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Beating Fraud with the Sound of Music

The last couple of decades have seen a steady “retail revolution” in high-street banking. The austere branches where my parents used to work, and bank, have undergone wholesale changes of layout and environment. Out went the polished wood counters and imposing rows of cashier screens in regimented banking halls and in came the open-plan layouts punctuated by automated teller devices, computer screens, “meet and greet” reception staff and open counters.

As with so many initiatives introduced for greater consumer convenience, the criminal fraternity have been exploiting new and innovative ways to try to compromise customer details. In the open-plan banking environments many of us use today, it’s easy to be overheard when we are talking with a member of bank staff.

A criminal only needs to join a customer queue in the bank to hear exchanges at the counter or elsewhere nearby, and possibly hear banking details that lead to compromise. The problem is worse for older customers who may need bank staff to speak louder.

It is impractical, not to say discriminatory, to suggest that certain customers be confined to speaking with a bank worker in a side or back office. So, what is the solution?

The latest concept sees a real world cross-over with the “music while you wait” initiative that was (irritatingly for many!) introduced many years ago on telephone call centres. By playing background music, banks can mask the content of discussions being held by the person at the head of the queue speaking to a bank teller.

This is another link between banks and retailers, but some people fear that this will cause annoyance amongst customers and staff, especially where they have to endure the same tracks on repeat.

I view this bank branch development with some bemusement. In my mind’s eye I can see instances where the choice of tracks being played generates an unexpected consumer reaction (such as the classic queue scene from the film The Full Monty) or has unintended ironic connotations, such as where there has been a widescale system problem and a long queue develops, serenaded by the likes of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”!

Joking aside, privacy and security of customer finances are of paramount concern and any effort to reduce the risk of compromise should be cautiously welcomed. Personally I would rather efforts were made on other forms of soundproofing or distraction, but I realise this may not be as cost-effective as music.

I used to visit a bank branch that had an indoor fountain running all the time. The sound of running water almost completely obliterated conversations of those even just a few feet away. Of course, running water would not be appropriate for many bank branches — and even where used would probably increase the frequency of customers and staff needing to use the bathroom! But it does demonstrate that there may be a more innovative solution than simply upping the volume on the Lyle Lovett track, “Private Conversations.”

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