Security and practicalities around moving cash

When working in London, Washington, DC or Johannesburg there are a number of easily accessible and secure options for moving money. Bank transfers, online merchant accounts, the very popular PayPal, and money transfer services like Transferwise and Western Union are all available to us. However, the more remote from urban hubs, the more difficult moving money becomes.

Finance departments in many countries have the unenviable job of trying to regularly figure out how to move money out to remote locations in time to start a project or pay staff. In emergencies, such as during civil unrest or after an earthquake, moving money in urban hubs can even become difficult. This task becomes even more complex when they're operating in unstable economic environments suffering from inflation or where governments might indiscriminately change the banking or cash rules.

On several occasions, I've been asked to move money into countries or out to field locations. It has always made me nervous. You don’t have to be a security expert to know that your risks are increased when you’re carrying large amounts of cash in conflict areas. And, often, the ‘requests’ to carry cash weren’t even a request. I was simply told that since I was going to x location I needed to drop by the finance department, sign for and carry the next month’s operating cash with me.

Until we live in a cashless society or there are secure ways of moving money to the remotest parts of the world, organisations should develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for moving cash. While moving cash might be the prevue of the finance team it is important that both those involved with project management and any security personnel are consulted as each will have good insight into the practicalities and particular dangers.

Here are some of our insights for consideration when developing those SOPs:

What works one place won’t in another. Having a global policy related to moving and using cash simply isn’t feasible as the need for cash and the accessibility of cash varies hugely from location to location. Each country will need a different SOP related to the use and movement of cash.

Know the rules about moving money. Every country will have a variety of rules (some unwritten) about how much cash can be brought in, or out, of a country, and in what currency. In some places, holding foreign currency could be illegal so how does the organisation deal with this when having foreign currency is the best emergency option?

'How’ should the cash should be moved? Does it need to be carried on the person? Hand baggage? Can it be put in checked in luggage? Don’t assume that the people you’re asking to carry the cash will have the same expectations you do of ‘how’ it should be carried.

Allow staff the time to count the cash they’re expected to carry. Fraud can easily occur when someone is handed a wodge of bills and told it’s $20,000 USD. Is it? Anyone giving or receiving cash should be given enough time to confirm the amount they're handling.

Regular movements to, and from, the bank are very important. Look carefully at who is allowed to go to the bank. How often? How regular are those trips? What amount are they permitted to withdraw or handle at any point? Does visiting the bank frequently put any staff at risk? Cash is particularly vulnerable in transit - as are the people responsible for it.

Where is the money kept in each office and how secure is that location? A surprising amount of robberies involve thieves moving directly to asafe and not bothering with anything else which indicates an ‘inside job’ or tip-off. Who knows where the safe is? Who has keys or combination to it? Keep this knowledge to a minimum and don't ever write 'bank' on movement boards which are observable by the public.

Personnel should never be 'required' to carry cash for the organisation. The request for an organisation’s personnel should always be that, a request. If they feel it places them in danger or are uncomfortable with carrying the money they should always have the option to say no. If carrying cash is going to be a regular part of someone’s role they should be aware of that when they are being hired.

Don’t endanger local personnel. Personnel hired locally are often the ones asked to go to the bank or to carry cash. In places, this can elevate their risks beyond what it would for an international staff person. It can also place undue pressure on them if their family, friends or those watching know they're frequently handling a lot of cash.

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