywhere. The shopping complexes, the malls, for example, and property owners have to take the various precautions; the retailers have to take precautions.
This is why we have to use technology similar to what Cash Connectors has available to, for example, protect our cash and make sure that these retailers do not become targets. We even see a dramatic increase in attacks at petrol filling stations as a major source of concern. So, as much as we blame police, I think everyone has a role to play and we really need to find a solution. This is part of organised crime syndicates and that is why it’s critical, in my view, that retailers be educated about possible inside jobs, possible gangs targeting them, and what steps need to be taken using technology.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Richard, forewarned is forearmed. Tell us about your technology and why it is that criminals seem to find it difficult to circumvent it.
RICHARD PHILLIPS: Well, what we do is effectively put the bank in the store. So we have very robust hardened cash vaults that we drop into the store. They are small, compact and very hard to get into. We implement a process whereby the store bank effectively drops its cash into the machine throughout the day and, by doing so, removes the cash from circulation in the store. Contractually it also transfers all the risk to us. In this way, you create a major deterrent because now the bandits can’t just walk in and steal it. It’s not lying on the table anymore, in the till drawers. They can’t just walk in and steal it – and it becomes a major deterrent.
We’ve been doing this now for 10, 12 years and we’ve perfected this technology. It’s constantly improving and the results are significant. In the last eight months, we have successfully defended 94% of explosives being used against our machines, and we’ve seen a drop to below 2% of our national footprint actually being attacked, which tells that the deterrent value in the solution is working.
NOMPU SIZIBA: So, Richard, while you talk about the technology and the benefits thereof, and how it can actually minimise the potential for these crimes, do you agree with Yusuf that we can’t lay all the blame on the police? Or do you still feel that police could be doing more?
RICHARD PHILLIPS: Gee whizz, the police can certainly always be doing more. Even Yusuf will agree with me there. There is a long way to go. But what is very encouraging is that, since all the hype about cash-in-transit, there seems to certainly be a collective government response to cash crime. I was pleased to hear in the last couple of days that retail cash crime is included in that focus. If that is going to be the case, and we drive a national agenda which deals with organised crime, then that’s going to be great.
But, having said that, everybody has a role to play and we need to be able to respond to the collectives and be responsible for the safety and security or our own particular areas of patrol, just as the retail store is responsible for its own area of control. It can’t rely on the police to be there 24/7.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Yusuf, I know you are very much involved in advocacy, in anti-crime activities and so on. What’s your feeling about how South Africans feel about crime? Are people walking around constantly in fear? What’s your feeling?
YUSUF ABRAMJEE: Most certainly I think the latest crime statistics have instilled a lot of fear among ordinary people, and the reality is we live in fear. We have to watch our backs 24/7, look at our houses and how we are prisoners in our own homes. Business people, for example, very often live in fear; when they go to their businesses they operate in fear.
I think we are dealing here with a national crime emergency. Crime is out of control. These criminals are running amok. They have no respect for law and order. The police are finding it difficult to cope. The minister of police even went as far as saying that we are on the verge of a full-scale war. There are 57 people being murdered every day in what is nothing less than bloodshed. And I think South Africans are being caught up.
Two countries have also issued travel advisories – the United States of America to its citizens, as well as Canada. And this is going to affect our economy. The quicker we get the crooks and sort out this crime problem the better it will be. We need leadership. We need strong leadership, we need the police to take charge and we need collaboration at all levels because this certainly is a big deterrent to investment into our country.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Richard, on the cost side, how much do you think crime costs businesses, both in terms of them having to defend themselves against potential crime, the cost of a negative perception of the country, and people choosing not to invest or choosing not to come into the country and come for tourism or whatever it may be.
RICHARD PHILLIPS: You’ve just mentioned all the elements. There are so many facets to this attack on the economy – and it is an attack on the economy. We are a cash economy. Cash represents just over 58% of our GDP. It’s a very important component of our economy.
So every aspect of our business – international involvement, investment, our local economy, the profitability of an SMME or a major retailer – is dependent on being able to control and be reasonably safe in a stable environment. I can’t give you a figure. The one figure I can give you is that there are hundreds of millions of rand being stolen and have been stolen, and one wonders where all that money has gone. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.