If the government springs any more demonetisation-like surprises in the future, banks just might be better equipped to deal with it with a higher degree of automation and artificial intelligence. Tamil Nadu-based City Union Bank certainly will — with some help from Lakshmi.
Not the Goddess of wealth, but an aptly-named two-feet-tall humanoid robot that can answer any query related to banking transactions, account balance or interest rate. Developed by the Coimbatore-based Vishnu Engineering, the robot is designed to provide information to customers and answer their related queries. “Usually when a customer enters a bank and goes to the ‘may I help you’ counter, a set of questions take care of most customers’ requirements. So the fundamental concept behind the robot is to answer all those questions,” says N Kamakodi, MD & CEO, City Union Bank.
Set to be launched at the bank’s T Nagar branch in Chennai soon, Lakshmi will initially answer queries, but can be programmed to handle more instructions and even dispense deposit receipts, etc.
“It should be able to take care of at least 70-80% of the normal transactions that happen at our branches,” Kamakodi adds.
Vishnu Engineering has ensured that the robot is safe from hacking threats. “The robot can perform functions like talking, walking, grasping and interacting with a customer. With facial and voice recognition, it can perform financial transactions in the future,” says Vijay Shah, CEO, Vishnu Engineering, the Indian partner of French company Aldebaran Robotics (Softbank Robotics). Kamakodi adds that the bank plans to equip the robot with a screen, a feature under development, so that sensitive information will be displayed discreetly.
But can robots really replace humans at institutions like banks? Kamakodi says while all routine transactions like mobile and internet banking have moved to non-branch channels, one cannot eliminate human presence entirely. “Wherever you need some improved skills and application of mind, it has to be handled by humans,” he says, adding that the future might see a bank branch with almost half the teller counters being operated by humaniod robots. “If you look at the banking sector, at least 70% of the transactions have migrated to non-branch channels. So, this will be a logical extension. It increases the productivity and is going to be the order of the future,” says Kamakodi.
The use of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) has been gathering momentum in the banking sector. In September this year, ICICI Bank introduced software robotics to perform banking operations. These software robots are configured to capture and interpret information from systems, and execute activities such as data entry and validation, automated formatting, workflow acceleration and currency exchange rate processing. As per news reports online, they will be able to perform tasks such as generating customer IDs, updating address details and mobile numbers and so on. Various news reports say HDFC Bank is also looking to deploy a robot that would tend to customer queries. In Japan, banks like Mizuho Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ have also rolled out robots at some of their branches. In 2010, Spanish banking group Santander had introduced autonomous robots for customer assistance. Another recent example is UAE-based Emirates NBD, which announced AI robots to interact with customers.