Brickell’s newest bank branch employee is not quite human

HSBC customers doing business at the banking giant’s flagship Brickell Avenue branch will now be greeted by a new kind of employee: a robot.

Pepper, an approximately four-foot tall, talking humanoid designed by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, made its debut Thursday in Miami.

While it can perform basic tasks like answer questions about product offerings or make appointments, Pepper’s primary job is to make the branch experience more fun — and get more humans through the door, says Jeremy Balkin, HSBC head of innovation.

“We want people to love banking again,” he said in an interview. “And we want our people to love banking again. Banking’s been through a tough period the last 10 years.”

After the introduction of Pepper in HSBC’s flagship Manhattan branch in June 2018, visits hit record levels; Balkin and his team are hoping for a similar spurt in Miami.

While banking has increasingly gone mobile, Balkin said there are still plenty of customers who don’t bank through an app. Pepper can help teach them, he said. A customer can walk in and, like with Siri, ask Pepper questions about HSBC offerings and services — along with queries about neighborhood services, like the closest coffee shop.

This helps free up regular human branch workers to handle more complex tasks, Balkin said.

Miami is Pepper’s fourth market; besides Manhattan, she also hangs out in Seattle and Beverly Hills. So far, no other bank has deployed a similar technology.

HSBC chose the Magic City for Pepper, Balkin said, because the bank hopes to capitalize on the rising wealth and ties to Latin America. It also wants to attract the area’s rising base of young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs. HSBC now has 16 branches in South Florida.

SoftBank, which developed Pepper in Japan and California, plans to deploy her in a number of other retail settings like malls, said Kass Dawson, global head of marketing communications at SoftBank Robotics in San Francisco, in an interview. And newer versions of Pepper will be able to handle even more complex tasks, like questions about applying for a loan. Dawson did not provide any new information on whether an artificial intelligence hub would be landing in Miami.

One important note: Pepper does not speak Spanish — yet. But it can dance the robot.