Robots ‘unlikely to replace humans in banking’

Robots and automated technologies are unlikely to replace human interaction in the digital banking relationships of the future, according to Wells Fargo’s ATM and branch IT chief.

Speaking at the RBR self-service banking Europe conference in London, Michael Graham explained that despite the rapid spread of digital and automated banking services across their core market, customers would continue to expect human interaction.

“Robots can’t build relationships, they can’t empathise just yet and applying them to problem solving may take some time to reach new technologies," he said.

“It’s clear that today’s banking customers want choices in their servicing needs with digital being at the top of those choices, but it’s not rocket science to understand that banks who offer digital self- service conveniences combined with human interaction rate higher for customer attraction, retention, and demonstrate greater capacity to deepen customer relationships,” he added.

Graham explained that Wells Fargo’s investment in self-service banking initiatives had seen the launch of card-free access at all 13,500 ATMs across the US, as customers begin to expect minimal friction in access to cash and banking services through the rise of mobile and digital banking.

However, despite rising interest from customers in alternatives to branch-based services and advice - with 64 per cent of Wells Fargo customers in the US manage their finances through their phone - Graham was at pains to add that Wells Fargo was taking a cautious approach.

“The messages from our customers these days can be complicated and confusing,” he said. “In some cases they want the convenience of digital self-service but yet we’ve seen they still value local proximity of a branch - they expect connective tissues between the digital and the physical, which together are what we now call the ‘phygital connection’".

Asked whether automation of banking services was likely to become the norm for the industry, Graham took a similarly measured approach, saying that automating processes offered banks the chance to lower costs and make efficiencies.

“As we’ve seen with technologies such as AI and automation, the ability is there," he added, but underlined that key obstacles for automated bank services in the US included regulatory requirements, as well as the shift to running data in the cloud on platforms, which have “opened up the conversation” around wide-ranging digital transformation for large banks.

The same hurdles are affecting the US’ relative delay in embracing robotic advice services as part of the digitisation of financial services.

Graham explained: “We’re dipping our toes into robo-advice and proof of concepts. I don’t think we’ve come to a decision in the US from a customer perspective whether or not people are willing to pay for advice versus there’s a lot of debate going on from the regulatory perspective… I think the jury’s still out in the US.”

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