[Future of Plastic Cards] Through human-robot collaboration, Hyundai Card seeks digital transformation
With barista robot and AI-powered assistant, card company pursues work efficiency, human creativity at office
Published : Aug 30, 2020 - 17:50
Updated : Aug 31, 2020 - 17:13
Hyundai Card’s robot barista Billie is a prime example of the credit card company’s drive to speed up its digital transformation. (Hyundai Card)

This is the second installment in a series of articles, interviews and videos assessing the future of credit cards and the challenges ahead. -- Ed.

On the ninth floor of Hyundai Card’s Card Factory, where 5 million plastic credit cards are produced every year, a barista named Billie makes coffee every day.

The machine learning-powered robot, trained by award-winning Korean barista Lee Jong-hoon, has his own employee identification number: 410713.

While the robot brews coffee, human colleagues at the cafe handle tasks behind the checkout counter. All orders can also be processed via a digital kiosk, which enables non-face-to-face transactions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hyundai Card, a local card issuer under Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor, said Billie is a prime example of the company’s digital transformation drive.

“While Billie is in charge of brewing coffee, the other two employees can focus on managing the cafe while making other beverages,” said a Hyundai Card official. “Visitors here can have an indirect experience of the digitalization taking place at the company.”

Billie is not the only example of human-robot collaboration at the card issuer.

Setting up business meetings is often a hassle, as one sometimes has to jump through hoops, asking participants when they’re available and what location is most convenient.

At Hyundai Card, arranging a meeting with multiple participants is a breeze. One can just ask Kono, an artificial intelligence-powered robot. The virtual robot instantly identifies a vacant meeting room and finds the time slot that best suits all participants. How does one ask Kono to do all this? “Write an email,” said an employee.

As robotics technology advances, concerns linger that robots could outperform humans and cost jobs.

But Hyundai Card believes that collaboration between humans and robots will maximize work efficiency and enhance human creativity -- two elements that Vice Chairman and CEO Chung Tae-young is focusing on as part of its corporate growth strategy.

“Here at Hyundai Card, human workers can put more focus on doing tasks that are considered creative thanks to robot employees mainly handling repetitive, dangerous or time-consuming work,” said an official from the card company headquartered in Yeouido, the nation’s financial hub.

In the Robot Room, more than 70 computer systems work relentlessly to process an incredible amount of credit card and customer data. Their job involves, for example, analyzing data regarding new credit card applications and payment transactions.

The workload has been reduced significantly thanks to this mechanized team, which handles the equivalent of 111 human employees working 220,000 hours.

“While robot colleagues carry out highly necessary but simple and repetitive tasks, human workers can put their time and energy into creative projects,” an employee at the Card Factory said.

The Card Factory, whose interior design resembles that of a 19th century factory, has long been equipped with automated solutions that enable human workers to easily monitor and manage credit card manufacturing lines.

“The manufacturing facility is one of the best places to see the human-robot collaboration at Hyundai Card,” said an official from the card firm. “Humans and robots are focusing on what they can do best, respectively, and creating synergy together.”

The whole manufacturing procedure is simple and well organized at the credit card production facility. First, what is called an Auto Picking System picks up a card from a giant wall of credit cards that have yet to be activated. Then it delivers a cartridge of the cards to a conveyor belt, where they have their data chips installed. The cards are then sent to undergo inspection and packaging.

Those automated systems have freed human employees from doing hazardous and mundane work while allowing them to engage in fulfilling activities, according to the card firm.

By Kim Young-won (