How safe are safes?

By Staff Writer

Following a recent robbery at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in London over the Easter weekend, Justmoney is looking at how secure safes offered by banks and other security firms really are. We also ask whether it’s easier to keep valuables at home in a safe or whether that’s just opening yourself up to more risk.  
Safes at home
Not all insurance companies insist that you store your valuables in a safe. According to Natasha Kawulesar, head of client relations at OUTsurance, “At OUTsurance, we do not require our clients to inform us if they have a safe in the home.”
She added: “Having or not having a safe in your home does not impact on your insurance premium in any way with us.”
Dawie Buys, South African Insurance Association (SAIA) manager of insurance risks says that people do not always have to inform their insurance companies about whether or not they have a safe in their home. He noted that it is important for certain material facts to be provided, especially when it comes to businesses, but also for homeowners and any content that they wish to be insured.
Buys elaborated: “For example, there are coverage limits on property stored in safes such as jewellery, precious metals, cash and firearms. It is therefore important to specify the property being stored in the safe with your insurer. 
“Insurers will often ask if the property is stored in a safe and will, depending on the content, advise or make it a requirement in your insurance policy that the items are stored in a safe. Some may even recommend that you store your property/contents in a safety box at a vault in a bank.
“Insurers will normally insist that valuables should be specified and insured under an All Risks policy and if the valuables exceed a certain amount (normally over R35 000) the valuables must be stored in a safe.”
Furthermore, Buys noted that insurance companies will advise clients on the category of safe that is required. “If you have a lot of valuables insurers or brokers will advise you on the appropriate requirements for your property or valuables and/[or] it will become a condition of the policy.”
Bank safety deposit boxes
Certain banks may offer insurance for items stored in their safes. Otherwise check with your insurer if it is willing to cover specific items that are stored outside of your home.
Absa:According to an Absa spokesperson, the bank has safety deposit boxes at 150 of its branches across the country. To find out which branches offer this service, contact Absa on 08600 08600.
When the contract for the safety deposit box is signed, there is a once off initiation fee of R350, after which an annual fee is charged for the use of the box (see table).
Annual fees for safety deposit box services at Absa:

Description Fee
Safe Custody Box R1 000
Envelope safe R240
Small locker R1 000
Medium locker R1 500
Large locker R2 480
Extra-large locker R2 720

In addition to the annual fee and the initiation fee, Absa also charges an access fee of R15.50 each time you wish to access your safety deposit box.
To apply for a safety deposit box, the spokesperson explained that the customer needs to go to the branch where they wish to have a safety deposit box. The bank will conduct a safe custody interview where an identification and verification procedure is carried out.
Once this is completed, the “customer is informed of the various features of the safe custody facility,” as well as the various payment options and their responsibilities.
Once the customer has made a decision as to what facility they wish to use, there are several forms that need to be completed. The Safe Custody Contract and Safe Custody Receipt, copies of which are given to the customer, as well as the Safe Custody Identification Card, which is given to the client.
“It is established if the customer wants to authorise a third party access to items held in safe custody. If so, the Power of Attorney form is completed. A copy of this is handed to the customer and original is filed in the branch. Keys for the locker are handed over to the client. The key number as well as box/locker number must be annotated onto the safe custody application register. Items are then stored in the locker. This is done by the branch staff and customer,” added the spokesperson.
It is the customer’s responsibility to insure any items in the safety deposit box. Furthermore, while the bank does not need to know what is stored in the box, there are certain items which the bank is prohibited from storing.
“The bank is legally prohibited from keeping firearms, ammunition, explosives and/or chemicals in the safe custody. This is stipulated in the terms and conditions on the safe custody contract form, which the customer signs,” stated the spokesperson.
First National Bank (FNB): FNB currently offers safety deposit box facilities at 384 of its branches, which the bank states accounts for approximately half of its network.
Lee-Anne van Zyl, CEO of FNB banking channels, noted that there are a variety of options available to clients. These are as follows:

Type Purchase price / key deposit Monthly fee
Sealed envelopes - R20.00
Deed boxes - small R340.00 R125.00
Deed boxes - large R370.00 R200.00
Safe deposit locker - small R460.00 R100.00
Safe deposit locker - Medium R460.00 R150.00
Safe deposit locker - small R460.00 R200.00
Safe deposit locker - small R460.00 R250.00

Van Zyl highlights that there is no renewal process once you have taken out a safety deposit box, “as monthly fees including access applies.”
She explained: “A client can simply contact a FNB branch to find out if the branch offers safe custody facilities. Following this, an application is completed. A relationship manager will process the application for existing account holders only. Once the process is captured online and the applicable indemnities/disclaimers are signed by the applicant the application process is completed.”
As with Absa, FNB does not need to know what is stored in the safety deposit box, however, as with Absa, the bank is also prohibited from storing certain items.
With FNB the customer is also responsible for insuring the contents of the safety deposit box.
*Standard Bank was contacted for comment but was unable to do so at the time of publication. A spokesperson for the bank said: “[Thank you] so much for allowing Standard Bank the opportunity to comment around safety deposit boxes and insurance. Unfortunately, at this stage we don’t have any information on hand that we could share which would assist.”
**Nedbank was not able to get a response through in time for publication.
Private security firms
Kawulesar points out that when using a private security firm, the responsibility of insuring the items will depend on the contract that you have with the firm. “Certain companies may have their own insurance cover in place, while others will require that you obtain insurance cover.”
However, some private firms may also offer clients the option of insuring their item through the company. For example, Knox Titanium Vault Company states on its website: “Knox is approved by the following insurers Santam, Alexander Forbes and Hollard. Your Knox consultant will discuss the various insurance offerings with you.”
It further states: “Knox Titanium Vaults specialise in the storage and handling of valuable items, ranging from the important documents to gold bullion.”
According to Kawulesar, the bank or private security firm where you have your items stored could affect your insurance premiums, as this will be determined on the location and security of the chosen bank or private security firm.
The safest option
According to the Absa spokesperson, storing items in a bank safety deposit box would be considered a safer option than keeping your items in a safe at home. This is because access is limited to authorised people only, as well as the security systems that the bank has in place.
However, van Zyl notes: “Due to the fact that clients may have different types of safekeeping at their houses of which the level of security will differ from one safe to the next, we are unable to comment on whether a safety box is more secure.”
According to Kawulesar, it is difficult to determine what the safest option will be, as there are a variety of factors that come into play. These factors will also affect your insurance premiums.
She stated: “[The] area of the storage facility, [and the] security of the place where the items are stored are factors that would impact premium.  A comparison with full details of the two places would need to be done to determine which place attracts the higher premium.”
However, Buys stated that a bank or private security company would probably be viewed as a safer option over storing your items in a safe at home.

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