By Karen Clark Cole, CEO & Co-Founder of Blink UX
Customer expectations and behaviours in banking have been evolving at a rapid pace in recent years. Daily headlines report on more bank branches shutting, and research shows that around 27% of adults in Britain have launched an account with an online only bank by 2022 – three times higher than in 2019. The pandemic accelerated this digital shift, with the growth of e-commerce and hybrid working profoundly changing the way we work, live and bank.
Now we have the emerging metaverse, an exciting new dimension that promises to revolutionise most industries. A convergence of digital and physical worlds, the metaverse offers huge opportunities for growth, and companies are already starting to stake their claim. Retailers are extending their offering into the metaverse, and we are seeing virtual bank branches and NFT mortgages for virtual real estate springing up in the space. The first major banks that led the way were JP Morgan and HSBC, launching a presence in Decentraland and The Sandbox, respectively.
The metaverse can bring more immersive, gamified experiences that are dynamic and appealing to users. With the need to devise new strategies to thrive in this unchartered new realm, how can traditional banking compete with the influx of fintechs, brands and tech giants (many of whom are entering the baking and payments space) investing in the metaverse?
Understanding the new customer journey
The metaverse market is predicted to grow to a huge $679 billion by 2030 and, while still in its infancy, offers considerable scope to gain early mover advantage. It’s vital to consider how to capitalise on the opportunity to provide enhanced offerings for banking customers, especially since consumer adoption will only increase going forward. Gartner forecasts that, by 2026, a quarter of people will spend one hour per day or more in the metaverse.
Financial institutions not only need to ensure seamless interoperability via multiple digital channels, but also consider how they design the user journey and experience accordingly or risk being left behind. Digital banks are already experimenting with new ways for customers to transact in the metaverse, and a whole new interactive financial ecosystem will emerge. For example, UK fintech Sokin is launching a 3D community of businesses and brands in the metaverse, facilitating e-commerce transactions and a way for brands to grow from bricks and mortar to a new virtual environment.
Many banks are still focusing on sales but this misses the point. To succeed in the new landscape, they need to flip their business models to become customer led. Today’s consumers want self-service via mobile and other channels, convenience, instant support, live communication and experiences that are uniquely tailored to them. They expect financial options to be embedded into whatever platform they are using, with easy access to insurance, loans or investments without cumbersome intermediary steps.
It starts with gaining a deeper knowledge of the target audience through data-led, qualitative research into behaviours and common patterns, to zoom into what really motivates customers and how they engage with products. The metaverse offers more possibilities for personalisation – and that’s where the greatest potential for competitive edge and tangible growth lies. A customer-centric approach opens up avenues for the creation of new products and services, revenue streams and efficiencies.
Becoming customer-centric by design
Customer journey mapping is a critical first step in creating ‘the next best experience’ by understanding user behaviour and needs. It means visualising the process a customer goes through, their goal, the steps they progress through to accomplish it, their emotions throughout each stage, and any pain points. With this information, organisations can significantly improve the user experience, boosting trust, loyalty and customer retention. Much of this depends on how fast banks can digitise.
Designing 3D environments is a new skillset for many, particularly when it comes to harnessing virtual and augmented reality to optimise the experience. For example, despite the onset of digital banking, many people still prefer some degree of a more personal, ‘face-to-face’ interaction, and advancing technologies in the metaverse can enable that higher level of engagement.
Having the right digital infrastructure in place for banks also involves enabling the use of digital currencies and tokens within each metaverse through cryptocurrency wallets and advanced applications. Tapping into AI, ML, Cloud and other next-generation technologies instils more agility when it comes to data analytics, setting the stage for testing new products and refining them based on real time feedback.
The objective is to architect intuitive journeys for customers accessing banking services in the metaverse, demonstrate empathy and understanding, and eschew a one-size-fits-all approach. As the metaverse age dawns, organisations must be quick to innovate to become future-ready and reach their full potential in a fast-changing world. Applying design thinking to the entire product development cycle and putting the customer experience at the heart of every decision is the key to success.