How HSBC Bank used a smartwatch to boost in-branch customer interaction


As financial institutions adjust to a more digitized marketplace, many companies are tapping the expertise of technology providers to meet the needs of an increasingly tech savvy customer.

HSBC Bank USA N.A. made headlines earlier this year on this front when it became the first U.S. financial institution to bring Pepper, the “social humanoid robot,” to retail banking.

And, as part of the FI’s overall initiative to transform retail banking, HSBC also partnered with Samsung Electronics USA to explore the use of smartwatches in bank branches.

(L-R) Jaime Toplin of Business Insider, Julie Godfrey of
Samsung Electronics America and Jeremy Balkin of HSBC

Representatives of both companies gave an overview of this partnership focusing on a technology that brings smartphone functionality to a wrist watch during the recent Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas.

During a presentation, titled “Samsung & HSBC: Applied Mobile Innovation for the Customer Experience,” Jeremy Balkin, innovation lead at HSBC, said his company has invested $131 million in retail transformation in the U.S. in the last two years. 

Belkin also said that he believes technology can strengthen customer relationships with banks. He foresees smartwatches eventually interacting with Pepper, the robot that  greets visitors at HSBC and answers their basic banking questions. 

Personalization and communication

Balkin said smartwatches can bring a high level of personalization to a bank’s customer interactions, as well as improve communication among employee teams. 

Julie Godfrey, Samsung’s U.S. lead for financial services, concurred, noting that smartwatches can help customers and employees communicate with one another in the bank branch environment. While smartwatches are a consumer technology, “This is truly a business instrument,” she said. “We’ll see data delivered to employees in new ways.”

Godfrey viewed the smartwatch’s benefits on two levels: as a tool for communicating to customers and employees, and as a way for customers and employees to interact within the bank branch. A company, for example, can use a smartwatch to target messages to a specific employee or a customer. Balkin agreed, noting smartwatches can make it easy for branch managers to locate employees in the branch, which can sometimes be difficult.

The smartphone also offers people the ability to access information while performing other tasks, Godfrey said. 

An engagement tool

When a company communicates to a customer in a technology savvy way, she added, it makes the customer feel involved with technology innovation. Balkin added that bank employees similarly can feel empowered by being involved in a technology initiative. 

“Other branches are asking about this, not just in the U.S., but around the world,” Balkin said.

Godfrey also pointed out there are security features built into the technology and that the security is equal to that of smartphones used in government defense agencies.

The topic of appealing to millennials comes up in nearly all technology discussions, and this session followed suit.

Moderator Jaime Toplin, a senior research analyst for payments at Business Insider, said companies today are looking for ways to interact with younger consumers who tend to be more mobile but do not visit bank branches as frequently as their elders.

Branches are here to stay

Underlying the quest for improving communication within the branch is the premise that branches continue to play an important role in banking.

A recent customer survey conducted by Samsung found that customers go to branches when seeking consultative services, Godfrey noted. 

“The bank branch isn’t dead,” Balkin concurred. While millennials go to branches less often than other customers, they still patronize branches. 

For financial/technology partnerships to succeed, Balkin said both parties need to have visionary leaders and dedicated teams. With the right partner, he said, anything is possible.

Godfrey commended HSBC for its transparency in the process, noting there was ongoing communication between the partners.

“We want to make customers fall in love with banking again,” Balkin said.

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

How HSBC Bank used a smartwatch to boost in-branch customer interaction