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Self-service for manual safe deposit lockers

How can conventional mechanical safe deposit locker systems be brought up to the latest technological standards?

Negative interest rates and burglaries – no wonder that the demand for safe deposit lockers is so high. In addition to zero or punitive interest rates, everyday worries about theft also play a role. More and more consumers wish to keep important documents, jewellery, precious metals or even cash in their safe deposit locker rather than at home.

Bank safe deposit lockers are generally regarded as secure. Ask Germans about the safest place for valuables and the answer is normally the safe deposit locker. This is shown by a representative study from the opinion research institute TNS Emnid, which was commissioned by the Deutsche Börse stock exchange organisation. According to the survey, 72% of those questioned would keep their valuables in a safe deposit locker, with a secure safe at home as the second choice.

Elaborate security arrangements

However, in this respect what is the real situation regarding the security of safe deposit lockers? In addition to insurance-related or organisational questions, the latest technological standards form the starting point for the assessment.

In general, technical measures should always take precedence over organisational or person-related measures. For this reason, when it comes to security, the “TOP principle” is widely recommended:

  • Technical measures
  • Organisational measures
  • Person-related measures

Common challenges are burglary, tampering, the dual control principle and documentation requirements. However, in terms of security concepts for safe deposit lockers the protection of bank employees is also one of the key issues when it comes to prevention.

In the final analysis, when the possibilities of robbery, damage and tampering are considered, the questions are always the same.

  • How can a dangerous situation for bank staff be avoided or excluded?
  • How can break-ins or tampering be prevented or detected and reported early on?
  • Who accessed the safe deposit locker and when, and can this be verifiably documented?

Automatic versus manual systems

A fundamental distinction must be made here, as not every safe deposit locker system is the same. Automatic or electronic systems can be contrasted with manual, mechanical systems. In the latter case, the bank employee is involved in the process and opens the safe deposit locker for the customer.

On the other hand, the advantage of self-service for automatic systems sounds tempting. The fact is, however, that to a large extent it is manual safe deposit lockers which are still installed. The decisive question now is: how can existing mechanical systems be brought up to the latest technological standards?

Retrofitting instead of conversion

With the manual system, the employee always operates the first lock, the so-called “bank key”. The dual control principle and documentation are accordingly solved in an “organisational” way with person-related measures, and not “technically”. Apart from the time and cost aspect, the obligation to provide proof in the event of damage is often problematic.

Manual systems can of course be modernised by replacing mechanical safe deposit lockers with electronic ones. However, in practice this process is very complex. Safe deposit locker customers have to be contacted, and the rental contracts for the existing safe deposit lockers need to be renewed. The amount of work and time involved is considerable. This time-consuming process often results in additional costs, because if the customer fails to respond, the relevant safe deposit locker has to be opened professionally in the presence of a notary public.

The cost-benefit comparison when exchanging old rented safe deposit lockers for new ones is now much easier to demonstrate thanks to new technology. Instead of exchanging the existing safe deposit lockers, they can also be retrofitted. For this purpose sensors are installed on the existing boxes.
For this type of retrofitting it is not necessary to open the boxes. The modernisation process is correspondingly simple, as no locker needs to be emptied or re-rented.

Alarm and self-service functions for mechanical safe deposit lockers

Single compartment sensor technology (EFS) forms the basis for retrofitting. The result: alarm surveillance, audit security and self-service capability!

Branch structures, sales targets and employee scheduling often no longer allow for the accompaniment of customers renting safe deposit lockers for mechanical unlocking purposes. Individual safe deposit locker sensor technology not only makes manual safe deposit lockers more economical, but also ensures the safe operation of the mechanical system. Retrofitting existing systems with single compartment sensors and self-service technology also significantly improves the risk situation for bank staff. For the employee, not only is the time-consuming unlocking of the customer’s safe deposit locker no longer necessary. It is also no longer necessary to leave the customer area, and the dual control principle for compliance with the guidelines of the accident and robbery prevention insurers can be ensured.

This turns mechanical manual lockers into electronically monitored systems with efficient customer self-service (self-service retrofitting). “Upgrading with individual safe deposit locker sensor technology means that the actual security of the system is increased many times over”, confirms Kay-Tino Schönknecht, Managing Director of SAFECOR. The supplier for security and automation specialises in new technologies like these. “Every single locker is alarm-monitored and is only released individually after authorisation by the customer. Everything is electronically documented and the legal proof of who opened the locker and when is therefore always ensured”.

Basic security precautions

Even before the locker is opened, measures must be taken to ensure secure access controls and separation of individuals. To authorise access, the smartcard chip and PIN code are recommended. Separation of individuals prevents unauthorised access to the system. Innovative technologies are also available for retrofitting virtual personal turnstiles – without the need for costly construction measures. The OSDetect system in combination with individual safe deposit locker sensor technology ensures reliable controlled access.

However, the focus should not just be on IT security issues. The patch level of the software for the system controls, up-to-date encryption technology and data protection are important. But at least as important is the secure daytime door (access door) to the safe deposit facility. The safe door is open during daytime operation, i.e. the daytime door provides security in the self-service mode. It should therefore be designed as an RC2 security door.

Tampering is detected, the alarm is triggered – and then?

“Security is only as good as its weakest link,” explains Schönknecht. Therefore, in addition to IT and physical security, organisational aspects are also involved. Alarm reporting processes and the detection of technical manipulation have to be clearly defined. In this field experts like SAFECOR offer advice based on years of experience, ensuring that the conventional, manual safe deposit locker remains a secure facility for banks and their customers, even without complex conversions.

Brief description: EFS – single compartment sensors

With EFS, a single compartment sensor technology, the existing mechanical (manual) safe deposit system is modernised by the addition of various electronic components and sensors. The innovative technology is installed on the lockers from the outside, thus saving the considerable amount of work required to remove the existing mechanical lockers.

The advantages:

  • All lockers are addressed individually, so that each inspection is legally verifiable and tampering can also be detected individually.
  • Individual safe deposit locker sensor technology fully meets the requirements and objectives with regard to reducing the workload on staff. The safe deposit lockers become self-service capable (like electronic customer safe systems).
  • Individual safe deposit locker sensor technology offers an enormous gain in terms of security. To prevent break-ins all boxes are monitored individually by sensors and not just row by row or across all the lockers – especially when there is customer access. There is no inaccurate row by row or error-prone general surveillance.
  • Individual safe deposit locker sensor technology can be applied to the lockers from the outside and thus offers an optimum cost-benefit ratio. For the installation of the technology the rental status of the lockers remains unchanged and they don’t need to be emptied.

More information on EFS:


This article was originally published in German in IT-Banker – Issue 03, 2020 (publication date: 28.10.2020):