Germany's Wirecard Bank has become the latest financial services firm to establish a virtual branch in 3D online universe Second Life and says it also plans to set up shop in science fiction game Entropia Universe.
The bank, which is the the first German financial services firm to establish operations in Second Life, says its cyber branch will be staffed with specially trained personnel which will be represented by avatars.
Wirecard says customers will be able to access its payment services via Second Life.
Commenting on the move into the virtual world, Burkhard Ley, CFO of the Wirecard, says: "The intelligent link between technology and banking services is an objective that has been pursued by Wirecard Bank from the outset. To reinforce this strategic positioning on the market, the commitment to Second Life represents a logical step as far as we are concerned."
Wirecard says its commitment to Second Life in not "an isolated step" and it is also "positioning itself" to open a virtual branch in Entropia Universe - an online role-playing game that has a real world cash economy.
In March Danish online investment bank Saxo said it was setting up shop in Second Life and planned to offer residents the ability to manage real life portfolios from within the virtual universe. Dutch banks ABN Amro and ING have also ventured into the cyber world.
Meanwhile MindArk, the company behind Entropia Universe, has completed an auction of five virtual banking licences that allow firms to set up real world banking systems in the universe. The five licenses sold for $404,000 to a mix of firms, Entropia celebrities, and entrepreneurs, including Russian Internet payment provider Moneta.ru.
In a separate move IBM - which already runs an operation in Second Life that is run by 4000 employees - says it is establishing a new virtual business centre in the universe where IBM sales people, clients and partners can meet, collaborate and conduct business together.
The centre has been developed in partnership with NMC Virtual Worlds, a virtual services unit of the New Media Consortium, and is staffed by real IBM sales representatives from around the world, who can chat with visitors in several languages. IBM employees will staff this new office during business hours in their respective countries.
IBM says its sales avatars can work with the client avatars up to the point of exchanging private data, such as the signing of contracts and the passing of money or credit information. That would be handled through a link to IBM's Web site or by phone.
"IBM is combining a 3-D virtual experience, its existing 2-D website, and real IBM people to conduct business," says Lee Dierdorff, VP, Web strategy and enablement, ibm.com. "This will make customers' business experiences more effective."
IBM says more than 230 of its researchers consultants, and developers use virtual worlds to experiment with and develop social networking tools and to design new ways of doing business. The firm has more than 30 other virtual islands for purposes such as research, recruiting new employees, developer support and IBM internal and client meetings.