SIKESTON - While restaurants have longed insisted their patrons wear shirts and shoes, banks are now asking customers to remove certain articles.
"No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses" is a program initiated by The Missouri Bankers Association, which includes over 400 banks across Missouri, and the Missouri Credit Union Association with the endorsement of the FBI, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies all over Missouri, according to Keith Kirk, public relations and communications officer for the First National Bank.
"May 20, 2003, was the statewide kickoff," Kirk said. "We implemented it in our St. Louis market initially in late 2003. We started in St. Louis because we felt our metropolitan customers would be less sensitive to such requirements. ... Because of the reception in St. Louis, we are now implementing it in the southeast region."
Signs went up last week at the this area's First National Bank branches, according to Cindy Rutledge, branch operations administrator. "That way they think twice about entering bank," she said. "It gets them on camera and they don't want that."
"It has worked out great," Kirk said. "The customers appreciate the sensitivity of the bank toward the safety of our customers and the safety of the customers' money."
"It's a great policy - the Missouri Bankers Association has done a great job," said Matt Wright, vice-president at First Security Bank in Sikeston. "We do participate, we just don't post all the signs everywhere. We just typically try to nicely make them aware of the policy, and anytime we've made someone aware of the policy we've had nothing but willingness to comply."
The program was put into place at U.S. Bank in Sikeston last month, according to its president, Steve Matthews.
"Nowadays you will find as much theft occurs without a gun as with a gun, and people that do that are normally wearing hoods, hats or sunglasses," Matthews said. "If they're going to be at the teller line, we want to make sure we get a good picture of them. That is a deterrent and a method of identifying the person."
The last few bank robbers in this area used hats and glasses to disguise themselves, Rutledge noted.
"Bank robbers dress the way they do because they want to disguise themselves and we want to debunk that," Kirk said.
Customers seem to understand the spirit of the policy, and employees at area banks haven't had to ask anyone to remove articles yet. But being bank policy, if a request ever does have to be made, it is hoped that it would not be taken personally.
"It's for the customer's protection more than it is for us," Rutledge said.
"Nobody wants to be in a line in the bank lobby when a bank robber shows up," Kirk agreed.
Even so, tellers are also very pleased with the program's implementation.
"They feel more comfortable being a teller," Rutledge said. "They don't have to worry so much about not knowing who they're waiting on."
"Our number-one concern in every activity that we do is the safety of our employees and our customers," Kirk said. "Programs like this just help us strengthen that commitment."
Rutledge said she believes the result will be a more customer-friendly environment.
"We implemented it about mid-year last year," said Karen Grebing, regional marketing coordinator for Union Planters Bank, which has 16 branches in southeast Missouri. "I think it is a good program. MBA makes it very easy to implement."
Union Planters Bank customers haven't commented much on the program, according to Grebing.
"It's really been a non-event," Grebing said. "We have posted the information on our doors using the signage we obtained from the Missouri Bankers Association. ... We chose the mildest form - we do not demand that they remove articles."
Kirk agreed being sensitive to customers is important, but First National may request customers to remove articles in some cases.
"We know who we know and we know who we don't know, and that will be our guiding factor," Kirk said. "If a customer service representatives or teller is uncomfortable with the customer they are taking care of because of a sock cap, hood, sunglasses or cap, we're going to ask them to remove it."
"We're less concerned about ballcaps than hoods, sunglasses, stocking caps - that sort of thing," said Wright.
Grebing said one of the best things about the program is making the employees more aware.
"It does help us focus our employees to always be diligent and aware of what's going on around them," agreed Kirk.
In addition to providing a safer environment for customers and employees, Missouri bankers also hope to send a message to those considering committing a crime in a Missouri bank or credit union, whether it is robbery, bank fraud or identify theft: You will get caught, prosecuted and jailed.
And the message appears to getting out.
According to MBA literature, bank robberies had been on the rise with Missouri's 28 percent jump from 2001 to 2002 exceeding the national increase of 19 percent during the same period.
"There was a dramatic decrease in bank robberies in the state of Missouri from the inception of the program though the end of the year," Kirk said. "We can be sure that it has deterred someone."