China Guangfa Bank goes 'intelligent'
Updated: 2012-08-04 17:33
BEIJING -- When a customer fumbled with a "touch-and-go" machine at a bank in downtown Beijing, a smiling receptionist jokingly asked him if he was a spy.
"You must be an employee from another bank trying to study our intelligent banking services," said Wang Xi, an account manager at a local branch of China Guangfa Bank.
The services Wang referred to consist of a set of electronic devices installed in the bank, including the "touch-and-go" device, a massive touchscreen that allows customers to peruse different banking services by swiping their fingers across its surface.
An information application desk allows customers to fill in electronic forms required for banking services by using a touchscreen, rather than old-fashioned pen and paper.
Wang's bank is the first and only "intelligent bank" in Beijing, having opened just last month. Similar bank branches are on the way, Wang said.
Yang Xia, an employee at the bank's headquarters, said the bank aims to set up 16 "intelligent" branches in major cities nationwide by the end of the year, mainly in areas with large residential communities.
Dong Jianyue, board chairman of CGB, did not disclose the cost of setting up the branches, but claimed that an amount equal to three employees' annual salaries would cover the cost.
Although Wang runs into the occasional "spy", she said the machines have yet to catch on with most customers.
A young woman surnamed Xu ignored the screens upon entering the bank, proceeding directly to a teller instead. When asked if she had heard of the intelligent banking services, she seemed confused.
"I am accustomed to face-to-face service," Xu told Xinhua, "I would worry about the machines leaking my personal information."
"The service is relatively new," Yang said, "I think people will become more familiar with it after our promotional campaigns."
A report from the Beijing Consumer Association said 70 percent of surveyed bank customers believe waiting times are too long.
"Our new banking service can save clients from fiddling in front of a crowded counter," said Yang, who compared the significance of the service to that of the invention of the ATM.
The concept of smart banking was first introduced on the Chinese mainland by Citibank. It opened its first smart bank branch in Shanghai in November 2009. Citibank now has 24 smart banking outlets in 13 cities across China.
These outlets feature full wireless Internet coverage, as well as interactive touchscreens that allow customers to obtain information about Citibank and get advice from consultants via real-time video feeds.
CGB is not the only domestic bank to combine traditional services with cutting-edge technology. The Bank of Communications recently unveiled its "iTM" in Shanghai, a device that allows for long-distance video chat sessions between clients and consultants.
The increasing application of technology has raised concerns about the machines eventually replacing bank staff. Dong said only about a third of traditional bank employees are qualified to work in smart banks.
But Wang doesn't seem to be worried about her future job prospects.
"The leftover staff will be sent to newly opened branches, since our smart banking services are expanding," she said.
A recent report by the China Banking Association noted that Chinese banks are increasingly turning to information services and predicted that electronic banking will only expand in China in the future.