Equinox Consulting

Innovation corner – I Robot (don’t tell my mother I’m a banker …)

Jean Bouvier at 2015-07-17 in Le coin des innovations

Rob-Bank : from the most elementary, the reception desk…
(at least in appearance, visible for the general public)
IRobot4Source : Banco Bradesco, concept store Bradesco Next, robot Link237 de YDreams,São Paulo, Brésil 2013IRobot5 Source : Mizuho Bank, Robot Pepper de Aldebaran Robotics, Tokyo, Japon 2015

… to the most sophisticated, my dear Watson !
(Artificial Intelligence and rules engine. Here : Watson, IBM artificial intelligence application)


Source : IBM, artificial intelligence application Watson, 2015

The digital transformation of retail and private banking is fascinating in that it leverages the technological potential of Big Data and automation in order to make information processing even more industrial, and also to shift (or even make it disappear one day?) the traditional and basic part of reception and consulting closer to the customer, the human touch.
Shift or disappear? Disrupt for sure. Elementary my dear Watson…

The “words chosen” by some retail banks in France for the dialogue with customers aim to materialize relationship commitments and maintain the perceived added value of local branches; thus, when entering a Credit Agricole branch, we can immediately hear “Hello, how can I assist you?”. Meanwhile, with an average headcount at the point of sale most often below 4 people, this relational approach is proclaimed while the reception service, previously dedicated to the front desk, is gradually disappearing from the branch: welcoming and accompanying the customer is (again) the responsibility of every advisor, since it is a basic customer-oriented behaviour.

Elsewhere, in Japan, Brazil, some new ways of thinking in terms of reception by smart machines are emerging and creating buzz. Every modern-day consultant must gush and talk about it. So, let’s do it!

IRobot1Source : FranceTVinfo, 21/04/2015

The latest and expensive discovery of Toshiba, with the sweet name of Aico Chihira, is introducing a new era of a robot, that is almost more friendly, helpful, empathetic and talkative than an actual receptionist… Not only did Aico surprise Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi mall visitors by welcoming them in natural language, but it (or should we say she ?) is also capable of singing, and joking.

In its wake, the Henn hotel will open in July 2015 in the south-west of Japan with three receptionists, cousins of Aico.

IRobot2Source : Henn hotel, quoted by The Japan Times, february 2015

The progress achieved by these robots is astonishing and some science fiction films have never seemed so realistic. But what is behind the element of surprise? What should we conclude about the future of reception in retail banks? Should credence be given to the idea that “The robot greeter was chosen to charm potential non-Bradesco customers”, as mentioned in the official statement of Banco Bradesco in 2012 to support its initiative (see inset) …

The robotization and the automation of customer interface are not new concepts in the banking and payment industry. ATMs and bill remittance machines have become customary; whereas self-checkout in hypermarkets and supermarkets and interactive voice response for telephone reception still cause public grumbling. Logic difference: these robots provide simple and immediate management which is recognized by customers, while those robots claim to satisfy – without completely succeeding – expectations in terms of dialogue and reception. How many among us have already complained about having to type several telephone keys successively, then wait patiently while listening to a chosen tune and, finally, vent out their impatience to a tele-advisor speaking in a standard vocabulary.

However, capitalizing on the tremendous progress of android robotics, Mizuho bank has deployed in some of its branches in Japan some “Pepper” robots of the French company Aldebaran, to inform customers and entertain them before reaching the front desk (see inset). When we decide to go to our local branch, it is neither by wish nor out of curiosity. I don’t know about you, but me, I do not go there for fun.

If the visit frequency to the branches has reduced over a decade, it only means that it is more convenient to carry out all these tedious tasks remotely, whenever and however we want. It is also because an increasing number of young bank customers do not see – rightly – any advantage in going to their branch for trivial reasons. Let these students and young professionals of the Y generation grow. They will understand, in these times which count in life, that it is possible to have a pleasant memory after being welcomed, heard, and advised in their local branch. And this place of dialogue about their financial situation, budget and projects, brings in additional applicability and added value on top of the multiple possibilities offered by digital banking. Therefore, what should be the future of reception in the bank branch?

IRobot3Source : Aldebaran Robotics, 2015

At Equinox, we believe in the near future of branch employees. Of course, significant progress still needs to be made to create at least a positive memory of a visit to the local bank branch if not « enchantment » (kind of a marketer’s dream). Obviously, the branch’s business content is disrupted by the assimilation of cross-channel and technological potentials of interactive marketing (Big Data, rules engines and predictive tools of next best action, multi-channel workstation, etc) Nevertheless, a huge effort is required for supporting these changes, so that everyone integrates the new approach of customer service quality. But it is worth it. The final purpose is to offer the best of both worlds to every customer.

The near future should thus be anything but… quiet for omni-channel banking.


Plus :

  • Bank revolution that’s around the corner – FT – Link
  • The Robot Greeters, Cardless ATMs, And Touchscreen Transactions Are So Money At This Bank Of The Future – Link


Jean Bouvier   Jean


Retail Banking and SFS

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