The Customer Effect

How banks are using virtual reality

  • BNP has introduced virtual reality right into a mobile banking app
  • Wells Fargo and Citibank are using VR in their marketing schemes, to develop customer relationships with their brands
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How banks are using virtual reality

Virtual reality has emerged as a hot topic in banking with the rise of artificial intelligence, innovation labs, and the death of the physical bank branch. There’s a way to tap into the mind of the customer through VR, but how it should fit into the business is still a mystery for most.

Venture capital funding in VR totaled $2 billion from 2015-2016, according to Digi-Capital and revenue from VR is expected to hit $162 billion or more by 2020 from $5.2 billion in 2016, according to IDC Research.

It’s still early for banks interested in bringing VR into their business. And like any new technology, VR is going to face some opposition before it’s more widely adopted across financial services. Just because banks can use it, doesn’t mean they should use it everywhere, or at all. Banks are experimenting with how to use it, when it’s appropriate, and who their partners will be. One thing is for certain, though: if customers like it, banks will want it.

“Banking customers have rarely seen a channel or a way to interact with a bank that they didn’t like,” said Raja Bose, global retail banking consulting leader at Genpact. “Branches, contact centers, online, mobile; banks are now letting customers interact with them via social media. The more ways you get consumers to touch their banks the better and there are always going to be some consumers that like it and want to do it.”

However, some banks have dabbled in the technology already. Below are examples of three banks’ brushes with VR.

BNP Paribas
On Tuesday, the French banking giant BNP Paribas introduced a VR-based app for retail banking that allows users to virtually access their account activity and transaction records.

The experiment is perhaps the first to actually touch the financial services parts of banking, unlike the marketing approach banks like Citi and Wells Fargo below use to cultivate their brands.

“Banking concepts and savings and saving for retirement — all this stuff is often very intangible,” Bose said. “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.”

The bank’s real estate arm also partnered with French startup Vectuel & RF Studio to develop “the POD,” a teleportation “capsule” that allows people to step inside and view new apartments and buildings under construction or for sale in three dimensions and in 360 degrees, and move through the journey of a real estate purchase.

BNP did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Citi
Citi has a partnership with Live Nation and NextVR to produce a series of live virtual reality concerts as part of its “Backstage with Citi” initiative, which rewards its cardmembers with such events. In this case, fans are transported with VR headsets to live shows and “backstage experiences” with some of the most popular artists.

It also has a longstanding partnership with NBC and the Today Show where it presents a concert series and did the first ever VR concert livestream on the Today Show.

“We took requests from consumers and had 30,000 requests for VR headsets,” Citi’s chief marketing officer, Jennifer Breithaupt, recently told 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.”

Wells Fargo
Developers at Wells Fargo Digital Labs are working on integrating VR into next-generation financial services. Digital Labs, a 1,700-square-foot facility in San Francisco with virtual reality headsets, high-definition touch screens and video conferencing, was founded almost 10 years ago as an online-only “space” to showcase and demo new technologies for customers, executives and other employees.

Last year, Wells also went on a “Together Experience Mobile Tour,” which hits music festivals, sporting events, pride festivals and other cultural events nationwide. Along the tour the bank allows people to experience memorable and engaging activities, like “Treasure Quest,” a virtual reality challenge that takes users through the brand history of Wells Fargo, beginning in the 1860s. Users are greeted by a virtual banker at the start of their journey and then challenged to Gold Rush-era activities like gold panning. Users are directed to Wells Fargo ATMs throughout the quest and need to complete their challenge to return to modern day.

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