Banking in the age of Metaverse

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The 2020s might be marked as the beginning of metaverse in the future. From Facebook changing its name to Meta to people getting married in it, the metaverse is taking the world one step at a time. So, what is it? Metaverse can be understood as a virtual 3D world designed to facilitate social and business interactions through the means of a virtual “Avatar”. Currently, we see the internet from the outside by surfing through websites, paving games and having video calls, Metaverse enables us to see the internet from the inside.

While it might be easy to dismiss metaverse as another fad, the opportunity cost of this might render current organisations to go obsolete in a dynamic business environment. Metaverse’s core elements, audio and visuals, already exist! Audio and visuals are closely embedded in our day to day lives, and organisations use them to communicate their existence and add value to their products, which are being increasingly commoditised due to globalisation. In short, it is already here with the help of faster internet connectivity, gadgets like VR (Virtual Reality) headsets and pressure-sensitive gloves.

Metaverse’s Core Elements: Audio and Visuals

Developments

Some organisations have already put their “virtual” foot in the metaverse. HSBC Holdings has launched a fund called Metaverse Discretionary Strategy, which focuses investments on the entities building a metaverse ecosystem. American Express has hinted toward providing banking services like ATM and card payments to its customers in Augmented Reality. JPMorgan has taken a leap by setting up a bank or a “lounge” inside Decentraland, a virtual world where people can buy land. Banking in the metaverse is still far away, considering the cost associated with the technology. So, what can banks do now? Instead of looking at it as “banking in the metaverse,” banks could look at “banking with the metaverse.” Banks can “bank” upon the opportunity to build metaverse.

Opportunities

Banks could finance the building of metaverse while expanding their revenue streams. Sandbox and Decentraland, the two largest virtual worlds, saw a total sale of $460 million from 86,000 transactions in 2021, with an average price of $5,300, which is not a small amount. Commercial Real Estate Lending for metaverse could become a significant revenue stream for banks as metaverse grows. In fact, TerraZero Technologies has already started giving out metaverse mortgages. Virtual worlds could partner with banks to provide loans for onboarding more buyers, and banks could further become digital wealth managers for metaverse clients.

Metaverse transactions are expected to be denominated in their own currency, majorly cryptocurrencies. Well established virtual worlds with no geographical restrictions could command their own currency. This would prompt the need for building a new and faster payments structure to facilitate metaverse transactions, an excellent opportunity for banks. It would require a sophisticated payment structure to enable buyers to transact as efficiently as a real-world payments system that usually uses banks’ infrastructure. To extend their offering, wallet and custodian services can also be provided by banks in this domain.

Apart from the opportunities mentioned above in future, one would think, what can banks do now to implement metaverse in their offering? One can answer this simply by stating that all the audio-visual content with a bank could be enhanced with metaverse, but this overshadows the sophistication of this technology.

Elevate the Current Business Processes

Metaverse can enable more “human” Al (Artificial Intelligence) powered bots to act as Advisors and Assistants. UneeQ, an international technology platform focusing on creating “digital humans”, has made digital workers. UneeQ created Nola, a digital shopping assistant for Noel Leeming stores in New Zealand; Rachel, an always-on mortgage advisor and Daniel, a digital double of UBS Chief Economist, who can provide personalised wealth management advice to multiple clients at once. Metaverse can take things one step ahead by making the service more immersive and elevating the customer’s experience. One can also not ignore the opportunity to scale, standardise experiences across branches, and hyper personalise offerings that come with this method of customer engagement.

Agents have dominated customer onboarding even in the age of digitisation and remote mobile onboarding. Branch agents can be seen using the same self-onboarding portals and mobile applications which customers can use themselves. Onboarding with the help of metaverse can improve the onboarding experience for customers and reduce the need for an agent to facilitate the process. Recently, India-based Signzy Technologies has been granted a US (United States) patent for a method to onboard customers in real-time in the metaverse using AR (Augmented Reality) and VR across all devices. This is a solution that banks can utilise with the help of Sigzny.

Metaverse technologies like AR and VR can also be used to train customer-facing staff in a more realistic manner. Medivis is training medical students with the help of Microsoft’s HoloLens by facilitating interactions with 3D models. Bosch and Ford Motors are using Oculus Quest to train technicians on electric vehicle maintenance. This kind of training can test the learners’ skills in specific scenarios and reinforce best practices. The banking sector can delve into these innovations and enable bank employees to learn more effectively while keeping them engaged.

Path towards Metaverse

A leap of faith by banks into the metaverse might not be the right strategy to “bank with the metaverse.” So, how can banks prepare themselves for virtual reality now? They need to look at their business with respect to these four aspects:

Develop Technological Competencies

Financial companies need to recognise the importance of digitising processes and eventually becoming tech companies. Any hesitation in this respect could challenge their competitive position in a highly digitised and globalised environment. Thus, it is crucial for banks to develop a strong IT team and technical competencies.

Adopt a Disruptive Organisational Culture

Adopting a disruptive organisational culture can allow firms to be flexible and adapt to any new trend that might emerge in the market. Such firms would usually aim at transforming the customer experience by bringing new features and solutions to elevate the customer experience.

Agile Attitude toward changing Customer Expectations

Banks can prepare and react promptly by staying alert to changing consumers’ expectations. By being experience centric, banks can get past the legacy mindset and enable quick adaptation to any digital innovation prompted by customers.

Perfect the existing Technology

The success of future technological changes depends on the current level of proficiency with the existing technology. A higher level of perfection with the existing technology can enable a faster and smoother transition to any innovative technology and integration with the current system.

The rate of change in today’s world prompts quick action, and no one would like to lose the metaverse bandwagon as they would have at the birth of the internet. Banks could bridge the online and offline worlds with the help of metaverse instead of setting shop in it. There might be a time when AR and VR equipment would be less of a novelty and more like a tool for quality of life.

(Disclaimer: The author is a Business Consulting Intern in the Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance domain at Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.)