Banks Roll Out Smart Bots for Safe, Self-Serve Customer Management

Intuitive interactions can influence where and how customers choose to bank. From self-service kiosks to fully autonomous robots, the financial sector is using IoT technologies to court potential clients.


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Image credit: Amanda C. Edwards Photo / @acefotopro

Online banking, already on the rise, has surged due to the global pandemic. No-touch and remote banking options are only going to increase as customers manage their finances from their homes. Even as people venture back into banks, they will be greeted by virtual assistants and encouraged to use self-service kiosks.

While this is a more recent shift in the United States, it is much more familiar in China, where contactless payments and touchless interactions have been commonplace for several years. In 2017, the China Construction Bank opened a fully automated branch in downtown Shanghai. 

Built with Centerm technology, the bank uses “teller-bots” equipped with facial and voice recognition to welcome customers, who can also be recognized through a QR code on a mobile phone. Intelligent teller machines (ITMs) handle traditional banking services. Customers can open loan applications, fill out electronic forms, digitally sign them, and, in some cases, even get approval prior to meeting with a human banker.

Centerm’s Smart Banking Solution uses thin clients, intelligent terminals, a cloud-based data center, and a centralized management system. Based on the Intel® Core® processor, the devices incorporate artificial intelligence, biometric identification, signature recognition, and real-time edge analytics to enable banks to offer secure, self-serve banking.

Pepper Takes Manhattan 

In the U.S., bank spending on AI is growing at an annual CAGR of 28.4 percent and is projected to reach $6.3 million by 2025. The use of AI in banking has been largely focused on customer interfaces, fraud prevention, and back-office processes, but at least one bank is investing in robotic assistants.

The HSBC branch on New York’s Fifth Avenue introduced Pepper, a four-foot tall robot developed by SoftBank Robotics. HSBC worked with SoftBank to design Pepper’s functionality to integrate with the bank staff. “Pepper wouldn’t replace us, but it would replace the redundant tasks, and that would enable our employees to do more high value-add functions,” says Jeremy Balkin, head of innovation at HSBC.

Pepper uses natural language processing to understand multiple languages. It also can recognize human emotions and adapt its behavior accordingly. It features a touch screen that can display video tutorials, product information, forms, and promotions.

According to Balkin, HSBC determined that 73 percent of customer interactions in the Fifth Avenue branch are binary interactions: people wanting to locate the ATM, find a teller, or learn how to deposit a check. “Binary interactions are a waste of time. If you can take that out of the supply chain, that frees up a lot of time [for us],” he says. “Ask Pepper. It will show you a how-to video on how to deposit a check.”

A Social Kiosk

Pepper can answer customer questions, for example, about how to apply for a credit card and follow up by asking customers if they want to meet with a banker. The next iteration of Pepper has taken that a step further. Now Pepper will ask if the customer wants to apply for a credit card, get the customer’s mobile number, make an appointment with a banker, and send the customer a follow-up text.

Pepper was designed to give people something “akin to a kiosk, but more social,” Balkin says. The robot doesn’t save any personal information about customers. It has facial recognition software to welcome back repeat customers.

The reaction has been positive. Shortly after introducing Pepper, the bank realized a five-fold increase in foot traffic, and new business has jumped 40 percent, Balkin says. “If it could just free up time, it was a win. We didn’t realize it would excite and delight customers.”  HSBC has introduced Pepper robots in other branches as well.


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