Open call to improve the metaverse, the challenge of the future brimming with opportunity

BBVA presented its own virtual space in the metaverse at South Summit; improving it will be the challenge for participants in this year’s BBVA Open Innovation hackathon. Like the bank, a growing number of companies are experimenting with this new technology, one which has become increasingly popular in recent months.

Using virtual reality glasses, the user enters a fictitious city with several buildings, including BBVA’s headquarters, La Vela, displayed through a digital reproduction. The bank unveiled this innovative experience at the South Summit event celebrated in Madrid on 8, 9 and 10 June. Attendees had the opportunity to try out the BBVA Virtual Space in the metaverse over the course of the three-day, world-renowned entrepreneurial industry event for which BBVA is also a Global Partner.

In this immersive experience, co-created with NTT Data, users can access a series of gadgets once they’re inside the BBVA building that mimic their accounts and can even interact with a real bank specialist. The dynamic and ground-breaking project in Spain’s banking sector has been named the ‘BBVA Virtual Space’.

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Like BBVA, many companies are also starting to take an interest in the metaverse and the opportunities it offers, and it was one of the main topics of the presentations and round tables held during the event. In one of them, experts from the banking and legal sector met with technology and design companies to discuss the challenges and opportunities that corporations face in decentralised environments like the metaverse. Saul García Huertes, co-founder and innovation director of StageInHome, introduced the speakers: Álvaro Bourkaib, partner at Cuatrecasas; Clara Pombo, corporate director at Clarke Modet; Iván Moreno, manager of Strategy and Digital Assets at BBVA and Pedro Lozano, co-founder of the metaverse company Imascono.

Moreno explained that brands are learning and understanding the ecosystem. “Let’s not forget that the metaverse is something that we’re all building; we face challenges such as creating specific products or services or developing the relationship with the customer”, said the expert from BBVA.

Another issue of particular concern to companies, how to protect confidentiality, was also discussed. Clara Pombo of Clarke Modet proposed a solution: a central observatory to protect the metaverse. “There will be new brands coexisting with existing brands, all of which have to adapt to stay protected in the metaverse”, Pombo added.

“Let’s not forget that the metaverse is something that we’re all building"

Companies experiment with a developing metaverse

Beyond participation and support at the conferences, South Summit announced news of the BBVA Hackathon 2022, the BBVA Open Innovation competition that will be held on 21, 22 and 23 October both globally and virtually. Participants will tackle the digital transformation challenges that the bank’s business units in Colombia, Spain, Mexico and Peru propose. Specifically, it was announced that the challenge proposed by Spain will be related to this technology: participants will be asked to propose improvements for the BBVA Virtual Space in the metaverse.

For the BBVA Hackathon 2022, selected teams will receive training to better understand how this space is built. The teams will then present their development or business model proposals. The competition is open to Spanish-speaking multidisciplinary professionals from all over the world and pre-registration is already open here. More details on the other challenges will be announced in the coming weeks.

Hackathon BBVA 2022

The challenge of improving the BBVA Virtual Space comes at a time when this new technology is at an early stage of development. Ignacio Romero, director of digital experience at NTT Data, explains that the experience they created together with BBVA that the teams in the competition will work on is in proof-of-concept format.

“The goal has been to create an immersive environment that gives the user the feeling of being at the bank with their manager and the ability to interact with different types of audiovisual content”, says NTT Data’s Romero. However, the experience is still “quite limited, and we’ll be gathering feedback from users”. Romero underscores that the demo presented during the South Summit event is “a starting point full of possibilities”.

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Challenges ahead: experiences, users and hardware accessibility

For now, BBVA is experimenting with all the options the metaverse has to offer. “The bank is studying what type of use makes sense given the number of current metaverse users”, says Ignacio Romero. The first bank to experiment with the metaverse was JPMorgan and other companies in the financial sector have jumped on the bandwagon, attracted by a host of reasons like the interaction with cryptocurrencies.

Ahmed Banafa, professor at California’s San José State University and award-winning author and researcher on digital trends, explains that the metaverse is an advanced version of the internet of things (IoT): “It’s not just the connectivity of electronic devices, but it embraces the human being to impact this form of interconnectedness”. Banafa even predicts the existence of a metaverse of its own for each national government, with countries like South Korea—whose government has invested $177.1 million (around 158.5 million euros)—and Singapore serving as examples.

“Hardware today is expensive and cumbersome, we’re in the 2008 of smartphones in the metaverse”

However, no growth is possible without the development of the right hardware. The experts interviewed agree that virtual reality goggles, specifically their low market penetration, are a barrier to the development of the metaverse. “Hardware today is expensive and uncomfortable, we are in the 2008 of smartphones in the metaverse”, notes Iván Moreno.

Beyond the issue of electronic devices, there is a certain mistrust when it comes to companies: 51% of CEOs think that the metaverse is not likely to be a key technology in the development of their businesses, according to the latest Garner survey published in May 2022.

In this respect, Banafa sees parallels with what happened with the internet. “Few companies had a website six or seven years ago, nor did they think it made sense to even have one; the same thing happened with apps. Companies will see how the big names are opening doors in this world”, the expert says.

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Political and private responsibility for an ethical metaverse

Companies such as Meta, Nvidia, Microsoft and Apple are leading the way in making the metaverse a widespread reality on a par with Web 3.0. NTT Data’s Ignacio Romero sees the presence of these large companies as a positive sign. “The evolution with large companies should be quick”, he says, “and it’s important that the financial sector begins to take a position, although we’re at a very early stage”.

Interoperability, that is, IT systems’ ability to exchange data with each other, is one of the main challenges that the experts mention. “I don’t know if there will be one or many metaverses, but they should be interoperable, that is, I can hop from one to another, and all the assets I’ve grown in one should be compatible with the other”, says BBVA’s Iván Moreno.

“I don’t know if there will be one or many metaverses, but they should be interoperable”

Legislation is another of the pending issues for the successfully turning the metaverse into a reality. The cryptocrash, the collapse of digital currencies, has served as a wake-up call for governments that will have to legislate this reality. To that end, Banafa identifies three key cornerstones for building trust online: security, protection and privacy. “A company will attract customers if it’s able to protect these three values. However, it’s like a chair: if one of the legs breaks, the chair is useless”, he said.

The metaverse is still a project with a lot of room to grow, with all that this entails: overcoming a lack of trust, learning from mistakes and adapting to legislation which, in some cases, is yet to exist. “We’re witnessing the birth of a new technology; it will be a process like the one we experienced in 1996 with the development of the internet”, says Banafa. By 2030, Bloomberg estimates that the metaverse will reach a market value of hundreds of trillions of dollars. Until then, there remains a road full of opportunities ahead.

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