On the trail of new notes for CNY

SINGAPORE – With the sky still dark and most of Singapore asleep, a small group of auxiliary police officers gathers in a dimly lit room in anticipation.

At 3am, a ping is heard, signalling the daily schedule is in.

A flurry of activity fills the room, as the officers map routes and locations, allocate vehicles and inventory, and send out assignments to staff on the ground.

The Aetos Command Centre in West Coast Road oversees the deployment of more than 150 officers around the island daily in the lead up to Chinese New Year.

The officers are split into more than 30 teams, and are tasked with replenishing new notes at 61 DBS Bank’s pop-up automated teller machines (ATMs) across 41 locations.

This is on top of the more than 1,000 regular DBS ATMs that Aetos handles daily.

The teams have to collect the cartridges containing the new notes from a cash processing centre and place them in vaults in specialised vehicles, before heading to their locations for the day.

Deputy Superintendent Habhajan Singh, 73, the commanding officer of Aetos’ echo division, said work begins when they receive the daily schedule from DBS every morning.

The command centre processes this, before briefing Aetos officers on which locations they will be deployed to and how much cash they will be replenishing.

Empty catridges of bank notes are loaded up after replenishing an ATM at Henderson Community Club. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The officers had received specialised training in the handling of cash and valuables, before they were allowed to be deployed.

“The vehicles have a vault which can only be entered by one person at a time, using a key and one-time code provided after confirmation with the command centre,” said DSP Habhajan.

“The vehicles are tracked live via GPS, and the dual-lock process ensures the vehicles and cash are locked properly,” he added, referring to the Global Positioning System.

There is also live in-vehicle video streaming to ensure that processes are strictly complied with.

Each cartridge weighs almost 10kg each when full. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Due to Covid-19, there has been an increase in the number of DBS pop-up ATMs – from 41 machines across 20 locations last year to 61 across 41 areas this year.

DSP Habhajan said this has required significantly more coordination.

Each machine has about five cash cartridges, though at certain locations like Clementi, the machines have up to nine cartridges of cash each to better support demand.

Aetos officers declined to reveal the amount of cash in each cartridge, but said it weighs almost 10kg each when full.

Cartridges have specialised security features to prevent tampering and for tracking purposes.

The pop-up machines are replenished twice daily on average.

Aetos officers in a control room at Aetos Security where they check the whereabouts of every vehicle out replenishing money. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Corporal Seet Chun Kit, 26, an Aetos replenishing officer, said it takes about 10 minutes to replenish a machine on-site, if there are no technical difficulties.

“But sometimes there are machine faults, and it may take up to half an hour to troubleshoot,” he said. “Sometimes we find passbooks and cards stuck inside, but we are not allowed to pass them back to the customer as the verification must be done by DBS.”

It was reported last week that the expected waiting times at 21 of the 41 locations was more than two hours, after snaking queues consisting of mostly the elderly formed ahead of Chinese New Year.

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This was despite efforts by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, urging the public to use digital banking services and to give e-hongbaos instead.

Cpl Seet said officers were aware of the long queues, and have been working hard to keep downtime to a minimum so that Singaporeans can get their new notes quickly in the lead up to Chinese New Year.

This Wednesday, however, will be an exception. It is the auspicious day of Li Chun, when people in Singapore deposit money into their accounts at varying times according to their Chinese zodiac, believing that this will ensure a year of good luck.

Empty catridges of bank notes. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Instead of filling empty cartridges, Aetos officers will have to replace cartridges filled to the brim.

Cpl Seet explained that when the cartridges are full, the machines are put out of service, and the officers have to quickly replace the cartridges.

“It’s a reverse situation, and the operations room will have to deploy us quickly at different times,” he said.

“Despite the pandemic, we still see people doing the same things as previous years. I don’t think Li Chun this year will be an exception.”

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