Few weeks back I needed to money transfer (from Japan) to a vendor overseas, I went to the bank and smoothly got the job done at their counter, but had to fill the forms manually, something I hate. People who did this in Japan know very well why: every time you make a typo, you are asked to cross-it with two lines, rewrite it, and stamp over it (in Japan, everyone has to carry his or his company stamp, signature are not allowed if you are resident in Japan), or rewrite the whole form. So I asked if there is a better way where I can digitally input the data. (This bank had this system few years back at one of the branches in Tokyo). They told me unfortunately they do not have the system anymore, but they have a better system: I can login to their portal, register my account, input the data related to my money transfer, get a number, bring the number to the counter of ANY of their branches, and the operation will be done smoothly and quickly. I liked the idea and was excited about it especially it is cheaper and you can do it any counter. So I tried it for my next transfer.  By the way, this is one of the Japanese mega banks with branches almost near every station in Tokyo metro area. I will describe my experience, and leave the comments to you.

I went to my desk, filled in all the details in about 10~15 minutes, and got an acknowledgement message with a number and was advised to show this number at the counter after 2 hours of my submission.

After 2 hours, I walked to the closest branch from my office (different from the one I visited for my previous transfer), showed the number, then a nice lady showed me a small room (actually a small box, the size of a public telephone box) and asked me to wait for my turn. I waited there for about 30 minutes until another customer finished and a “vacant” sign showed above the door.

I went in, sat in front of a small screen (in the picture), there is the interphone and message showing: please wait; you will be attended in a moment. I waited for about 15 minutes, and then a lady’s face showed up at the video, asking me to put my account book, and the document I printed under the camera to be scanned. I did not print any document! (I replied) and asked if the number was not enough? She told me she still needs a print and to go and print the document. It was almost closing time for the bank, so she offered to ask the staff at the counter if they can print it. After 15 minutes of waiting, someone came in with a print of the form I filled on their protal 4 hours ago and telling me to make sure to print out beforehand next time. I thanked her, closed the door, and put the print under the camera. She looked at it, typed something at her terminal, then the interrogation began:

  • Why do you need to transfer this amount (it was around 1,200 USD)?
  • What is the relationship with this company?
  • Does it have any link to North Korea, Iran?
  • What is the business of your company (my company uses this bank for over 14 years)
  • Where did the money in your account come from?
  • Why did you withdraw this amount few days ago? And where do you keep it?
  • And all sort of silly questions….


I told the robo-girl, this is a company, it is not an individual, it is not my first time using your bank, and you are not supposed to ask these questions. All I hear every time: sorry, this is the new process.

After the interrogation is over, she goes back to the form and start checking line-by-line:

  • You should not write France (to where the transfer is being done), it should be FR. Please cross, rewrite, and put your stamp on it.
  • You wrote the company name in capital, it should be small letters. Please cross, rewrite, and put your stamp on it.

I ended up crossing and stamping more than what I usually do when I go the counter, but this time in a small cell, facing a poker-faced robo-girl. I amused myself thinking of it as the bank’s approach of RPA (Robotic Process automation), except this is a human-robot.

It took another 5~10 minutes for her to verify all the details, accept the document, and thank me for using their services.

I left my cell grasping for fresh air and trying to find the closest vending machine for a cold drink (luckily they are everywhere in Tokyo), and headed back to my office thinking of my customer experience, and how this bank could make it better.

Here is my taking from this experience:

  1. Although the bank has a good intention from doing this: speed up the process, give a good customer experience, remove few FTE’s (full time employee); unfortunately, they got the exact opposite: a frustrated customer, wasted time to customer, to the person who printed out the document for me, and to the robo-girl. On average, I usually get this operation done in 15~20 minutes, with their new process, I wasted at least 90 minutes.
  2. Digitization and RPA’s, if not done properly, will certainly lead to the exact opposite and can have worse consequences on your business and your customers. A good planning and understanding of customer needs is crucial. Don’t let technology drive your transformation, rather, choose the technology that best fits to your transformation needs and helps you get better. There is no doubt that this bank was sold the idea of a remote assistant first by a technology firm, and then sought an application for it.
  3. Make sure your employees are well trained for new roles, new processes, and for any new customer experience. Changes and transitions are always difficult, especially in a country like Japan where old people are not familiar with technology and still prefer human facing and handholding.
  4. Take a moment and ask feedback from your customer on their experience: how they liked it? What was good and what can be better? How they can improve it?