HSBC has begun what it’s calling a first-of-its kind program to bring wearable technology into its bank branches.
The firm is piloting a program where branch bankers wear a watch allowing them to send and receive messages, or speak to colleagues using small microphones.
The pilot is a partnership with Samsung at HSBC’s flagship Fifth Avenue branch in New York City in which HSBC bankers will wear Samsung Gear S3 watches with customised software.
The idea of the program is that it will allow employees at the branch – which has three floors and lots of rooms – to be more productive by improving communication, according to Jeremy Balkin, head of innovation for HSBC’s US unit. Due to the size of the branch, its often hard to know where employees are at any given time and difficult to find them if one of their customers shows up for a meeting, or the front desk needs covering, he said.
Business Insider visited HSBC’s branch last week to check out the new wearable technology.
HSBC worked closely with Samsung to customise the software powering the Gear S3. The devices have preset prompts and replies, making communication as simple as the press of a button.
The watch works as a phone as well as a texting device, so that employees can message each other, or if they need to communicate directly, speak into a small microphone.
Here, employees demonstrate how to use the voice functionality.
The watches use Verizon’s LTE network. Balkin said the bank hasn’t suffered any dead zones or signal outages since beginning the pilot several weeks ago, even though employees’ mobile phones occasionally don’t work.
The hope is that using wearable technology will free branch employees from the traditional model of being tethered to a desk.
The idiosyncrasies of HSBC’s branch challenged the traditional branch model: the space spans three floors, including a basement level, making it difficult for employees to keep track of each other or respond to a call to help a client who has just shown up for a meeting.
Balkin said the bank is testing to see if the technology leads to employee efficiency gains.
While the pilot has narrowly defined what tasks can be accomplished with the watches, employees have been encouraged to submit their own ideas. One idea with a lot of momentum would use the watches to keep track of steps and then design a corporate challenge around the activity. The banker in this photo came up with the idea.
Employees like to joke that the watches make them feel like James Bond, and on a recent weekday, there was a palpable sense of excitement among the branch bankers.
“Technology is a physical representation of our investment in our employees,” Balkin said.
The watches, seen prominently here, elicit questions and interest from customers who are waiting to be served.
The ability to refer customers between bankers is enhanced and customers like knowing that their banker has been contacted and is on his or her way, Balkin said.
The pilot is part of about $US130 million HSBC is spending to transform its US retail banking footprint.
Most of that spending is going toward technology and innovation. An earlier project from this year, which rolled out Pepper the robot into the branch to help customers, just reached its 10,000th customer interaction. Pepper may be able to interact directly with the employees via the watches in future iterations.
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