China Construction Bank goes full-robot

Image: Alex Knight / Clique
Alex Stockwell

Shanghai. China Construction Bank opens first fully automated branch with AI, robots, and deep learning tools

In keeping with China’s shift towards unstaffed stores and service centers, China Construction Bank (CCB) have opened their first unmanned bank in Shanghai, replacing conventional counters and clerks with tech tools and robots.

Coming at a time when people in China are steadily adopting more and more automation, artificial intelligence, and big data into their everyday lives, this experiment into a ‘robo-bank’ concept has received positive feedback from its customers so far.

After the introduction of cashierless convenience stores and karaoke joints in the city, the move to self-service banking was all but inevitable, but how does the concept work? And could it be yet another case of automation threatening a job that’s best suited to the human touch?

China’s first robo-bank

CCB’s newly installed bank in the downtown district of Shanghai promises a banking experience unlike any other.

Rather than standing in line to deal with a fellow human, customers will instead be faced with a variety of self-service machines run by tech such as facial and voice recognition, artificial intelligence, holographic projections, and the occasional chirpy robot.

Customers walking through the doors for the first time will scan an ID card or bank card to gain access, and then immediately have their face scanned for authentication. Once this step has occurred, there’s no longer a need to show any credentials.

Once signed up and facial information offered to the great data overseer, customers will be met by a friendly-looking robot that uses voice recognition software and deep learning to offer assistance. On site, is a number of smart automated tellers that are capable of helping with opening accounts, money transfers, and currency exchanges.

There will still be a few plucky humans kicking their heels around, including assistants to the automated systems and a security guard. And, for particularly wealthy clients, there’s a private room reserved for chats with client relationship managers – via video link.

The argument for introducing this kind of automation into the banking industry is that accuracy, predictability, and the removal of human error is a win-win for everybody, and China Construction Bank claims that it can process more than 90 per cent of the cash and non-cash business of a conventional bank using this system.

So far, it’s proven a hit with customers, especially younger generations who typically prefer the efficiency and innovation that comes with automated tech, but of course there’s always scope to have a little moan about the cost of automation on jobs, and even tech-touting, futurist dreamer Elon Musk isn’t always convinced automation is a good idea.

For or against the impending robo-revolution?

This latest example of unmanned banking is indicative of the wider adoption of automation across a number of industries. Not just in China, but everywhere. And the effort isn’t just motivated by cost reductions, as – certainly in the case of customer service – it’s also about customer preferences.

In certain circumstances, automation doesn’t always work though. Elon Musk’s recent problems with meeting production demands for Tesla’s Model 3 has been blamed on “excessive automation,” and that for all our fleshy, mortal sins, skilled humans are “underrated.”

So whilst it could be argued that in certain cases – be it building cars or banking – some might prefer the human touch. The fact of the matter is that the robots are coming regardless of what side of the fence you’re on.

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