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New Artificial Intelligence Robot Is Brickell Bank's Newest Hire

Gerard Albert
'Pepper' greets visitors to HSBC's Brickell branch.

Pepper isn’t your normal bank concierge. She wears an all white suit made of plastic and has big glowing eyes. She’s four feet tall and has an iPad in her chest.

“My name is Pepper, I’m a humanoid robot,” the small banker says when asked her name. “I’m here to make history as the first humanoid robot in a bank branch in Miami." 

The robot was implemented last week at HSBC Bank in Brickell, the fifth U.S. location. Pepper guides guests on how to make a deposit or apply for a credit card. HSBC doesn’t plan on using the robot to handle any actual banking. The robot comes from SoftBank, a Japanese robotics company. 

Claudia Carrion, a branch manager at HSBC Bank in Brickell, says Pepper makes visiting the bank a friendlier experience.

“Today things are more electronic, so this is a way for us to connect with the new technology and with the clients,” she says.

Pepper has ‘relatives’ at HSBC locations in New York City, Seattle and Beverly Hills. She also is popular in Europe and Asia where she is deployed in food services, hospitality and education jobs.

Carrion says foot traffic has increased in the bank in the week since Pepper deployed.

The robot won’t take any jobs from bankers. But it will make their life easier, according to Kass Dawson, head of marketing at SoftBank. Pepper can answer simple questions that customers would have asked workers behind the counter. The questions that Pepper can’t answer she sends to human bankers who come to assist customers.

HSBC head of innovation Jeremy Balkin says he brought Pepper to the bank after seeing the robot in a innovation lab event.

“I guess you could say it was love at first sight,” he says.

The robot understood his Australian accent and he thought of other Americans who deal with language barriers while shopping and banking.

“She understood me perfectly. I was blown away,” he says.

Balkin says before the end of the year more ‘Peppers’ will be popping up in HSBC branches around the country and, he hopes, the world.

There have been security concerns with the robots.

An assessment in 2018, done by researchers from the Technical University of Denmark, outlined issues such as “vulnerabilities ... [that] enable an attacker to easily spoof login credentials, steal data stored in the robot, hack other connected devices that interact with it, and even physically harm human beings.”

Balkin says Pepper uses email addresses and phone numbers to send alerts and links to customers but doesn’t store any of the information.

Dawson says the the company is working on an update that protects the robot from hackers. He also says Pepper was never designed to store personal information and it only keeps track of conversations that the robot has.

For now, Pepper stands in the lobby of HSBC’s flagship location in Brickell. She takes selfies, tells jokes and answers questions. 

And if visitors greet the robot in Spanish? 

“Bienvenidos a HSBC Miami,” Pepper says.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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