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Using art to combat ATM crime

As the most public way of carrying out banking activity, ATMs are sometimes susceptible to exploitation by criminals. To tackle crimes that take advantage of their users, the bank has been working closely with the Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC) at London’s University of the Arts to pioneer a new approach to deterring criminals and protecting customers.

Best behaviour

So, how do you use design to prevent ATM crime? Ben Birtwistle, Manager of ATM Fraud Control and Customer Experience at RBS, explains that it’s all about influencing people’s behaviour.

“ATM crime takes place in the social sphere,” he says. “We have the technology to protect our users from technological threats, but the best way to reduce the threat of crimes like distraction theft and shoulder surfing is to influence customers’ behaviour.”

To achieve this, mats featuring a swimming pool design and other abstract images were produced by the DACRC and installed in front of selected ATMs across London. When an ATM user steps onto the mat, their personal zone is clearly outlined.

You might have seen yellow boxes around some ATMs, showing where users should stand – this new breed of ATM art follows the same principle, known as ‘defensible space’.

“In most instances of ATM crime, the perpetrator is trying to see the customer’s PIN,” says Birtwistle, who has played a key role in the introduction of mats for RBS’ cash machines.

“To steal a PIN they have to get close enough to see it, so increasing the space around the customer makes that more difficult. With this design approach, it’s a psychological leap for a would-be abuser to invade the customer’s space.

“The user is also more aware of themselves and their environment, and perhaps exhibit more security-conscious behaviour.”

Aesthetic impact

From customer feedback we know that the yellow box can make them feel intimidated. In contrast our study has shown that the vibrant designs on the mats actually improve the customer experience.

“By having a creative space that does the same thing we can harness the good aspects and tone down the bad. The power of having a privacy space is evident,” Birtwistle says.

In the right lane

A 12 month evaluation of ATM art has now been completed. “The primary goal was to establish whether ATM art actually reduces crime,” says Birtwistle.

“However, while crime figures are important they’re notoriously woolly, often due to the nature of the crime and how statistics are reported. So we’ve also been looking at the other impacts of ATM art – such as user preferences, security awareness, and transaction volumes – in more detail. All the results were entirely positive.”

Once the research is published, Birtwistle will be leading the next phase of the initiative. This could involve installing mats at ATM sites that suffer from high levels of crime, and getting more involvement from the local community by asking local schools and community groups to create their own designs.

“Working with the Design Against Crime Research Centre has enhanced our understanding of the behaviour of our customers, and helped us to improve their experience of banking with us,” says Birtwistle.

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