HSBC tests smartwatches as a way to cut wait times

To sell more smartwatches, Samsung is eyeing the wrists of bank employees. 

The brand inked a deal with HSBC in September to customize 12 Samsung Gear S3 watches for HSBC bankers at the company’s Fifth Avenue branch in New York City. The custom watches were formatted with messaging apps designed to allow bankers to communicate more quickly, cutting down customer wait times. The technology works by sending messages between employees. For instance, the HSBC receptionist will ping a wealth manager once a customer arrives. If he or she is running late, the manager will reply with a pre-written text, letting the greeter offer the client a cup of coffee or inquire about their other accounts.

And as customers are moving increasingly toward digital-banking solutions — 28 percent of Americans in 2018 used a digital-only bank, according to J.D. Power — there’s more pressure on physical bank branches to improve customer service. Tackling wait times is a start.

Banks are trying new tactics both in-store and online to both keep current customers and recruit younger savers who may be tempted by the allure of no-fee, digital-only accounts. HSBC earlier this year rolled out the robot Pepper at its flagship location, to in ironic fashion add a “human touch” to banking. And JPMorgan Chase in June went full-bore on digital by creating a digital banking app from the ground-up.

Jeremy Balkin, head of innovation for HSBC, said the pilot program has already reduced wait times at the three-story branch, though he declined to specify by how much. More watches could be on the horizon: Balkin said the pilot has been going well enough to grab the attention of HSBC branches in other epicenters of the financial world, including London and Hong Kong. 

“How can humans and machines not work against each other, but work together, to deliver a superior employee and a superior customer experience?” said Balkin.

The idea is to cut down on the time bank employees run back and forth tracking down clients. Instead, the smartwatches will ideally assist bankers in using their time more efficiently — which ought to cut down on wait times that can be vexing for customers. To protect customer data, the devices aren’t connected to the bank’s wifi, but instead, run off an LTE network, and they’re not plugged into specific customer accounts.

The deal is a leg up for both companies. For Samsung, the deal boosts its smartwatch business. While Samsung is the No. 2 producer of smartwatches globally, trailing only Apple, it trails Apple by quite a lot. In 2017, Samsung sold about 3.6 million smartwatches, down from Apple’s 17.7 million, according to IDC data. Samsung’s pivot toward business-to-business programs is one attempt at making up market share. Samsung began shifting away from its core smartphone business toward the internet of things in 2015, as increasing smartphone competition ate away its market presence.

“Data in the hands of employees means better, faster decision-making and knowing your customers better,” said Julie Godfrey, Samsung’s U.S. lead for finance solutions and innovation. 

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