Xiao Long, the latest employee at the Jiujiang Road branch of the China Construction Bank is never late for work. “Welcome to China Construction Bank,” she chirps to customers arriving at the Shanghai branch, flashing her white teeth. “What can I help you with today?”
Xiao Long, or “Little Dragon”, is not your typical employee – she’s a robot at China’s first fully automated, human-free bank branch.
As guardian of the bank, she talks to customers, takes bank cards and checks accounts (she comes complete with a PIN pad) and can answer basic questions. After a quick initial chat with Xiao Long, customers pass through electronic gates where their faces and ID cards are scanned. On future visits, facial recognition alone is enough to open the gates and call up customer information.
Inside, automated teller machines help with services such as account opening, money transfer and foreign exchange. A second robot waits inside the barriers, and there is a VR room and video-link should customers want to talk to a mortal.
There is also a staggering number of security cameras. I counted eight in the lobby alone, and loitering for too long or pulling out a camera quickly produces a human security guard who has been hiding out of sight.
The bank is rather low on customers, who in the main appear rather ambivalent. One man in his 30s shrugs that he does most of his banking online anyway, and avoids coming into branches – though at least he didn’t have to queue.