ABN Amro was one of the early pioneers in buying virtual real estate in Second Life, the Internet-based 3D fantasy playground. In 2006, the Dutch bank snapped up a large number of islands and opened a
virtual financial advice centre to interact with the role-playing denizens of the alternate world.
More recently, and in line with other banks like its compatriot
ING, ABN Amro slimmed down its presence and sold off much of its real estate as it came to terms with the limitations imposed on the channel by usability and compliance issues.
Nonetheless, the bank hasn't ditched its ambitions entirely. 3D technology is currently being experimented with as an internal collaboration tool; to organise meetings, as well as for training and simulation purposes.
Externally, the bank expects to take its experiences from Second Life and build virtual applications that can be overlaid to its static Web presence for cross-selling and marketing of financial products online.
interview with online marketing outfit e-consultany, ABN Amro's head of 3D experiences, Popke Rein Munniksma expounds on the "golden business case" for banking in the virtual world: "There is a lot of traffic on ABNAmro.nl but the site is only transaction-based.
So we want to find a way to talk to visitors to the Website. Not everyone will share this vision but it makes sense to talk to customers where they are, before relaying them to other channels such as contact centres."
Munniksma is vague on timeframes, but hopes to have the bank's first virtual application up and running some time in 2009.
This is incremental innovation in action. The rich 3D Web interface promised by Second Life is unlikely to find its way into the mainstream anytime within the next five years. The early hype accompanying the initial rise of Second Life served only to foster
a deeper cynicism for the virtual world experience when it failed to completely live up to expectations. This is a hurdle that will have to be overcome as the technology matures.
The financial services industry is usually chided for its short-termism. But here is a vivid example of a traditional bank making a small downpayment on a possible future and preparing to play the long-game.