Before we start, can you tell us more about Gianluca Berghella?
After graduating in Economics and Business, in 1993 I joined the Banking and Insurance division of Datamat Ingegneria dei Sistemi Spa – a well-known ICT consultancy company later acquired by the Finmeccanica group – where I started my journey. I was initially working in operations, and then I started managing organisational consultancy projects, software selection and new systems launch for leading Brokerage Firms, Asset Management and Private Banking institutions. During my activity I have been able to follow and study the whole regulatory, organisational, operational and technological evolution of the national and international markets with regards to the banking, finance and insurance sectors, such as the rise of the Telematic Stock Exchange, the emergence of key areas like asset management, investment funds, trading, risk and compliance as well as the services connected to them. I have therefore developed strategic know-how on the digital transformation and transition processes currently underway.
I was among the creators and founders of Armundia Group in 2007, which I am leading today as President and CEO.
How was the Armundia Group born?
Armundia Group was born in October 2007, in the midst of the great international financial crisis. We were a group of young managers with significant previous experience in leading technological consultancy firms and a considerable amount of expertise on strategic and managerial processes in the banking, finance and insurance sectors. Since then we had a very clear vision of the path of innovation and technological rationalisation to be put forward to the entire sector, and time has proved us right. We now have over 200 professionals and we have just released our new business plan which forecasts doubling the turnover over the next three years, as well as significantly increasing the workforce, and a generational handover strategy that focuses on the value and potential of young talents who have grown in the company.
The banking metaverse is essentially a step beyond internet banking, through which customers can access the same services, but with a more tailored experience supported by enhanced data visualisation. What are other added values beyond the user experience? Banking metaverse will have to answer this question for wider adoption.
The banking metaverse is based on the realistic virtualisation of people, objects and spaces. It goes beyond internet banking, being a digital world built around the customer who doesn’t need to leave his world and his place.
The metaverse offers a different, three-dimensional experience, where both the virtual environment in which the experience takes place – that can increase emotional connection with the customer – and the quantities and modalities of data that can be shared and represented in the most appropriate ways (3D graphics, interactive content, animations, etc.), play pivotal roles.
Looking ahead, the main aim will be to create real virtual bank branches on proprietary, non-decentralized metaverses, but there is a long way to go. Nowadays, banks that want to keep up with technological innovation can leverage the metaverse to strengthen their relationship with the community of customers and followers, bringing new generations closer together and enabling a virtual interpersonal relationship which, although mediated by avatars, can be immediate, interactive, augmented and totally bespoke to enhance the processes of know-your-customer, upselling and cross-selling.
What is the future of digital banking, physical banks and the Metaverse?
We are adamant the future of banking will be increasingly ubiquitous, holistic and hyper-connected, built around customers to offer an increasingly fluid, contextual and personalised banking experience.
Going forward we should then build strategies and infrastructures that blend physical, digital and virtual, leveraging technologies such as AI, blockchain and extended realities. Physical branches will increasingly integrate mobile banking strategies and interactive services through virtual branches on the metaverse.
The human factor will continue to have an important value, especially when it comes to consultancy services. Nevertheless the evolution of increasingly hybrid methods will allow bankers to be extremely flexible on one hand – reaching the customer anywhere at any time – and to be highly performing and clear on the other – offering higher quality services. The metaverse, enabled by the 3D internet and immersive experiences, can be one of the channels through which the bank of the future will “travel”. If regulations evolve at the same pace as technological evolution, a hybrid network will certainly also come into place, with partly physical and partly virtual bank branches on proprietary metaverse platforms.
What are the use cases you aim to achieve?
The metaverse can offer a very large set of new digital experiences to users (consumer or business) for entertainment, shopping and remote collaboration, from the retail sector to tourism, healthcare, industry and luxury. We are focusing on applications for the banking and insurance world, with particular reference to B2B collaboration sessions and virtual environments for B2C consultancy sessions.
What kind of service gaps are you trying to fill by using meta avatars?
Avatars are aliases of the user. This digital alter ego comes from the world of gamification and from this it inherits the so-called “role-playing game”. Let’s not forget that today the main gaming platforms are also hot spots for entertainment and socialisation, as new generations “digitally hang out” in those spaces. Beyond the avatars available, from fixed to customizable characters, from simple to complex and photorealistic avatars up to metahumans, the added value of the avatar is that it allows interaction with the environment, with the objects and with other avatars as they step into the experience. Moving, talking and manipulating 3D models allows you to learn by doing. Hence the experience in the metaverse is never passive, but based on conversation and sharing of ideas, and this has very important implications both personally and professionally.
Why does the banking sector need to embrace the Metaverse?
If it becomes a standard, the metaverse could be a great opportunity for the banking sector. The transition to the 3D internet and the transformation of the customer journey into an increasingly hybrid and visual channel are two challenges that banking ecosystems must take up to keep in line with the current times.
The metaverse is one of the many elements to be taken into consideration within this process, as long as there is a clear top level strategy. Whether we focus on the proprietary metaverse or on decentralised digital worlds, this virtual, persistent and synchronous environment, which can be entered via any device and which truthfully simulates what happens in real time, will potentially allow banks to reach a much wider target and at the same time offer a totally integrated service model to the final customer, based on contextualisation and complete personalisation.
What business opportunities can the metaverse offer to the banks?
We are at an early stage. In order to achieve real business opportunities in the metaverse,banks will need to build an internationally regulated framework to overcome both very fragmented market situations – where crypto-asset suppliers are forced to comply with different laws and authorization procedures according to different countries, which increases costs and hinders the evolution of digital economies and blockchain
infrastructure – and also scams and frauds, which are significantly increasing due to disintermediated processes and lack of regulatory control.
How will the metaverse transform the relationship between banks and their customers?
In the metaverse, the bank-customer relationship will become much more agile, interactive and immersive. 3D environments will integrate with physical branches and internet banking portals to offer new ways of onboarding and consulting.
The differentiating aspect consists in the immersive 3D spaces that surround the customer isolating him from external inputs, thus making the experience even more effective.
Inside, the avatars are not puppets on a stage, but well-identified acting entities: they can move through gestures and eye motions, they can meet the avatars of bankers and operators, talk to them in real time thanks to the spatial audio functions, interact in first-person with digital representations of objects (e.g. 3d models and graphs of wealth held). Virtualization, the simulation and faithful reproduction of the reality, will enhance the one-to-one bank-customer relationship, with digital experiences tailored around the customer, which can be accessed from anywhere and at any time. In a nutshell, the metaverse will allow the bank to be even more present in the daily life of customers, with different levels of immersion that the Artificial Intelligence will help fine-tuning through analysis and interpretation of users’ behaviours and their emotional states. All this must take place while preserving the integrity, security and privacy of all users.
Which are the skills banks will need for their metaverse deployments?
In terms of engagement and involvement within the metaverse experience, the level of gamification likelihood (or otherwise) of avatars, environments and movements will have to be designed in the most appropriate way. Therefore, architects, 3d artists, designers, engineers, computer scientists, developers, privacy and security specialists will be key professionals to build cyber-architectures, 3d assets and multi-sensory, safe and engaging experiences.