‘The next generation IRA will be an exclusive HDFC Bank robot’
Rajnish Khare, Head Digital Transformation, Social Business & New Media and Mobility Banking at HDFC Bank, speaks on the Intelligent Robotic Assistant (IRA).
HDFC Bank robot
Intelligent Robotic Assistant (IRA)
In January 2017, HDFC became the first bank in India to launch the Intelligent Robotic Assistant or IRA. What have been the developments since?
At HDFC Bank, our focus has been to keep exploring new technologies and ideas and implementing them to give world class services to our customers. Since the launch of IRA, we have not only introduced many new products and services but also added new features to our existing innovative services.
Today, we have strong AI backed services through our commerce bot HDFC Bank On Chat and smart website assistant bot EVA. Incidentally, EVA engages in approximately 5 lakh conversations per month and has been named as India’s smartest chat bot. We are happy that EVA and has won many domestic and international accolades. We have now expanded our horizon and integrated the EVA chat bot with Google Assistant to extend the benefit of AI to a more global audience. HDFC Bank is the first Bank in the country to do so.
On the mobility front, the HDFC Bank Mobile Banking app has undergone a complete revamp to offer to its customers a more intuitive and user friendly interface. All key parameters of transactions, volume, TAT and app store ratings have improved by double digits. We have taken this competence in customer experience to launch a service in Mobility Banking space called HDFC Bank Easykeys – a unique alphanumeric payment keypad where customers can make banking transactions from their mobile keyboards while continuing to chat on social apps and without switching between apps.
We are now testing Augmented Reality through the launch of Snap & Search feature on our Vahan Gyan app – a first-in-the-country innovation, through which users can click the picture of a car and get all details such as car features, reviews, on road price as well as loan and EMI options instantly.
On the employee engagement front, have launched Social Sher which is a social advocacy platform, through which we have been able to identify and groom more than 6000 employees to meaningfully advocate our products and achievements via social media.
Few other major services which the Bank is offering include Cardless Cash Withdrawal at ATMs, Dream Deposits (flexible goal based savings) and Gesture Banking.
The plan was to deploy more such robots over a period of time. How many such robots are now in operation?
Currently we have one such robot which was launched at our flag ship branch in Mumbai and has been presently deployed at a branch in Kochi. Based on our learnings and the feedback received we are planning to launch a more equipped version of the IRA shortly. We are equipping the IRA with a stronger AI interaction framework that will allow her to have more a meaningful engagement with customers; especially after the first encounter.
What are the tasks these robots are performing? What has been the customer response?
The current generation of IRA has been deployed at a branch, and can sense the presence of the customer, greet her and take a service request through multiple options available on a touch screen. IRA can guide customers, identify specific service desks in the branch based on customer needs, and also accompany them to the desired service desk.
In line with machine learning principles, all interactions are going through a training algorithm as well as parametric scores being added by our branch team based on quality of interaction with the customer. Various parameters like nature of query, duration of interaction, customer satisfaction levels, etc., are being tracked and used for progressive improvement.
We have been delighted by the positive response from both customers as well as branch staff. Their inputs are now being used to build the second generation of IRA.
Banks and other enterprises today are heavily using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence which are more effective tools. So is this humanoid robot more a hype than real automation?
For the banking industry, RPA has many more use cases than a humanoid robot. However, that should not relegate a technology to the hype zone. Software robots have evolved a lot faster than hardware robots, therefore mature, bank grade applications of humanoid robots are limited.
While the technology has evolved a lot in last decade, its use in the Indian banking industry is still at a nascent stage. However, taking a cue from Sophia, the world’s first robotic citizen, we will see more innovation in this area. However, its usage may never be as widespread as AI/RPA.
The first IRA was developed by an Indian start-up. Have there been other vendors since in contention?
HDFC Bank has one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems. Though our Digital Innovation Summit and Accelerator Engagement programs, we are constantly in touch with newer vendors. Since the launch of IRA, we have evaluated multiple providers of robots including global organisations. It must be noted here though that as per our MDs vision, we will be looking at a customised robot (not mass manufactured) and a strong focus on Indian vendors as our contribution to the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. The next generation IRA will be an exclusive HDFC Bank robot, which is made India, using world beating technology.
How do you see the future of banking with increasing levels of automation, robotics and AI – will the human element be altogether eliminated at some future date?
I had written recently that there is no escaping automation and AI. The impact on the service sector will be definitive. Therefore, it is incumbent on digital leaders like us to sensitise our managements on making the transition in a responsible and meaningful manner. Therefore, we will be taking care of the human element from an internal perspective for sure.
From the customer side, the story in a bit complex. Once again drawing on my recent article, we believe that our new customers are DISC – Digitally Native, Intelligent, Social and Connected. Their needs for human interaction are very different from the previous generations’ (more so in the banking context). Therefore, our offerings will get digitised and AI enabled to provide continuous customer delight to this evolving customer.
It is our firm belief that humans will continue to perform complex, high context and creative work. AI/RPA/Automation at HDFC Bank will be used to assist these high performing individuals to provide the best, most consistent, most error free services to our customers, who have come to expect the best from us. We believe that automation will take away drudgery from repeated processes and allow more meaningful exchanges to happen for all our stakeholders.
Rajnish Khare is a senior Banking Professional, having 20 years of experience with HDFC Bank, Citibank, Standard Chartered, Reliance Retail and ICICI Bank. He is currently Head Digital Transformation, Social Business & New Media and Mobility Banking and is responsible for Digital, Social & Mobility Strategy for HDFC bank and inculcating innovation as a culture and using innovation as a strategic differentiator to gain leadership position in chosen markets. The views expressed in this interview are strictly personal.
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