What does virtual reality have to do with banking? Virtually everything

When you think virtual reality, you usually think two things: video games or The Matrix.

That is all changing. Virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming, well, a reality.

While video games are still the most common use of the technology, it is appearing in other more accessible realms.

Health sciences

Like other technologies, virtual reality is becoming more affordable. Headsets are now accessible and the applications are increasingly easier to make.

One application that’s being tested is the use of virtual reality to help people manage chronic pain. Researchers are using the technology during treatment to allow patients to focus on an alternate reality instead of the pain. So far, this has led to a reduction in painkillers.

Mainstream Industries

The past decade has taken its toll on mainstream news media, with outlets looking for ways to remain relevant in a highly digital market. Some are turning to emerging technologies like virtual reality for this relevance; just last year the New York Times introduced its first-ever virtual reality article and since then has hired a virtual reality editor for the company.

HBO has gone to great lengths to design virtual reality experiences for Game of Thrones, and movie studios like Legendary are now premiering special trailer-style virtual reality clips through dedicated mobile apps for Google Cardboard. Nearly every company with a tech-savvy marketing team is looking at virtual reality as a marketing tool – McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Dior are just some of the early adopters in this space.

Financial services

Now, it may feel like a stretch that virtual reality could have a place in the financial services industry, but many respected and established commentators are challenging finance industry norms and seeing the value of bringing virtual reality to the sector.

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is using the technology in their app, Face Retirement, created to help young people think about the future of their finances by showing them their own aging face.

By taking a seemingly abstract concept and using virtual reality technology, they hope to get a new generation of clients to think about their actions.

The banks of the future might use virtual reality to create an immersive environment for face-to-face conversations with their customers. Streaming technologies, such as Skype already make this possible, but in a virtual reality environment, products and services could be displayed, as opposed to just being talked about, removing misunderstandings.

Younger customers

Millennials, the pioneers of virtual worlds, will increasingly expect virtual complements for real world products — and vice versa.

While 73% of millennials said they are interested in virtual reality, they don’t necessarily have the spending power to support high-end devices. It is the more mature demographics that have the disposable income to spend $300-500 when the devices become commercially available.

It’s expected that virtual reality platform holders like Facebook, HTC and Sony will initially heavily subsidise their hardware to build up significant market share.

To VR or not to VR

The rate of change from technology has been almost constant for the last 10 years, and it is certainly not going to slow-down anytime soon. Virtual reality capability is only going to develop as processors improve, screen resolution increases and content creators learn to create for the format.

While we will start to see companies dabbling with VR for sales and marketing, the cost of making this available to the consumer is still a consideration. Recent technologies that require users to wear something on their head have not been adopted by the mainstream. For VR technology to be more successful than smart glasses or 3D TV glasses, it might require overcoming a set of behavioural changes.

The dream of being able to teleport anywhere just by donning a pair of goggles might just be a while away yet.

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