HDFC Bank has launched an IRA (Intelligent Robotic Assistant) at its Kamala Mills branch in Mumbai. The interactive humanoid will be positioned near the welcome desk and help the branch staff in servicing customers.

Interestingly HDFC Bank had recently let go of 4,500 employees as a result of a fall in earnings growth leading to cost cutting. The IRA initiative should also help the bank replace some of the most basic jobs, and further help cut down costs. An automated banking machine can work 24/7 without ever getting tired or bored, and costs a lot less than paying full time employees.

The interactive assistant will currently greet and guide customers to relevant counters in the branch like cash deposit, foreign exchange, loans etc. In the second phase of the program, the company plans to introduce features like voice and face recognition for customer identification, voice guided navigation, cheque deposit, balance enquiry etc. However, the bank did not provide a timeline for the execution of these features.

It’s not clear if the bank plans to install a robot at every branch, but we suspect this could be a distinct possibility if the initial run is a success. The current initiative has been developed in partnership with Asimov Robotics, a Kochi -based startup.

Automation at banks: While HDFC is unique in having a physical ‘humanoid’ presence to help serve customers, other banking initiatives have increasingly encouraged different forms of automation to aid employees or customers. For example, earlier this month, YES Bank launched a Facebook chat bot for employees to provide details on any loan products without having to memorize the features, pricing, eligibility criteria etc. Similarly, last year ICICI Bank had introduced ‘Software Robotics’ to emulate and automate repetitive, high volume and time consuming ‘human actions’.