August 7, 2022

A Russian A.T.M. With an Ear for the Truth

Consumers with no previous relationship with the bank could talk to the machine to apply for a credit card, with no human intervention required on the bank’s end.

The machine scans a passport, records fingerprints and takes a three-dimensional scan for facial recognition. And it uses voice-analysis software to help assess whether the person is truthfully answering questions that include “Are you employed?” and “At this moment, do you have any other outstanding loans?”

The voice-analysis system was developed by the Speech Technology Center, a company whose other big clients include the Federal Security Service — the Russian domestic intelligence agency descended from the Soviet K.G.B.

Dmitri V. Dyrmovsky, director of the center’s Moscow offices, said the new system was designed in part by sampling Russian law enforcement databases of recorded voices of people found to be lying during police interrogations.

The big bank involved, Sberbank, whose majority owner is the Russian government, said it intended to install the new machines in malls and bank branches around the country eventually, but had not yet scheduled the rollout. Technology consultants say the machines, if they go into commercial use, would be the banking world’s first use of voice analysis in A.T.M.’s.

While Sberbank’s technology might strike Westerners as too intrusive, many Russians already assume the government can watch or listen to them when it chooses to. Sberbank executives said the new A.T.M.’s would adhere to Russian privacy laws.

It was the global financial crisis, partly prompted by loans that people could not or would not repay, that prompted Sberbank to tap Russia’s national security experts as it set out to automate most banking activities, said Victor M. Orlovsky, a senior vice president for technology at the bank.

The software detects nervousness or emotional distress, possible indications that a credit applicant is dissembling. That information, Mr. Orlovsky said, would be used in combination with other data, including credit history.

Sberbank is hardly alone in looking over the horizon at new types of banking automation.

Deutsche Bank and Citigroup, for example, are testing futuristic technologies in a handful of bank branches in Berlin, New York and Tokyo. Those banks say their efforts focus on new types of interactive displays and touch-screen terminals, such as a table top made by Microsoft that senses documents and other items placed on it.

And credit approvals by A.T.M. are already a fact of financial life in Turkey, for one, where the bank machines are helping fuel a consumer credit boom that some analysts fear could spiral into a debt crisis.

But Sberbank may be unique so far in trying to turn A.T.M.’s into truth machines.

“We don’t know of any major U.S. financial institutions doing things along those lines, such as trying to gauge whether somebody is lying,” Daniel Wiegand, a senior analyst at Corporate Insight, a company that consults with banks on consumer technology, said in a telephone interview.

A prototype of the machine is on display at Sberbank’s Branch of the Future laboratory in a nondescript office building above a Moscow subway station.

The lab bristles with biometric surveillance technology. When a person walks in, a facial-recognition camera takes note, and an artificial voice cheerily greets known customers. Or, more often, it utters a glum, “Hello, you are not registered,” because only a few of the lab’s staff members have had their faces scanned so far.

Sberbank says that to comply with the part of the privacy law that would prohibit a company from keeping a database of customers’ voice signatures, the bank plans to store customers’ voice prints on chips contained in their credit cards.

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