Banking on the Latest in Access Control


Fifth Third Bank faced a daunting conundrum during the late 1990s while expanding its footprint at a swift pace across much of the eastern United States. 

As the Cincinnati-based banking corporation snapped up competing operations in several states, Fifth Third was adding scores and scores of employees to its ranks. To say the bank found it unwieldy to account for the comings and goings of multitudes of new staffers would be an exponential understatement. 

Having to rely on antiquated means of accessing each of its facilities with a “ring of keys,” in 2000 the bank launched an effort to implement access control systems architecture that would allow greater operational efficiencies and the ability to add to the system as its needs continued to grow and new technology became available. 

“At some facilities we might have issued 20 keys for folks to get in and out,” says Michael Neugebauer, Fifth Third Bank’s vice president and senior corporate physical security manager. “We had no idea when they came, when they went, who set off the alarm, and so forth.” 

Today, Fifth Third Bank operates five main businesses — commercial banking, branch banking, consumer lending, investment advisors and processing solutions — in 10 states. More than 1,150 full-service financial center locations, including over 4 million square feet of high-density campuses, are connected to a central command station operated in-house from its Cincinnati headquarters.

The years-long process of instituting high-security access control across its enterprise proceeded methodically, commencing from a logical starting point. 

Beginning With a Pilot Program, a High-Tech Solution Takes Shape
Having tapped the integration solutions expertise of Diebold, Fifth Third Bank began a straightforward pilot program to explore the potential of access control to better manage and protect its facilities. The inaugural plan called for utilizing the integrated solutions management (ISM) feature in a new version of Verex Technology’s FX alarm panel that the bank was using. (Fifth Third Bank also contracts access control systems integration with Securitas Systems U.S. at some of its locations, and in Florida with Premier Hamilton Security Services.)

“When Verex first designed the system it was basic card access control, but we saw potential in it,” says Eric Benson, a Diebold project solutions manager contracted with Fifth Third Bank.

Magnetic stripe card access control was first introduced at two financial centers by simply adding a door controller to the backwards-compatible Verex panel. The panel’s ISM feature would also allow the bank to collect and run card access audit reports. Each building was outfitted with card readers on the front and back doors. 

The first leg of the pilot program was deemed a success, and by 2002 a third card reader was being deployed to secure facility mechanical rooms.

“That way we could secure the alarm, the video, the electrical, phone, network and everything in the room and we would have an audit trail as to who comes and goes,” Benson says.

Soon, the access control deployment hit a smooth stride. The bank was saving thousands of dollars by installing card readers on break room and teller line doors that once would have been outfitted with more expensive Simplex pushbutton locks. Cash room doors were identified as a necessary point to apply audit trail reporting, so on went a card reader there as well.

By strategically placing card readers, Fifth Third began to fully realize the value of audit trails as a means to enforce bank policy of who is allowed to go where and when within a given facility. 

Cost-Effective Access Control Sought to Outfit Branch Facilities
About five years ago, Fifth Third Bank struck up a relationship with Verex Technology, which is a part of UTC Fire & Security, a unit of United Technologies Corp. 

As the bank continued to move forward to outfit its enterprise with high-security access control, “we decided to up the ante,” says Benson. Magnetic stripe cards were viewed as old technology and the time had come to begin phasing them out.

Enter smart-card technology. The bank turned to Verex to provide cost-effective networked access control at its growing family tree of branch locations.

While it’s higher density, high-rise locations would remain outfitted with GE’s Casi-Rusco access control system, branch sites would rely completely on the Verex system. Whereas the Casi-Rusco system architecture is devised on a client-server configuration, a distributive process, with Verex, each individual panel is distributive.

“You download the database into that particular panel and it takes over all control,” Benson says. “It does not have to communicate back to the host on every transaction that it does.” According to Benson, the Verex solution can be used as a host-node configuration, however, the Fifth Third uses it as an independent system.

The bank uses Philips’ MIFARE® smart cards and readers for its branches, which are manufactured by HID Global. The one-credential system provides continuity between the bank’s Casi-Rusco card access system as well, Benson says. 

“So, we’ve taken Fifth Third from the Stone Age when a typical branch had 15 to 20 keys issued by the time you put in the maintenance personnel, branch personnel, the couriers and ATM service personnel,” he says. 

Prior to issuing smart cards to its employees and vendors, the bank had long relied on high security Medeco keys. The loss of one key at a facility would necessitate the need to literally rekey all of the locks in the branch and reissue all new keys. “Before if somebody lost their key, depending on which key they had, we would be out maybe over $120,000 to re-key a region or an area — every lock in that affiliate,” says Neugebauer.

Using smart-card technology — which holds an individual’s specific information such as name, telephone number, department and access authority level — the Verex system has the ability to write a multitude of auditing reports.

“If the auditors ever want to know who has access to a facility, in a matter of seconds we can produce a report and have it in your E-mail,” says Benson. “Fifth Third now has the unique ability to know who is in the branch … when, where, why, how long were they there and so on. It has provided accountability and cost reduction by not having to rekey everything. Now, if you lose a key, it is a simple turn-off of that $4 card.” 

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