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Yaroslav Popov

Moscow-based interactive marketing agency Engage (, a member of Digitas network, works with Russia’s Sberbank to modernise everyday banking. Yaroslav Popov, the company’s Managing Director, explains how advanced interactive technology improves customer experience and the perception of the brand.Yaroslav Popov

With 25,000 branches, nearly 300,000 staff and 70 million customers (this equals to half of the Russian population), Sberbank is the biggest bank in Russia and one of the biggest in the world. It’s now also the country’s most popular bank, although this hasn’t always been the case.

Historically, the Russians didn’t trust banks. In the last two decades, we had several banking and financial crises, when people lost their savings every single time. Most, therefore, didn’t keep their money in a bank for any length of time – they would simply go to an ATM as soon as their salary arrived, take the money out and keep it somewhere in their homes. On top of that, even though the Sberbank branches could be found anywhere and everywhere, they were ramshackle, with long queues, rude staff and bureaucratic processes. For most Russians, going to the bank was like going to the doctor – you only went when you had to.

The bank started to modernise in 2008 and, after three years, they reduced the queues by 38%, became the lead card issuer in Europe and invested in new, high-tech branches. Some branches featured 3D face scanning at ATM machines and, in terms of such new technologies, two years ago Sberbank were already way ahead of Europe and perhaps the rest of the world, too. But, although the bank now turns around 80% of all Russian money, the revolution isn’t over and both the bank and the government are continuing to try and position Sberbank as the most modern institution of the Russian economy. To achieve this, further work is required on remodelling the consumer behaviour and improving the customer experience at branch level.

The Office of the Future on Russky Island
By employing the latest in digital technologies, we’ve helped the bank design and create a thoroughly modern branch. Officially called The Office of the Future, it opened in September 2012 on Russky Island in Vladivostok, the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean. At the time the city was hosting the 24th Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the heads of the international delegations, including the United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited the branch before it opened to customers.

The whole concept is based around the customer ‘journey’ (how the customer acts and moves within the branch depending on their needs – for example, the ‘steps’ they ‘take’ when they come in to open an account differ from the steps they take when they just want to make a money transfer), and implements interactive technology to make this ‘journey’ easier and better.

At the beginning of their ‘journey’, what the customer sees even before they walk inside the branch, is a high-resolution interactive video wall displaying Russia’s landscapes of lakes, hills and snow-capped mountains, different time zones and the weather. Against this backdrop, infographics present financial information such as the Central Bank’s exchange rate, the MICEX stock prices and the precious metals rate chart, and the customer can get more detailed information by touching on any of the charts.

When they enter the bank, they are greeted by a touch-screen robot assistant. It’s a terminal that looks a bit like Wall-E from the movie Wall-E: it has eyes, it smiles and shows emotions. Customers can do simple internet banking at this terminal or, for more complex transactions, they get allocated a number in an electronic queue and move to the waiting area.

While waiting, they can sit at interactive multi-touch tables, with an Internet browser, access to Sberbank online and specially created games pointing to a catalogue of Sberbank’s products. For example, there’s a game that takes you travelling and, of course, you will need a credit card, card protection and travel insurance – all these products are integrated into the game, which helps facilitate cross-selling.

When the waiting area screen shows it’s their turn, the customer is directed to another terminal, this one with two interlinked screens. On one screen they carry out transactions, on the other they can see a human assistant who helps them by answering their questions or by showing them remotely which buttons to push. This bank clerk can be based in a call centre anywhere in the world. If this terminal doesn’t fulfil the customer’s needs, they can see a bank clerk within the branch, but the emphasis is on meeting most of their needs with clever, yet still user-friendly, technology.

Happy customers and more cross-selling
By implementing these latest interactive technologies, Sberbank has updated its once-conservative and stuffy image, and brought the customer experience well into the 21st century. Its customers now interact with the bank more openly and more frequently, and have fun doing it. They also buy more financial products from Sberbank, which was the second objective of this exercise – when you already have 70 million customers, it’s not so much about attracting new ones but about increasing cross-selling to the existing ones.

We are now discussing with Sberbank how to roll out the technologies implemented on Russky Island on a larger scale across Russia. Obviously, the investment into this showcase branch was considerable and may not be repeated elsewhere, but we can scale the technologies down to serve the same task: encouraging customer interaction and cross-selling.

Finally, are the Russky Island’s customers happy? The bank certainly thinks so. After all, some of the cameras installed measure their happiness levels.

Yaroslav Popov is MD at Engage (, an interactive marketing agency. Founded in 2010 in Moscow, Russia, and affiliated with the leading international network Digitas, the agency provides a mixture of digital creative, strategy and technology. Its current clients include Nissan, Sberbank, Bayer, Amway and Sanofi Aventis.





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