It’s well-known that banks don’t take responsibility if there is a burglary and robbers loot the lockers belonging to customers. In their defence, banks say they don’t know the contents of the locker and are, therefore, not liable. When an individual takes a locker facility, he is made to sign an agreement that states that the bank will not be responsible for any loss or damage to the contents of the locker, thereby absolving the bank of all liabilities.
"The relationship between the two is like landlord and tenant. The landlord is not responsible for theft inside the house of a tenant,” says Tarun Mathur, chief business officer-general insurance, Policybazaar.com.
Bank burglaries are not uncommon, though the banking regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), doesn’t share the data publicly. Last year, then Minister of State for Finance, Santosh Kumar Gangwar, said in Parliament that nearly Rs 1.8 billion was lost in 2,632 cases of robbery, theft, dacoity and burglaries at 51 banks between financial years 2014-15 and 2016-17.
Banks' safety measures: Banks need to take security and safety measures right from when they are setting up a branch, especially one with lockers and/or vaults. RBI has laid down specifications for it -- from the selection of branch location to even the size of the entrance. It has even directed banks to give lower weight to commercial considerations over security and safety. Since banks are entrusted with the task of safeguarding public wealth, they have multiple layers of security-in-place, such as quality locks, strong room, electronic surveillance, alarm systems, and internal and external audit to ensure consistent quality of service.
Alternative to bank lockers
Pros: Claim to have better security systems, allow operation of lockers even on weekends, getting a locker is easier
Cons: Charges are higher, unregulated, present only in major cities
Vaults at home
Pros: You can choose high-end safes depending on your requirement and budget, under your control
Cons: Very costly, may require additional security installation like CCTV cameras
The robbery usually happens over the weekend or long public holidays, when the branch is closed for longer hours. Banks, therefore, need to be in touch with the local police station to step up patrolling at night around the branch. “Much of the responsibility vests with the branch manager to ensure security and safety. They need to, for example, examine security systems every day and ensure their proper functioning, keep in touch with local police, and so on,” says the manager of a Mumbai-based branch of Indian Bank.
While a bank may take the required precautions, burglars still find ways to break in. A few months back, robbers dug a 25-foot long tunnel to enter Bank of Baroda’s Navi Mumbai branch over the weekend. They stole gold and cash from about 27 lockers.
Protecting your valuables: There’s little a customer can do avoid robbery. The chances of recovery are also low as only you are aware of the locker’s contents. Police and banks rely on the Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV) footage during the robbery to verify a customer’s claim. But there a few things you can do to ensure your valuables are safe and in case of a robbery, your claim is verifiable.
A locker, by itself, does not ensure the safety of goods. It’s the safety infrastructure created by the bank that makes it secure. Avoid bank branches with locker facilities that share boundaries with a house or offices.
Consumer forum can provide relief
Security of a locker's content is a bank's responsibility
In case of robbery or valuables missing from your bank locker, approach consumer court
Ensure that you can verify the contents inside the bank locker
If you can prove bank's negligence in security, you can get compensation
There are precedences where consumers won the case against banks when they found valuables missing or stolen
Preferably, opt for a bank branch that is a standalone structure. Also, ensure that security systems such as CCTV camera are in place and if there are ventilation ducts in the locker room facility, those are well covered. Always open your locker after the bank employee, who accompanies you to the vault, leaves the place. Also, ensure the locker is locked properly before you leave the vault.
As far as possible, keep the invoice of the articles kept in the locker with you. Also, maintain inventory copies, both in the locker and at home. It will help to calculate the value of the contents and claim your compensation in case any item goes missing. For documents in the locker, wherever possible, get them laminated and keep photocopies at home.
Banks categorise customers: In the past, there have been cases where explosives and weapons were found inside bank lockers. Banks, therefore, have to do due diligence on customers and classify them into different risk categories. For those in the medium risk category, if the customer doesn’t operate the locker for three years, banks call him up and ask to either use the locker or surrender it. For high-risk category customer, the period is one year. If the customer still fails to operate the locker, a bank can break open the locker.
Insure your valuables: For valuables such as gold and jewellery, you can also opt for a home insurance product, which also covers valuables inside a bank locker. "But be sure to understand the caveats in these policies, as they may provide insurance for specific items," says Mathur. These plans cover only valuables such as precious metal jewellery (including watches), diamonds, work of art and curios. If you have important papers or cash or any other valuables, there’s no insurance available.
The premium cost for the jewellery and valuables depends on the proposed value for insurance. If the sum insured for jewellery and other valuables is Rs 500,000, the premium payable would be Rs 4,000-5,000. Taxes will be extra.