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The economics of bank robbery

Don’t expect this kind of haul on your next bank robbery. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

It all sounds very glamorous and exciting. Less than an hour of work could net a huge return and life of luxury. Statistically speaking, however, robbing a bank turns out to be a horrible idea. In the journal Significance, British economists Barry Reilly, Neil Rickman and Robert Witt explain:

The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest £12 706.60 per person per raid. Indeed, it is so low that it is not worth the banks’ while to spend as little as £4500 per cashier position at every branch on rising screens to deter them.

A single bank raid, even a successful one, is not going to keep our would-be robber in a life of luxury. It is not going to keep him long in a life of any kind. Given that the average UK wage for those in full-time employment is around £26 000, it will give him a modest lifestyle for no more than 6 months.

If he decides to make a career of it, and robs two banks a year to make a sub-average income, his chances of eventually getting caught will increase: at 0.8 probability per raid, after three raids or a year and a half his odds of remaining at large are 0.8 × 0.8 × 0.8 = 0.512; after four raids he is more likely than not to be inside. As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired.

A few other notable points from the paper: A full third of bank runs fail and, even among the successful heists, 20 percent eventually get tracked down by law enforcement. That means just over half of all bank robberies actually succeed. If you are going to rob a bank though, its much better to do so in Britain: The average haul on an American bank run is a paltry $4,330.

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