The banking world is not fun. It's complicated and boring, built on numbers and math — topics that typically turn off most consumers. But does virtual reality have the potential to bring some excitement, energy and entertainment to this otherwise sleepy industry?
When you think of “virtual reality,” most people think of immersive, interactive 3D video games — not banking. But can financial institutions tap VR to create a memorable and engaging banking experience, one that truly immerse people in their financial lives? Virtual reality could be used to turn uninspiring numbers and dry concepts into a more rich and meaningful experience, using vivid imagery to engage both the left- and right sides of their brains.
A handful of banks and credit unions are already pioneering tests with this emerging technology. They are creating VR apps that showcase their digital banking solutions in artificial 3D environments. Some are creating tools to help people manage their finances. And others are using virtual reality as a marketing tool to generate PR buzz.
“Banking concepts and savings and saving for retirement — all this stuff is often very intangible,” explains Raja Bose, a Partner with Genpact. “You’re not buying anything, you’re not walking out of a branch holding something. To some extent VR becomes a way of helping customers get a little more tangibility. Virtualizing is a good tool for visualizing data. If you can come up with a way of showing how the $100 you save today turns into a big pile of money in 20 years it might make it easier for people to grasp the concept.”
What about branches? Could virtual reality experiences finally kill the brick-and-mortar channel for good? It’s possible — not necessarily likely or probable, but certainly feasible. From a purely rational perspective, there is virtually (pun intended) nothing a consumer needs to discuss or do that involves their financial institution that couldn’t be accomplished within a VR environment… that is, at least in theory. Of course, the exact same thing could be said for two-way video chat, where no synthetic VR teller or service agent would be needed. But the real promise of VR banking lies in the ability to create an AI-powered avatar that guides customers and answers their questions, thereby removing the human element (and its associated costs).
Whether VR will ever be a replacement for the face-to-face interactions consumers say they still crave with their banking providers remains to be seen. There would be many technological hurdles to overcome, not to mention consumers’ level of comfort (or lack thereof) conducting intimate financial business in such a strange environment. And there are plenty of people — both in banking and the VR industry — who think the notion of visiting a virtual reality branch is utterly ludicrous.
Any notions of VR in banking are most certainly still in their infancy, and clearly there’s a long way to go before any applications might become truly mainstream (if ever). Nevertheless, here are some of the ways in which retail financial institutions around the world are experimenting with virtual reality.
1. BNP Paribas – VR Banking Apps
In June 2017, BNP Paribas introduced a virtual reality app allowing retail banking users to access their account activity and transaction records in a VR environment, and a separate app giving a guided tour of steps involved with buying a home.
In addition to the app, the real estate arm of BNP Paribas partnered with a French startup to develop “the POD,” a VR “experience capsule” which aims to help real estate investors visualize their projects by offering virtual tours of the properties, some of which are still under construction.
And as part of its longstanding commitment to tennis, BNP Paribas also created a VR experience for the French Open. The “We Are Tennis Virtual Reality Challenge” gave tennis fans the chance to improve their tennis skills using a virtual game. Thanks to the software, people could perfect their passing shot before taking it to the court.
2. Citi – VR Concerts
Citi partnered with Live Nation and NextVR to produce a series of live virtual reality concerts as part of its “Backstage with Citi” initiative, a program that rewards select cardmembers with special events. Fans were able to enjoy live shows and virtual “backstage experiences” with popular artists using VR headsets. Citi also held the first ever VR concert livestream on the Today Show.
“We took requests from consumers and had 30,000 requests for VR headsets,” explained Jennifer Breithaupt, Citi’s CMO, in an interview with Tearsheet. “We gave those away and people were able to experience that show live from Rockefeller Plaza but also experience it from home as if they were there.”
3. Commonwealth Bank – VR Innovation Lab
Commonwealth Bank, one of the largest institutions in Australia, built what they call a “Virtual Reality Workplace Experience.”
After you download their app from the Apple store, you’re invited to lead a project team in the virtual Innovation Lab. Your assignment? To develop an app for the bank’s business customers. You are faced with a series of challenges based on the bank’s five values: Service, Collaboration, Integrity, Accountability and Excellence.
The bank’s VR begins with you in a CBA innovation lab. There, a CBA colleague tells you the bank is interested in building an app that would allow people to process invoices, so paper invoices are no longer needed. From there, you are introduced to a small team you’ll run that includes a developer, an analyst and a marketer. In the experience, a series of challenges arise, and you are asked to make tough decisions, which have corresponding benefits and consequences.
The goal is two-fold: To give you a clear insight into the culture of CBA and the projects their employees take on, as well as the app itself showing off the type of innovative and agile thinking that happens within the bank’s workforce.
The initial experiment proved popular, so they built a virtual reality app that pairs with Google Cardboard and released it publicly.
4. Bank of Kuwait – ‘Branch of the Future’ VR Design
A consultant working for the bank developed a 3D virtual tour of the bank’s “branch of the future” concepts. While using 3D video to help executives visualize a new branch experience is nothing new, this bank used virtual reality to help them set their design strategy.
First the consultant surveyed the bank’s entire leadership team to gather input, ideas and insights — what did they want to consider as potential elements that they could incorporate into their new “branch of the future” model? Then the consultant turned all the suggestions into VR vignettes, allowing everyone to tangibly visualize how the experience might be shaped and impacted by each proposed idea. This yielded robust feedback, fueling the kind of strategic discussions and design clarity few institutions could ever hope to achieve.
5. GTE Financial – Virtual 3D Service & Educational Center
Back in 2015, GTE Financial, one of Florida’s largest credit unions, launched its newest “GTE 3D,” allowing users to “experience and access GTE’s financial services and expert guides.”
The virtual world, accessible via desktop computers, allows users to create an avatar and then explore ten different GTE services and products — auto and home loans, investments, insurance and financial literacy information —within a virtual Community Financial Center. Visitors can apply for membership, open an account and apply for loans. The GTE 3D auditorium offers live events, seminars, webinars and other content as well as on an on-demand basis. Visitors can also download content from the library.
Live chat is available with GTE staff, what they call “Virtual Advocates,” who can respond to questions and help direct visitors through the experience. Visitors can converse and even exchange business cards with others who are logged into GTE 3D.
As GTE 3D becomes familiar with visitors, it can follow up with them to provide additional information on their individual interests
At the time this article was published, the 3D experience was still up and running.
6. Wells Fargo – Virtual Maze Community Marketing
Wells Fargo’s “Together Experience” tour gave consumers the opportunity to test drive the latest technology from Oculus while also trying out a WizDish omnidirectional treadmill. Participants were challenged to navigate a “Virtual Maze Challenge” and collect as many gold coins as possible before the game ended.
“The primary purpose is branding and getting Wells Fargo out there in a new and different and fun way,” Jennifer Copeland, VP and Experiential Marketing Manager at Wells Fargo, told American Banker. “It allows us to show we are part of the community — that there’s more to us than financial products. We are able to show people a good time.”
The WizDish ROVR is an “omnidirectional locomotion platform” designed to enhance VR immersion and simulate a believable experience when navigating virtual worlds. Offering 360 degrees of unconstrained movement, it creates a profoundly natural and immersive VR experience.
7. Hatton National Bank – Digital Banking Experience
Hatton National Bank in Sri Lanka created an immersive brand experience using the Oculus Rift system. Their “New World Banking” project aimed aims to build awareness about the bank’s array of digital and mobile banking products.
This may feel a little gimmicky, but remember: the bank is asking people to learn about something they usually regard as very dull. At least the bank is making an effort to make the learning experience more fun and engaging.
8. Citi – Holographic Workstation for Financial Trading
Citi explored opportunities to increase trader efficiency using a 2D-3D holographic workflow combining voice, gaze, and gesture input with visual design using depth space and Z-axis. The workstation itself is a complex framework that extends information-based computing into mixed reality by integrating 2D screen space; 3D holographic docking space; keyboard, mouse, gaze, gesture and voice input; and the customary trading floor phone systems. The station complements existing Citibank devices and workflows, including traditional news terminals, email, chat, and core components of Citibank’s proprietary trading application.
A combination of 2D and 3D also increases efficiency in extrapolating insights from data. Citibank traders work with hundreds of financial instruments. In the HoloLens workstation, each one is represented by a sphere and is grouped into a color-coded asset class. Sphere volume corresponds to market volume for a particular future, and particle clouds correspond to clusters of trader activity, so a trader can quickly see where the action is in the market, and can zoom in for a closer look.
9. Comarch – Wealth Management VR
While not a bank, the Polish fintech innovator demoed a virtual reality investing app at Finovate in 2016. The mobile app prototype combines financial planning and investment advisory into a single tool, and ties in with a smart watch. Banking data is presented in a reactive 3D environment, and the VR experience offers a personalized newsroom, meetings with advisors, and portfolio overviews.
10. ATB Financial – VR Crowdsourcing Contest
(Note: Technically, this isn’t an example of VR execution, but it’s interesting and noteworthy nonetheless.)
Like many banks and credit unions, ATB Financial isn’t sure if there are any real, practical opportunities for VR in the banking sector. So they went fishing for ideas. They decided to hold a crowdsourcing contest to see how virtual reality might enhance the consumer’s banking experience.
“Although many other industries are looking to adopt VR, the full scope of its potential applications remains unrealized,” ATB said on their contest page. “We are looking to pioneer its use in banking. We want to use VR to enhance the banking experience for customers, and we invite you to tell us how!”
They asked participants to explore areas that represented the most potential — online banking, brick-and-mortar locations, ATMs, or somewhere else? They wanted to know what processes could be replaced or enhanced by VR.
They received a total of 174 submissions. Entries were graded on creativity and clarity, and the top 82 got to divide $1,600 in prize money.