HSBC puts humanoid in New York branch

HSBC has put its first humanoid member of staff into a branch role in New York City

HSBC has taken the use of artificial intelligence (AI) a step further with the introduction of a humanoid robot into its branch on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Pepper, as the robot is known, will help customers with banking services that are automated.

“We’re focused on developing the ‘branch of the future’, and our use of Pepper will streamline branch operations and delight our customers, allowing bank staff to have deeper, more high-value customer engagements,” said Pablo Sanchez, regional head of retail banking and wealth management for the US and Canada at HSBC.

Financial services companies are leading the charge when it comes to adopting AI technology to automate business processes and customer services.

With customers increasingly moving to mobile banking channels, a trend that will only accelerate as younger generations get bank accounts, banks are automating services using AI and technologies such as voice and facial recognition software. According to recent research from Visa, mobile banking apps are used by 69% of young people to manage their finances in the UK.

Last year, John Cryan, then CEO at Deutsche Bank, told an audience at a conference in Frankfurt that a “big number” of the bank’s staff will lose their jobs as a result of new technology taking over. The bank has around 100,000 employees.

He accused accountants as being like abacuses, saying the bank won’t need as many people. “In our banks, we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things. Tomorrow, we’re going to have robots behaving like people,” he said.

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  • SEB bank is currently integrating AI into its customer services channels, following an internal trial of the technology.

There are many parts of the banking industry that can benefit from AI, whether it is in the back office or customer-facing.

As early as 2016 saw challenger bank Atom Bank offer customer support via machine learning software on its mobile app.

The AI integrated into its mobile app is said to provide near-human customer care. The machine learning technology from WDS – part of Xerox – uses analytics to capture the context of each customer inquiry and respond appropriately, and will also learn from experience.

More recently Metro Bank announced a money management service for customers that use AI. Available via it’s banking app, Insights is a service that uses predictive analytics and AI to monitor transaction data and patterns in real time to identify trends in customers’ spending habits. It will then provide personalised prompts to help them control their spending.

There are many more examples. A report last year from financial services management consultancy Opimas predicted that, discounting acquisitions of startups, finance firms in the investment sector would spend $1.5bn on robotic process automation, machine learning, deep learning and cognitive analytics in 2017, increasing by 75% to $2.8bn in 2021.

HSBC is not the first bank to try out humanoids in branches to help customers. In January, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ started using 58cm tall robots in branches to help customers. A bank spokesman said the idea is to improve customer communication. “We can ramp up communication with our customers by adding a tool like this,” he said. The robot, known as NAO, can read people’s facial expressions.

Humanoids could become commonplace in the workplace, and look and sound like humans. According to Chetan Dube, CEO at IPSoft, which supplies enterprise AI software, recently told Computer Weekly that by 2025, people will walk past an android in the corridor at work and not realise it is not human.

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