First Machines, Then Robots: The Bank Employee’s Double Dilemma

December 21, 2016         By: Steven Anderson

A rock and a hard place, that’s the way of life for the bank employee these days. On one side, there are new mobile banking and digital banking options making the lifespan of a bank employee seem just a little tenuous.

While that’s not so bad—the over-50 set, by and large, doesn’t want much to do with mobile banking anyway—it’s SoftBank’s latest development that may be the last nail in the human bank employee coffin.

SoftBank is bringing in an as yet unknown quantity of Pepper robots, with the plan to train these as sales reps, marketing operatives and customer service agents. While Pepper robots have done pretty well at market, selling about 10,000 total units so far—which isn’t half bad given that costs start at $1,700 a month per unit besides some accompanying monthly costs—SoftBank is looking to get more out of them than some one-off sales.

What’s more, SoftBank isn’t alone using humanoid robots; Nestle is using them in stores to sell coffee makers, and Eli Lilly is looking to use these as a screening method for osteoporosis. Even Pizza Hut has been spotted using Pepper robots as payment-takers at tables.

Further reports suggest Pepper may be used as a healthcare mechanism for autistic children, as well as, potentially, as a doctor or lawyer.

Some aren’t so convinced, like CLSA industrials analyst Morten Paulsen, who said “I’m not convinced people prefer to go to a robot rather than a human. And from what I’ve seen, Pepper is still struggling a lot with understanding, so I think a lot more work needs to be done.”

Paulsen is not alone here; I too remain unconvinced. This is nothing more than an anthropomorphized interactive voice response (IVR) system. That same “press one for English” menu that you get on a phone call put into an obnoxiously cuddly-looking robot body is what Pepper’s offering here.

Sure, it can have its place, managing lines of customers and providing something entertaining and novel to look at while the customer waits to deal with a human, but a smartphone can do that even better and for vastly less money.

Still, if this catches on, it may be the last nail in the human worker coffin at your local bank.