The account maintenance robots are coming

Mizuho Bank, Ltd. next-generation business, Yaesuguchi branch.Mizuho Bank, Ltd. next-generation business, Yaesuguchi branch.

Mizuho Bank, Ltd has offered since July 2015 a concierge service ahead of its time: a robot named Pepper. The pioneer of this service, the Incubation PT digital strategist Mr. Tadahiro Ihara, talked about Mizuho Bank’s current efforts using FinTech, a new service integrating financial services and IT. (Listener: @japan chief editor, Takayuki Tomiyama)

――――――What triggered the introduction of Pepper?

The Incubation PT digital strategist, Mr. Tadahiro Ihara The Incubation PT digital strategist, Mr. Tadahiro Ihara

The organization that I currently belong to started two years ago, in April of 2014. The mission of our organization focuses on new business creation. However, we only had two members. We didn’t have much experience in this area, so we talked with people in various fields, crossing between businesses and industries who work with start-up businesses and learning from them. I remember I was having a rough time because I didn’t know anything about it.

Referring to our discussions in various fields, we identified around 10 examples of scenarios to approach. The utilization of robots was one of the scenarios we brought up. Right when we were ready to take the next step, Softbank Group Corp released a humanoid robot, Pepper, in July 2014. When I saw Pepper for the first time, rather than the traditional cold image of institutional robot use, it felt more neighborly. I had an intuition that it would have a good chemistry with customers in communication-based bank businesses. We went through the installation with all due haste, then, in July 2015, we placed Pepper in 10 domestic branches, including Tokyo Chuo Branch. *1

――――――I was surprised that the Pepper in Yaesuguchi branch came loaded with AI Watson, which largely surpasses standard Pepper in its ability to process speech.

The Incubation PT digital strategist Ms. Toshimi Teranishi and a Watson-loaded PepperThe Incubation PT digital strategist Ms. Toshimi Teranishi and a Watson-loaded Pepper

Yaesuguchi branch, reopened in May, is the next-generation branch corresponding with omnibus channels. It is a new and experimental challenge the design and new technology of which draws a sharp line separating it from other branches.

Pepper loaded with IBM AI Watson is one of those trial attempts. Based on advanced natural language analysis, Pepper understands customers and tries to infer what they want to say, braving advanced communication skills to give them more proper answers.

Even though it is Watson-loaded Pepper, he cannot answer every kind of question in our business, so currently his work is limited only to lottery sale related inquiries. Having said that, I don’t think it is too far in the future that advanced robots will appear that will answer questions about Mizuho’s business operations in a comprehensive manner and in multiple languages.

――――――It seems there are several services using Pepper. Could you tell me other examples?

The Fortune menuThe Fortune menu

We have “Front counter card fortunes” which tell you today’s fortune according to the counter card you picked up, “Pepper’s broadcast station” where Pepper presents Japanese comic-monologue style financial anecdotes like a radio personality, and “Perfect Insurance Answers” where Pepper tells you suitable insurance products after asking you several questions, etc. The customer support Pepper’s unique character provides has led to positive messages from customers like, “it changes the stone-faced image of banks,” “it’s easy to enter a branch,” etc.

――――――It’s been a year since Pepper was introduced. Have you met your KPI goals? (Key Performance Indicators)

We have three indicators: attracting customers, reducing perceived waiting times, and bringing more customers to the counter. To be honest, we’ve gotten better results than we thought we would. We thought, throughout the trial process, only Pepper could do this because he’s a substantial robot you can talk to at your own pace, unlike people whom you have to brace yourself to talk to, or insubstantial AIs which are hard to talk to. We would like to continue offering customer service which takes advantage of the strong points of these robots in the future.

――――――Amazon and Google have thrown simple, voice response only, cylindrical shaped robots into the market. Do you think such trends will have an impact for the future of Incubation? How are you going to use Pepper in the future?

We in Japan are familiar with human-type social robots because of Doraemon and Astroboy. But once we shift our focus outside of Japan, there are a number of other types of robots. I think the shape of a robot is heavily tinged with its nationality, or the thought and philosophy of its creators, and each robot is attractive in some aspect. At the moment, there are no robots who can do everything. I think it’s interesting by itself that each robot has its own specialty. With this view, I would like to deal with customer service, figuring out the characteristic of each robot, regardless of its human or non-human shape. Among other things, Pepper is attractive in customer service.

We expect Pepper to show further success as an assistant in bank consulting in the future. As AI improves, we think their field activities will become varied, and we are counting on a great potential in the future.

※1 The placement of Pepper in Mizuho Bank Ltd.

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