Humanoid robot to greet visitors at branches of Canadian bank

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The Canadian bank ATB Financial is putting a new face on customer service at its branches, and the face isn't human.

Starting in May, customers at select branches will be greeted by Pepper, a 4-foot-tall humanoid robot with a built-in touchscreen tablet. Developed by a San Francisco firm, SoftBank Robotics America, the robot can talk to customers and recommend products and services to meet their needs.

Pepper will also offer customers a financial literacy quiz. Apparently, it can even learn dance moves.

"We're excited for her to say hello to our customers and tell them about ATB—or just dance together for a bit,” Dave Mowat, ATB's president and CEO, said in a news release.

While bankers are becoming accustomed to the idea that artificial intelligence and software "bots" will affect their business, a "Jetsons"-style robot is a novel feature at a branch.
Describing its use of the robot as a proof of concept for the "future of banking," the $34.4 billion-asset bank said it plans to install the robot in three of its Calgary branches by July.

Pepper's Canadian debut follows two pilot programs in the United States. The first was with Westfield Corp. in two shopping centers in the San Francisco Bay area, and the second, at Oakland International Airport, was with the restaurateur HMSHost.

But this appears to be the first time the little white robot has popped up in a North American bank branch.

The robot, which has large, anime-style eyes and is capable of lifelike gestures, will bring "something new, delightful and informative to [ATB's] retail banking experience,” Steve Carlin, global chief strategy officer for the robotics company behind Pepper, said in the release.

ATB is aware that interacting with a robot represents a new frontier for most consumers. But it intends to keep developing Pepper's skills to enhance the branch experience.

And, if SoftBank Robotics has its way, the robot helper will become increasingly ubiquitous. In addition to financial services, Pepper robots will soon be filling roles in the hospitality, retail and health care industries, according to the release.

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