You would never walk into a bank branch with wild animals strolling around. J.P. Morgan opened the Onyx Lounge in Decentraland’s Metajuku mall though; in this branch, there’s a portrait of Jamie Dimon on the wall—and a virtual tiger pacing the lobby.
Of course, the Onyx Lounge isn’t a real place—it’s a virtual space in the immersive 3-D virtual world (or game) known as Decentraland, where users interact (via avatars) in real time. Based on the Ethereum blockchain, Decentraland, which is partly user controlled, launched in 2017, and sported a market cap of around $1.3 billion in late January, according to CoinMarketCap.
Why did the bank create this experience? Decentraland is a precursor of the much anticipated metaverse, which J.P. Morgan predicts will be a $1 trillion market opportunity.
What is the metaverse? “It’s an umbrella term to designate how we will experience the internet in the future,” says David Kadio-Morokro, EY Americas financial services innovation leader. “It’s not a place—it’s more a moment in the future where we will experience the internet and the digital world differently.”
In the metaverse, people can collaborate and feel connected no matter where they are in the physical world. People often interact through avatars—animated images that act as their representatives—that walk around and interact with people and items in the metaverse.
To be fully realized, the metaverse will have to leverage a host of innovations (some yet-to-be realized), including decentralized web applications with which users control their data and identity, spatial computing that recreates physical worlds in digital ones, and digital twins that mimic online the actions of human users in remote locations (you raise your hand; your digital twin raises its hand). But some of the necessary technologies aren’t ready yet, and the processing power necessary is enormous.
The metaverse isn’t yet built; it is being built right now, with a lot of experimentation and rival platforms vying to establish dominance. Banks are similarly exploring this new arena—not alone, but in strategic partnerships and joint ventures with tech firms—to understand the possible use cases and help evolve the platforms into true vehicles of economic opportunity.
“Some banks and financial institutions are using their outposts to educate their customers on financial literacy and their products, build that knowledge, and start preparing them for that world of hybrid digital-physical that is coming,” says Kadio-Morokro.
For the time being, banks are focused more on customer engagement. DBS has been active in looking to leverage the metaverse to build community and promote sustainability, explains Lam Chee Kin, group head of legal and compliance at DBS. In 2021, the bank launched LiveBetter, a platform that encourages customers to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle.
Then last year, DBS launched DBS BetterWorld, which also promotes environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts, on the Sandbox. The Sandbox, a subsidiary of Animoca Brands, is a decentralized virtual world in which brands and users purchase plots of “land” to build a unique experience. DBS acquired a 3×3 “plot” (nine virtual units) of land on which it’s developing an interactive experience to promote a more sustainable world. DBS plans to collaborate with the government, communities, businesses and tech.