Kinect for Xbox 360, a controller-free, $150 gaming device that allows users to operate their Xbox consoles solely through bodily gestures and voice commands, has made a splash among video game and electronics enthusiasts. But is there a practical application for Kinect outside the gaming world–say, in credit union branches?
The concept isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. Microsoft is warming financial institutions up to the idea of using Kinect in branches to develop hands-free, interactive video marketing tools. In a demo video Microsoft Financial Services posted to Facebook, a man interacts with a large screen inside a bank branch to learn about auto financing, which then directs him to an employee for further discussion.
A Microsoft Xbox 360 spokesperson who asked her name not be used said that while the company had no information to share regarding the use of Kinect in credit union branches, they’re piloting a project this spring that will explore Kinect’s value outside of entertainment. Microsoft is launching a noncommercial Kinect software development kit that will allow academic researchers and enthusiasts to explore the device for potential applications in their respective fields, she said.
Several overseas banks, including the Bank of Moscow, are already utilizing the technology as part of their marketing efforts.
The spokesperson said Kinect’s capabilities include advanced audio, skeletal tracking of persons moving within the Kinect field of view and an XYZ depth camera that measures the distance of objects from the Kinect camera. "We believe the combined creativity of Microsoft and the academic research and enthusiast communities will lead to new experiences that will revolutionize our relationship with computers," she said.
Financial industry analysts expressed mixed feelings about whether Kinect has potential value to credit unions. Celent Senior Analyst Bob Meara said if Kinect made its way into credit union branches, he envisions CUs using it in conjunction with Microsoft Surface, a large multi-touch screen that allows users to manipulate digital content through movement and touch. Several banks, including Royal Bank of Canada, have launched Surface in their branches to provide customers with an interactive banking experience.
But Meara doesn’t foresee credit unions pouncing on Kinect any time soon. He said he’s not aware of any proven market share gains from in-branch, interactive video marketing tools and that credit unions should sooner invest in technologies with known benefits.
"I’m doubtful it will be an impactful investment," Meara said. "Credit unions are challenged with doing more with less, and there are other technologies that have very solid research behind them."
Credit unions are better off investing in mobile, Web and social media channel technology, said Aite Group Senior Analyst Ron Shevlin.
Shevlin also believes using Kinect for in-branch marketing might be cutting-edge, but it won’t promise credit unions a return on investment.
"There’s a coolness factor there, and there’s something to be said for that," Shevlin said. "But the vast majority of credit unions have got to have better things to do with their time and money."
Meara said Kinect would likely only be tapped by a select few credit unions–those ahead of the game in innovation and technology.
"There will be some examples of early movers, but it won’t become commonplace any time soon," Meara said. "It’s an amazing device, but I wonder about its value beyond entertainment."
"Launching something like this in a credit union lobby is going to be expensive," Davis said. "But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be effective. Lobbies are generally kind of boring places, so why not use the space to teach and to excite people?"
With the majority of credit unions looking for ways to attract younger members, could Kinect be a Gen Y magnet? Maybe. Davis said Gen Yers might use educational, in-branch gaming devices if they’re fun and entertaining. But analysts say the primary result of Kinect implementation would be a message to Gen Y that says, "Look at us, we’re tech savvy."
"It communicates that they understand and are willing to try new things," Davis said. "It makes them look professional and modern."
Shevlin added, "If credit unions are truly serious about attracting Gen Y, they have to realize this is a generation that values technology. Implementing game consoles may not attract a million Gen Yers, but it demonstrates that ‘Hey, we’re going to be forward thinking.’ It reinforces the branding effort."
Still, credit unions should have their eyes on other technology investments to impress Gen Y, analysts said, the first being mobile banking technology. Davis pointed out that Gen Y conducts most of its banking on smartphones, not inside branches, meaning that Kinect-powered, interactive animations may not even be seen by the younger generation.
"Mobile banking innovation would win over Gen Y more than a snazzy experience in the branch would," Davis said.
For credit unions considering Kinect as a means to engage their customers on an interactive screen, Shevlin said if the cost were low, it wouldn’t hurt to try. Kinect probably won’t close the sale of a new product, but it would certainly spur interest, he said.
"It’s catching someone’s attention and making them aware of an offer, and in the selling process, awareness is first," Shevlin said. "If it’s cost effective, then sure, put them in and see what happens."