By Trevor Mogg

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pepper the robot new york city bank
Mark Von Holden/AP Images for HSBC

The robot takeover of retail banking has begun.

It’s starting at HSBC’s main branch on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and involves a friendly robot called Pepper.

For those not in the know, Pepper is the work of Japanese telecoms giant SoftBank and French robotics firm Aldebaran SAS. The 4-foot-tall robot recognizes faces and emotions, and can respond through voice or by showing messages on its torso-based tablet. It can also be programmed with data according to its workplace, enabling it to provide specific experiences for those who interact with it.

Rather than overhaul retail banking overnight, HSBC says Pepper will provide customers with a glimpse of the “branch of the future.” That’s because the robot isn’t yet advanced enough to perform complex tasks.

So, at the bank, Pepper will perform a variety of rudimentary tasks, such as providing visitors with information about HSBC’s financial products and services, educating customers on technologies such as HSBC’s mobile banking app, and explaining options for customer support. It’ll also ask visitors questions before directing them toward the appropriate staff member who can offer more specific assistance.

HSBC promised Pepper will happily pose for selfies, too, and even tell jokes and do a little dance if a human member of staff isn’t immediately available.

It sounds like fun for visitors, but the main challenge for HSBC will be keeping customers engaged with Pepper once the novelty of seeing a robot staff member wears off. In its home country of Japan, most people don’t give poor Pepper a second glancewhen they spot it in a store, while a recent posting at a grocery store in Scotland showed that most shoppers simply ignored it, prompting the store owner to describe it as little more than “a walking sign.”

But as its technology improves, we can expect Pepper and robots like it to increase their skills and perform more useful tasks in a range of settings.

HSBC’s Pablo Sanchez, for one, certainly isn’t fazed by Pepper’s limitations, claiming the robot will offer visitors to the Fifth Avenue branch “an experience in retail banking like never before.”

He added: “We’re focused on developing the ‘branch of the future,’ and our use of Pepper will streamline branch operations and delight our customers, allowing bank staff to have deeper, more high-value customer engagements.”

Pepper has been showing up at a range of workplaces ever since its launch in 2015. Besides welcoming folks at department stores and airports, the friendly android has also been helping out at Pizza Hut and is evenspending time as a Buddhist priest.

HSBC claims to be the first financial institution in the U.S. to bring robots to retail banking, and it hopes to introduce more Peppers to its branches nationwide in the coming months.

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