This week a Swedish bank robber in Copenhagen hid in the safety deposit box room of a bank at close of business Friday night making his escape at open on Monday morning. He would have gotten away with the contents of 140 safety deposit boxes worth nearly half a million dollars in cash and gems had he not forgotten to take the bottles of urine he used to relieve himself over the weekend. DNA evidence caught up with him soon enough and he is now serving a jail term. His inspiration it seems was to mimic infamous Australian thief Michael Hurley who in his case - made the get away. In January of 1988, Hurley and two others broke into the NAB branch in the Sydney CBD suburb of Haymarket. Like in the case of the Swedish copycat, the bank was closed on Saturday and would not reopen until Monday morning. The thieves had plenty of time to make a clean escape with 80 safety deposit boxes containing bars of gold, rare coins, bracelets, gold rings, antique jewellery, jade statues set in gold, set and unset diamonds, emeralds, rubies and bundles of cash in various currencies.
Haymarket is almost completely settled by Chinese immigrants, it is Sydney’s China Town shopping precinct with numerous restaurants and retail businesses. However following the theft only42 of the banks customers came forward to claim their losses. The remainder were reluctant to admit to the police, and ultimately the tax office, what they were keeping in the bank security boxes and so the amount has never been properly quantified. Task force detectives have estimated the heist at between $10m and $100m and today the crime is colloquially referred to as the Great Chinese Takeout.
The theft was so spectacular that the branch did not recover for more than two years afterwards. The local community of Chinese immigrants had already been stung once and lost faith in the branch believing it to be cursed. The NAB is one of the ‘big four’ banks in Australia and all of NAB staff were aware but unsure how to deal with the struggling Haymarket branch. The bank finally admitted that it did not have the diversity skills in it’s organisation and called on Joseph Assaf for a solution.
Assaf is Australia’s preeminent authority as a cultural specialist and founded an ethnic communications company and the ethnic business awards. He is also responsible for founding Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) TV and radio which broadcasts across Australia programs in foreign languages. An exasperated NAB board sought Assaf’s advice and as unorthodox as it was, followed it to the letter. The bank identified and sent local Chinese community leaders in business, politics as well as local media exquisite invitations to a special relaunch of the branch. The relaunch was scheduled for 4:00pm, a busy time for foot traffic in the streets of Haymarket. The event commenced with Chinese fire crackers that echoed through the streets attracting the attention passers by and local shop owners. A dragon dance in front of the branch lead the procession of the VIPs and media into each room of the branch that had been refurbished according to Feng Shui wealth traditions. In keeping with the perceived image of wealth, the bank offered expensive spirits and fine food to VIPs and the media. It did not take long for the branchThe branch made a spectacular recovery and still operates today.
Joseph Assaf is not a Chinese but Lebanese immigrant to Australia. He was also the diversity specialist that the NAB recognised as responsible for turning around the problematic Haymarket branch and thereafter engaged him again for a special campaign targeting the national Chinese market. The campaign Assaf designed was the 888 Term Deposit account. The figure being 8 an auspicious number that indicates luck and wealth. In the community the accounts were soon known as the triple luck and tripple wealth bank accounts. The conditions of the account included a minimum deposit of $10,000 for a minimum term of 388 days where every 8 days one person would randomly be drawn to win $888 dollars and after 8 weeks the grand prize of $8,888 would be drawn.
Inviting customers to deposit more than $10,000 is a big ask; getting a bank to give away more than $15,000 is bigger yet - but the campaign worked. Over the period the bank received an average deposit of not 10, but $35,000 dollars or more than 3 times what they had budgeted to receive. In total the bank received $48 million dollars in promotional deposits. Had the NAB not hired the diverse skills, whether as a payroll employee or in this case a diversity consultant, they would have missed out on nearly $50m of deposits and a significant foray into the Australian Chinese market. The value of hiring diversity in your organisation cannot be measured except that it will propel you beyond imagination. So my encouragement is to hire diversity - higher profit.