When Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in his 1992 science-fiction novel, Snow Crash, he could hardly have foreseen that the phrase would be everywhere by late 2021. With bigtech giants like Tencent, Meta and Microsoft all making big bets on the metaverse, there is little doubt that the internet is on the verge of an evolutionary leap.
In this new phase of the internet, it will evolve from a disparate collection of sites and apps into a persistent 3D environment where moving from work to a social platform is as simple as walking from the office to the movie theater across the street. Beneath the user experience of inhabiting a digital world with a sense of presence, the next generation of digital technologies make it all possible with a data framework that generates veracity, scarcity, and even trust.
Just like the real world, this virtual world where people can transact and own or lease digital assets will need financial services. Therein lie exciting opportunities for banks to enable payments, investment, insurance and loans in the metaverse economy. But the potential doesn’t end there-the metaverse also offers banks the opportunity to put the humanity back into banking.
In today’s digital world, digital banking is functionally correct but emotionally devoid. Think of when you were a child, and your parents took you to your bank branch to get your first card or savings book. That was an exciting experience that may well have started a lifetime relationship with your personal bank. What will future generations first memories of banking be?
The empathetic and meaningful conversations we had in the past have been lost, along with much of the customer’s trust in banks. In addition to the huge potential for product and service innovation, the metaverse is an opportunity to restore the dialogues that have been lost in digital channels-to create memorable experiences for the next generation of banking customers, many of whom may never need to step into a banking branch in their lives.
Little wonder that banks are excited by the metaverse’s possibility to transform everything from the basics to the future of business. We cannot be certain how this new channel will evolve in the years to come, but few are disputing that the change will be rapid and far-reaching. Banks cannot afford to stand by and watch it unfold; they need to start exploring its potential and getting ready to scale rapidly to create great new customer and employee experiences.
In this guide
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is the next evolution of the internet experience, which enables people to move beyond browsing the web towards participating in or even inhabiting a persistent shared experience that spans the spectrum of our real world to a fully virtual world and in between. Built on technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the blockchain, the metaverse is a place where people can meet and interact, and where digital assets (land, buildings, items, avatars and even names) can be created, bought, and sold. For example, imagine shopping in a 3D retail store, attending a sporting event right at midfield, entering an immersive meeting or conference with co-workers or visiting a financial advisor at a bank branch — without leaving your home.
What defines the metaverse?
As the next evolution of the Internet, the metaverse will be a continuum of rapidly emerging capabilities, use cases, technologies and experiences. We see the metaverse bridging physical and digital identities, properties and spaces, and spanning the full spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities and business models. It applies across all aspects of business, from consumer to worker and across the entire enterprise; from reality to virtual and back; from 2D to 3D; and from cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) to extended reality, blockchain, digital twins, edge technologies and beyond.
Are Web3 and the metaverse the same thing?
The Web3 and the metaverse are not the same thing. Web3 refers to a decentralized internet, one owned and controlled by its users and builders rather than by governments and corporations. It represents the third major evolution of the internet, after the worldwide web (Web1) and the social web (Web2). The metaverse refers to the user experience and new ways of interacting with the Internet, rather than the underlying technical architecture.Web3 is built on distributed technologies like blockchain and decentralized autonomous organizations rather than on centralized servers. It’s about using a network made up of the smartphones in each of our pockets and the PCs on our desks to process transactions and record information rather than relying on servers to do the job. On Web3, you could send a message, for example, without going through WhatsApp’s servers.
According to the Accenture Technology Vision for 2021, 84% of global banking executives agree that the realization of Web3 over the next decade will fundamentally change how businesses engage with users online.
That doesn’t mean Web1 and Web2 will disappear. Web3 protocols and multi-party systems are likely to co-exist alongside centralized platforms in the metaverse. These protocols and systems may play an important role enabling users to own a digital identity (or avatar), exchange digital currencies, own persistent digital items of value such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and bring digital things from one place in the metaverse to another.
Why now? Is there more to the metaverse than hype?
Accenture has been working with clients on metaverse related technologies and capabilities for nearly 15 years, so it’s by no means a futuristic concept. The convergence and maturation of these technologies may bring its full potential to life faster than many people imagine. Things are moving rapidly and banks that are not thinking about their strategy risk falling behind. Those that are thinking big, experimenting on a small scale while getting ready to ramp up at speed, will gain an early advantage that will stand them in good stead in the long run.What is new about the metaverse is how its building blocks are being combined to create a new, more immersive internet experience than was previously possible. These building blocks Include:
- Converging device technologies
- Digital identity technology
- Multiparty systems and distributed computing technologies
- Abundant computing power
- Emerging protocols and standards
- Rapidly expanding bandwidth
The building blocks are at different levels of maturity, but we are seeing rapid advances in even the least mature of them. VR headsets, for instance, are following the same path to commoditization and miniaturization as we saw unfold in the smartphone market. A full Oculus Rift VR system cost $800 in 2016; today, Meta offers the far more streamlined, all-in-one Quest 2 headset for $299.
That said, the evolution of the metaverse is likely to unfold over at least five to 10 years. In addition to the remaining technology barriers, organizations will need to address standards for interoperability between platforms; regulations and ethical concerns around data privacy, fraud and IP ownership; and the need for high-quality content and experiences.
To learn more, we recommend exploring these resources:
To discuss how Accenture can help you respond to the opportunities presented by banking in the metaverse, please get in touch.
Originally published at https://bankingblog.accenture.com on April 20, 2022.
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