Money, Money, Money: Managing Risks of Cash Intensive International Operations
By: Joe Gleason, AHT
Among the essentials in my daypack during my first trip to Afghanistan in early 2002 were a first aid kit, rain jacket, sat phone and $40k in cash – an all too common reality especially at the outset of programs in conflict environments. Despite the proliferation of various ways to pay electronically over the intervening years – from mobile phone payments to electronic banking – in some environments there’s still no effective substitute for cold, hard cash. This is often true when paying local partners, recipients and contractors outside of major cities where the reach of technology and infrastructure can drop off precipitously.
An abundance of cash can expose those working internationally to two overlapping risks – most obviously the loss of the money in question. More importantly, though, is the potential physical harm by someone trying to get a hold of said dollars, euros, dinar, etc. Best option: minimize the amount of cash being held or hand carried as much as possible. In many places, there are effective alternatives that should be used even where the administrative burden takes more time and energy – it’s almost always worth it for the risk mitigation.
For those places where cash remains the only viable option, it’s essential to have plans, procedures and resources in place to manage the inherent risk. At the top of the list: clearly and unequivocally communicate to those carrying cash that they should always relinquish money (or other valuables for that matter) under duress or threat of force. No money is worth harm to personnel. In those cash-focused environments, consider these risk management best practices:
- Understand risk environment related to crime to build effective mitigation plans. For example, if minor accidents are commonly staged as pretext for vehicle robberies, ensure drivers understand how to respond.
- Maintain discretion and avoid complacency about handling large sums of cash, however commonplace it may become. Remember: amounts that seem relatively minor from an overall business perspective can be a lifetime’s savings for most people in program countries.
- Understand customs regulations and laws about importation of funds BEFORE traveling if hand carrying large amounts of cash into a country.
Plans & Procedures
- Develop clear procedures and roles/responsibilities for bank runs, disbursement of funds or other cash-intensive operations. Weave together financial best practices with sound security management; for example, vary the days and times of bank runs, ensure more than one staff member conducts the run and don’t discuss the amount being picked up with the driver.
- Restrict knowledge of cash pick up and storage, including location of the safe and amount of cash on hand, to the smallest group possible. Avoid paying staff or vendors in the office where the safe is located.
- Hold large amounts of cash the minimum amount of time. Example: if a significant disbursement needs to happen on Wednesday, collect the cash on Monday or Tuesday and not two weeks earlier just because that’s when the accountant “always” makes the monthly cash run.
- Modify incident response procedures as necessary for cash intensive operations; i.e. response to a vehicle breakdown while on a bank run deserves a more robust response vs a more routine flat tire, etc.
- Install and use a safe for cash storage. Bolt it to the floor and reinforce the lock on the office/room where the safe is located.
- Consider cameras and alarms where appropriate and effective in the risk environment.
- Get appropriate insurance, but don’t broadcast that it’s in place.
Cash will continue to be a necessary element of operations in many parts of the world – especially for the NGO and international development communities working in less developed environments. While organizations should strive to find alternatives wherever possible, where cash is the only option, have the plans, procedures and resources in place to identity and manage risks as well as respond to incidents when they occur.