Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Robots pursue banking careers in San Francisco

Robots have enjoyed phenomenal success on the nation's factory floors. Now they've got their eye on banking.
Sterling Bank & Trust has "hired" two robots as greeters at the bank's new locations opening in Cupertino and Alhambra, in the Los Angeles area. As part of their training, the two robots have made appearances at the bank's San Francisco branches.
Credit for bringing the robots on board goes to the bank's owner, Scott Seligman of San Francisco-based Seligman & Associates.
He got the idea after reading a Wall Street Journal story about the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ relying on robots to better serve customers in Japan. Sterling Bank says the robots' appearances have drawn an enthusiastic response from customers, many of them Asian.
The robots are especially popular with customers' children and grandchildren, said Steve Adams, senior vice president of Sterling Bank & Trust. They especially enjoy the robots having fun demonstrating their kung fu moves and dancing to Psy's song "Gangnam Style." That is when the robots aren't hard at work greeting customers or handing out bankers' business cards.
And the cute factor can't be overlooked, with their blinking eyes and gestures, as they demonstrated in the accompanying video.
Adams hopes the robots might draw in prospective customers as well. Sterling Bank's San Mateo location features a huge window, allowing the robots to show off their stuff to those who aren't banking with Sterling — yet.
Adams is quick to give credit for the robots' banking ambitions at Sterling to Financial Consultant Gary Ng and Ken Yu, a customer service representative for the bank. The two men spent the last three months training the robots for success in banking. They continue to "mentor" the two robots as their handlers.
One of the robots picked up the name Lucky Chance somewhere along the way, but he's likely to take on a new name as he pursues a career in banking.
Although greeters today, Ng says the robots could eventually do far more to help Sterling Bank serve customers.
For instance, the robots have the ability to recognize a customer's face and greet them by name, but Ng says they sometimes get his name wrong. "The facial recognition software works about 80 percent of the time, but they'll get better," he said. Clearly, Ng's teaching the robots an important rule for a successful career in banking — under-promise and over-deliver.
"The robots are focused on marketing and entertaining customers," Adams said, adding that none of the robots' human colleagues have to worry about losing their jobs to them.
The robots cost $8,000 each and bringing them on board is not a cost-cutting move, he insists.
Of course, some might wonder why robots weren't brought into banking sooner. Perhaps the financial crisis could have been avoided altogether if the robot from the 1960s TV program "Lost in Space" had been circling through the mortgage-loan departments at our nation's banks warning, "Danger, danger, Will Robinson."