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Imagine banking in the metaverse

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The metaverse encompasses a range of digitally enhanced environments, using virtual and augmented reality to create different types of experience for workers and consumers. So, what might a bank look like in the metaverse? And how would it enhance its clients’ experience of banking? Imagin, CaixaBank’s digital services and lifestyle platform, and its imaginLAND, offers a glimpse into a meta future.

To understand why banking in the metaverse makes sense, it’s interesting to look at how – and why – one bank has gone from physical banking, to online, to mobile-only, and finally into the metaverse.

CaixaBank was an early adopter of digitalisation with a slew of initiatives centred on internet and hybrid banking, starting a decade ago. The bank has had a continuous branch upgrade programme, with traditional physical spaces becoming digitally enabled, with bank staff becoming mobile and PC-equipped, and with innovations such as facial recognition ATMs and chatbot assistants.

Extending that digital lead, imagin, CaixaBank’s digital services and lifestyle platform, started life in 2016 as imaginBank, Spain’s first mobile-only bank, providing services exclusively through mobile apps and social networks. Its innovative use of social media for account management and interaction with bank staff, quickly attracted a clientele of almost two million digital natives.

As imaginBank grew, clients, particularly younger clients, asked for more than just a banking app. CaixaBank’s latest innovations in its physical branches with ‘Store’ branches and café-style environments, in which banking mixes with social, artistic events, and shopping, provided some clues about where to go next in the development of a digital twin.

Evolutionary service offering

In 2020, just four years after launch, imaginBank became ‘imagin’, a lifestyle environment or platform that offers digital, financial, and non-financial services that help its users with their daily lives and future projects. A key innovation is that to register as a member of the ‘imagineer’ community, users do not have to apply to become a financial customer. They can join the platform first and benefit both from the financial information it provides and from the digital content that it provides in terms of music, video games, technology shopping, sustainability information and advice, and solidarity.

Following this process, over the past years, imagin has reached agreements to offer special experiences and benefits integrated into the app with partners such as Booking, Nike, eDreams, Drivo, Rentalcars, TUI, and Zalando, among others. Furthermore, imagin has integrated start-up technologies such as Earthly into its platform to help users offset their CO2 emissions, and Bankify, the “Like&Share” social component that encourages imagineers' interaction with the content available in the app, as well as interaction between different community users.

If users choose to register as banking clients, then the imagin application provides a range of financial products to cover the savings and financing needs of young people, as they transition into adulthood and start to have their own income and their own lifestyle projects. From imaginBank’s 1.5 million users, imagin now has more than 3.7 million.

Going virtual

According to Gartner, 25% of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse by 2026 for work, shopping, education, social and/or entertainment, and by 2026, 30% of the organisations in the world will have products and services ready for the metaverse.

It is therefore a natural step to take the idea of a broader ecosystem centred on finance and accessed through purely digital devices and apps, and enhance that digital offering by entering the metaverse.

And so imagin now offers a doorway into imaginLAND, initially with the virtual version of imaginCafé, imagin’s physical space in downtown Barcelona, where users can access content linked to culture, creativity, technology, and sustainability.

25% of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse by 2026 for work, shopping, education, social and/or entertainment, and by 2026, 30% of the organisations in the world will have products and services ready for the metaverse

The metaverse version of imaginCafé, modelled in 3D, is in the virtual platform Decentraland in Forrest Plaza (plot 8.68), one of its busiest districts, and users are able to enter through their digital devices using a link or QR code. Its launch was marked by an inaugural concert by the Spanish group Marlon, recorded with sophisticated 360° technology and 3D modelling, allowing users to have a fully immersive experience, viewed using virtual reality headsets, from being in the audience, to backstage, and even on stage.

In addition to the experimental space in Decentraland, imagin also acquired a virtual plot in the augmented reality platform OVR, in which it has also set up a virtual version of its imaginCafé. By creating imaginLAND, imagin becomes the first European fintech company with an active presence in the virtual world.

Moreover, to further boost the relationship between the physical space and the digital and virtual environments, imaginCafé will feature a corner in its physical space dedicated to the metaverse, where all visitors can enjoy the imaginLAND experience through virtual reality headsets. Additionally, imagin's digital channels and social networks will continue to share imaginCafé's contents, both in its physical and virtual versions.

The future today

It took the internet at least 15 years to dramatically reshape banking. It took mobile phones less than half that. And so it is reasonable to think that VR- and AR-enabled banking will develop faster still.

One recent study found that 7% of bankers believe that customers will use augmented reality and virtual reality as an alternative channel for transactions by 2030. There are clearly opportunities for using the metaverse internally, too.

Initiatives like imaginLAND demonstrate the likely evolution of these kinds of functionality. Indeed, they enhance existing banking services, create new ways to more deeply engage with customers, and they allow banks to reach new audiences, especially younger ones. Importantly, these initiatives also allow banks to maintain the kinds of contact other clients require – perhaps through discussing financial planning with a human adviser via an avatar, without the need of a branch visit. imaginLand is a core project for imagin this year and is a testament to imagin’s commitment to continue evolving beyond the boundaries of the physical world. This commitment will be shown with a monthly renewal of content, progressing over the coming months as imagin develops new virtual experiences and services.

In the future, banks operating in the metaverse are likely to use it to invent new products, some of which may be virtual. Virtual real estate in metaverse platforms is tradable and digital assets from cryptocurrencies to NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and tokenised real assets are already creating new markets.

In this sense, one of the services that will be most affected is the payment services. Different metaverses with different currencies will certainly be a challenge for banks as payment intermediaries.

But this is just the beginning. And pioneer institutions, such as CaixaBank, will be the likely beneficiaries of the continuing emergence of a truly phygital world, where reality and virtuality inextricably merge.

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