By Johan Steyn, 22 February 2022
Going to the bank is a phrase we rarely use these days. In a digital world, all banks have been forced on a journey to reinvent themselves to compete as the concept of banking has evolved and to provide a better customer experience to their clients. We prefer that our banks come to us: clients demand ease of use and there should be no reason, ever, to have to go to the bank branch.
The development of the metaverse is the buzzword of our time. Open almost any newspaper or technology blog and you may find a reference to it. The biggest news recently was when the company that owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram rebranded as Meta.
Team Zuckerberg is not the only big name in the metasphere. Microsoft announced the largest acquisition in its history — $68.7bn — with its cash offer for Activision Blizzard — the publisher behind games such as Candy Crush, Call of Duty and Warcraft. It is an astonishing amount of money for a gaming company. Remember that Microsoft “only” paid $8.5bn for Skype in 2011 and $26bn for LinkedIn in 2016.
Neal Stephenson, in his 1992 dystopian science fiction novel Snow Crash, coined the term “metaverse”. After a global financial meltdown, the book relays the story of how large private organisations were running the world. In this imaginary future, the US government surrendered its power to the powerful and the states were no longer united.
The metaverse, which first found its origins in the world of gaming, has become a reality in a large number of industries. It is now possible to trade goods and services in the virtual world. With the use of technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the human race is entering a world previously only imagined. The impact on consumer spending patterns, on commerce and banking is anticipated to be remarkable.
In the recent evolution of technology, we first used devices such as desktop or laptop computers, where we had to be with the device to access it. Smartphones allow us to take our devices wherever we go as long as we carry them in our hands or pockets. Wearable technology means that my smart device is connected to me and interacts with my body.
The next step in our evolutionary process is brain-computer interface technology (BCI) where a smart device is no longer with, or on my body, but inside of me.
According to Futurum Research, over the next decade, 78% of customers intend to use VR or AR technology in a metaverse app to preview the appearance of a product. The challenge is that we still need wearable technology, such as VR headsets and AR glasses to interact in the metasphere. I wonder how BCI technologies will further expand our sojourning in the new meta-world?
As banking and financial services firms embrace the metaverse, we will enter the world of metabanking where I do not go to the bank, but the bank comes to me — to my brain.
• Steyn is chair of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals of SA