Meet Lakshmi: the country’s first banking robot at City Union Bank

Fascinating story.

City Union Bank is one of the oldest surviving banks in the country.It was established in 1904 in the sleepy town of Kumbhakonam. It was also called as Kumbhakonam Bank before changing its name amidst some mergers.

What is remarkable is that it is the oldest private sector bank in the business. The other older banks like Presidency Banks (Calcutta in 1806, Bombay in 1840 and Madras in 1843; merged into Imperial Bank in 1921 which became SBI in 1955), Allahabad Bank (1865), , Punjab National Bank (1894) became government owned banks.

So to see CUB  have a first customer centric robot in its branches (right now in Just Coimbatore branch) is some homecoming.

Just a few years  ago, use of robots may have seemed to be many years away from reality, but it now appears that we are reaching a tipping point in human-robot collaboration.

Meet Lakshmi, the two-foot robot that is pushing the Kumbakonam-based City Union Bank (CUB) towards a new self-service era. CUB Lakshmi, as it is fondly called in the bank, speaks English, can gesture and engage in conversations. It can interact on more than 125 subjects with customers, and can answer queries around interest rates on loans, checking the account balance and more.

“This artificial intelligence (AI) powered robot will be our first on-site bank helper and answer generic banking-related questions of customers. We felt that in a branch this robot will be in a position to answer basic questions to our customers. Over time, it can support other banking roles with insightful data and analytics, making humans smarter and more efficient in value delivery,” says N Kamakodi, MD and CEO, CUB.

Lakshmi took around six months in the making, and has been customised in Coimbatore to provide basic information about the bank’s history, deposit and lending rates, special schemes and number of branches among other things. Though launched in November last year, the full fledged roll out took a back seat due to the demonetisation drive.

“The first step now is to program the humanoid to greet customers in Tamil. It will also be integrated with the Core Banking System through Application Programming Interface (API) to enable it to do multi-tasking such as providing account details and ordering cheque books,” says Sankaran G, Deputy General Manager, Computer Systems Department, CUB.

A five member team is constantly monitoring the responses from Lakshmi and also working around chatbot among other things.

And what if the question posed to Lakshmi is out of syllabus? “In such a scenario the question is escalated to the manager or the subject matter expert. We will then update and feed it with answers for questions that it has not been able to answer or referred to the manager,” explains Kamakodi.


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