From real to virtual, insurance and banking set foot in the metaverse

The movement is timid but very real. The world of insurance and finance is starting to take an interest in the subject of the metaverse, this virtual space connected to the Internet, straight out of the world of online games (Second Life, Minecraft, Roblox and other Fortnite), a market of some 300 billion dollars!

The insurer AXA France is undoubtedly the first insurer to take the plunge in Europe. He has thus just acquired a “plot” (right to use a digital place) on the SandBox platform. This mobile game publisher, based in Hong Kong and created by two Frenchmen, very quickly understood the potential interest of the metaverse, well before the announcement, last fall, of Facebook’s strategic shift towards the metaverse, causing a slew of projects all over the world.

“We are fundamentally focused on innovation and our intuition commands us to experiment with this new field of innovation”, sums up David Guillot de Suduiraut, Director of Transformation and Technologies at AXA France. The manager remembers the first steps of remote working, just a few years ago, with new digital tools and how today it has become a common, essential way of working.

“When we observe today the world of gaming on these platforms where many interactions take place with a multitude of players, and on which external brands are starting to arrive, we think that there are a lot of interesting things will come out”, he argues. He remarks in passing that since the smartphone, private uses are essential in the business world, and no longer the reverse.

Internal use cases

This obviously raises the question of the use cases of the metaverse in insurance. For AXA France, these practices will initially be internal. First of all, it will be a question of using the metaverse to animate its large Tech community within the group – around 2,000 people soon to be joined by 780 digital recruitments planned for this year. That “so that people can no longer meet on Teams but also in virtual 3D spaces where everyone will have their avatar to attend conferences of 30 or 100 people or switch to a more restricted meeting in a few clicks”, imagine David Guillot de Suduiraut. In fact, the metaverse could be a kind of extension of remote work, in addition to fun.

“The second theme that will be addressed is that of training, which has already been greatly digitized, like our Climate Academy program, which is entirely provided digitally. There is certainly the possibility of providing training in the metaverse,” continues the innovation manager, also a member of the executive committee of AXA France.

Moreover, these training courses will increasingly be able to draw inspiration from the gaming or the practice of dojos, where groups of developers challenge each other to solve a problem.

First steps towards the virtual agency

At the same time, certain initiatives are beginning to explore the terrain of customer relations, such as the major distributors or luxury brands that are setting up in the metaverse. Thus a general agent and a provident agent of the group are experimenting with the concept of the virtual agency, with making appointments in the metaverse. One of the two is also a gaming enthusiast and an active member of the Low-Code/No Code communities (developing applications without knowing coding) and knows customers who share the same passions.

The virtual agency is the path taken by one of the (very) rare insurers also present in the metaverse, the Korean Heungkuk Life Insurance, which joined the working group on the subject, created last year at the initiative of the Ministry of information science and technology. The idea is to allow a client to consult a virtual agency using a virtual reality headset.

And for insurance applications? “It’s a bit too early to tell. You will probably be able to use these virtual spaces to ensure the real world, and this is already happening, particularly in South Korea and in experiments with two of our agents. It will be like an extension of the use of digital. It will probably then be necessary to consider insuring the virtual goods. Today, we don’t have an answer and there is no demand either.”says David Guillot de Suduiraut.

Too risky to be insured?

Meta-insurance is therefore not for tomorrow. However, there is already an explosion in the prices of goods, which therefore deserve to be insured, whether it is cryptocurrencies, NFTs or even virtual real estate. Some estimates predict a market in the metaverse of 500 to 1,000 billion dollars within five years!

“These parallel universes have their own singularities, at the heart of which are digital identities and assets. However, these assets precisely raise major difficulties for insurers, starting with Ihe notions of responsibility and ownership that NFTs and the blockchain will not necessarily be able to fully understand. The volatility of the value of these assets is another subject, particularly for compensation in the event of a claim,” asks Florence Tondu-Mélique, CEO of Zurich France.

In the end, for the leader, the observation is clear today: “these new worlds are too nascent to be assured”. Without closing the door. “Once the risks have been identified and evolved upstream, metaverses could become the first universes “insured by design” emphasizes Florence Tondu-Mélique. The insurance of tomorrow will in any case have to adapt, in one way to another, to the hyper-digitalization of our daily lives.

missing link

Banking and finance are also gradually embarking on the adventure. Steps counted. “Banking experiences in the metaverse remain the exception and are today above all a matter of communication logic”, believes Nosing Doeuk, partner at mc2i, which has just published a study on the evolution of banking practices.

But, he points out, “Use cases are on the horizon, in particular to recreate proximity in an increasingly digitized world. The metaverse could thus be the missing link between traditional network banking and 100% digital banking. 70% of the customers we surveyed want to find a balance between remote banking and the relationship with an adviser”.

Imagin, the subsidiary of CaixaBank, specializing in digital services and targeting connected youth, has just achieved a nice publicity stunt with the opening of a virtual “café” on the Decentraland platform, a 3D carbon copy of its ImaginCafé opened in the center of Barcelona. A first for a fintech in Europe.

Virtual concert for connected youth

The opening of the space on April 8 was accompanied by a concert recorded in 360 degrees, and broadcast live in the virtual universe. Then, Imagin’s client “avatars” will be able to access content mainly related to culture (concerts, exhibitions), provided that they are equipped, in particular with a virtual headset! CaixaBank’s idea is clearly to mark the occasion, and without offering financial services in virtual mode, is to attract new customers by promoting its “young” brand in passing.

For its part, JP Morgan is more discreet. But the opening of a “living room” in the virtual world of Decentraland, under its brand dedicated to Onyx cryptos, was accompanied by the publication of a kind of manifesto on all the opportunities to come from the metaverse. Because JP Morgan is also an investment bank and it must show all its clients that it has expertise in these emerging topics, including on blockchain or cryptoassets. A matter of credibility. Especially since the first investment funds, with the metaverse as a theme, are beginning to arrive on the market, like AXA IM. The HSBC group has also acquired a plot in Sandbox, without however specifying its plans.

Parallel economy

In its document, JP Morgan points out that the success of the metaverse “depends on the existence of a robust and flexible financial ecosystem that will allow users to connect seamlessly between the physical and virtual worlds. Our approach to payments and financial infrastructure will allow this interoperability to grow.”

“The metaverse which is a virtual environment, with a population, money circulating, generally in the form of cryptocurrencies, an economy which develops on the basis of assets… So there are all the conditions to duplicate a market economy and as such the banks will have all their places, particularly in the management of payments”says Nosing Doeuk.

It is therefore no coincidence that all the payment giants are already present in the metaverse, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal Visa or Mastercard, not to mention crypto exchange platforms or crypto wallets. Visa and Mastercard are thus multiplying projects and requests for approval, with the aim of being a player in the exchange of digital assets or simply ensuring the processing of payment cards in the metaverse.

The emergence of this parallel economy is far from being a shared idea. Many banks are still far from being convinced of the interest of the metaverse. On her blog, Anne Boden, the widely followed and listened to boss of the neobank Starling, expresses serious doubts: “it is always easier to ensure human contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via a mobile application! “.