City Union Bank launches country's first banking robot

Lakshmi, the country’s first banking robot is helping City Union Bank transition towards a new self-service era.


A few years ago, use of robots may have seemed to be many years away from reality, but it now appears that we are reaching a tipping point in human-robot collaboration.


Meet Lakshmi, the two-foot robot that is pushing the Kumbakonam-based City Union Bank (CUB) towards a new self-service era. CUB Lakshmi, as it is fondly called in the bank, speaks English, can gesture and engage in conversations. It can interact on more than 125 subjects with customers, and can answer queries around interest rates on loans, checking the account balance and more.


“This artificial intelligence (AI) powered robot will be our first on-site bank helper and answer generic banking-related questions of customers. We felt that in a branch this robot will be in a position to answer basic questions to our customers. Over time, it can support other banking roles with insightful data and analytics, making humans smarter and more efficient in value delivery,” says N Kamakodi, MD and CEO, CUB.


Human-robot collaboration


Lakshmi took around six months in the making, and has been customised in Coimbatore to provide basic information about the bank’s history, deposit and lending rates, special schemes and number of branches among other things. Though launched in November last year, the full fledged roll out took a back seat due to the demonetisation drive.


“The first step now is to program the humanoid to greet customers in Tamil. It will also be integrated with the Core Banking System through Application Programming Interface (API) to enable it to do multi-tasking such as providing account details and ordering cheque books,” says Sankaran G, Deputy General Manager, Computer Systems Department, CUB.


A five member team is constantly monitoring the responses from Lakshmi and also working around chatbot among other things.


And what if the question posed to Lakshmi is out of syllabus? “In such a scenario the question is escalated to the manager or the subject matter expert. We will then update and feed it with answers for questions that it has not been able to answer or referred to the manager,” explains Kamakodi.


CUB has also installed the necessary data security measures, and believes it is secure. Also, any sensitive information will not be voiced by Lakshmi, but instead will be displayed on its screen. It is also trying to figure out newer areas on how best to apply AI to processes and customer interactions.


“We will need to make a trial and error and see if it can be made to sit at the cash counter to collect and dispense cash. As we progress, we plan to will have a swiping machine attached to the robot. So if a customer swipes their card, it will now who the customer is and it can access their account information. This will enable it to answer questions at par with the bank’s counter staff,” informs Kamakodi.


Though CUB is in the early stages of using AI, it is optimistic that it will improve customer service over a period of the next few months after it irons out minor glitches on the way.


Lakshmi is currently based at CUB’s T-Nagar branch in Chennai and is currently the only version of a humanoid banker that the bank has got. Depending on the performance, around 100 such robots could appear at the CUB’s branch over the next 9-12 months.


“Robots will definitely become an integral part of every bank's front office, sooner than later” says Kamakodi.


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