After making a big impression at department stores, airports, museums and food & beverage outlets across the globe, robots are now set to disrupt the banking industry.
Earlier this year, HDFC Bank in India began deploying a robot inside one of its branches to assist customers.
And last year, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group – one of the largest banks in Japan – had a robot working inside two of its branches.
That robot, named Nao, was a humanoid, developed by French company Aldebaran Robotics, a subsidiary of Japanese telecom and Internet firm SoftBank.
Powered with a camera fitted on its forehead, Nao can recognise facial expressions and voice tones to deliver precise service.
Nao greets bank customers with: “Hello and welcome. I can tell you about money exchange, ATMs, opening a bank account, or overseas remittance. Which one would you like?”
Another major bank in Japan Mizuho Financial Group Inc, has since introduced a humanoid called Pepper in their branches, to serve customers. Pepper was also built by one of the subsidiaries of Soft Bank.
The 120cm tall robot can also recognise faces and emotions. It can also respond through voice or by showing messages on tablet on its chest.
Extremely friendly receptionist
But back to Mumbai. What’s this robot doing inside the HDFC Branch?
It’s working more or less like a receptionist, or a counter assistant and like Nao, it’s extremely friendly.
It greets customers with: “May I Help You” as they enter the branch.
A touch screen is displayed on its chest, offering options like “cash withdrawal, account enquiry or fixed deposit” displayed.
Customers are prompted to select one of the options, and a map of the branch is displayed, with a “Take Me There” option.
And the use of customer assistance robots in the banking industry is growing rapidly.
Branch of the future
Rather than overhaul retail banking overnight, HSBC says Pepper will provide customers with a glimpse of the “branch of the future.” That’s because the robot isn’t yet advanced enough to perform complex tasks.
So, at that bank, Pepper performs a variety of rudimentary tasks, such as providing visitors with information about HSBC’s financial products and services, educating customers on technologies such as HSBC’s mobile banking app, and explaining options for customer support.
It’ll also ask visitors questions before directing them toward the appropriate staff member who can offer more specific assistance.
HSBC promised Pepper will happily pose for selfies, too, and even tell jokes and do a little dance if a human member of staff isn’t immediately available.
At present, automation for conducting highly sophisticated operations like financial consulting and loan approvals will still have to be handled by humans.
But you can expect to see monotonous, repetitive tasks like customer service and form checks being soon handed over to robots.
And as its technology improves, we can expect Pepper and robots like it to increase their skills and perform more useful banking tasks.
HSBC claims to be the first financial institution in the US to bring robots to retail banking, and it hopes to introduce more Peppers to its branches nationwide in the coming months.
Will automation in banking cause job losses?
Yes, and the job loss would be massive, a Citi Bank report predicts.
About 30% of all jobs inside banks would be terminated due to increased automation in various banking services.
“Fintech is forcing banking to a tipping point,” the report says. It predicts one third of all banking jobs will disappear between 2015 and 2025.
Former Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins has termed this as the “banking industry’s Uber moment.”
So, the future looks bright for Pepper and his pals in the banking industry.
But for humans, I’d think twice before planning a career behind a bank counter.