Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: Form vs Function?

  • Will Humphrey, Senior Planner at PSONA – part of the Communisis group

  • 15.06.2017 08:30 am
  • Virtual Reality , Augmented Reality , Innovation

With technology rapidly evolving, different sectors are interested in understanding just what tech can do for them. Take Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality; as more and more VR headsets are sold worldwide – BI Business Intelligence predicts sales will reach 50 million by 2020 – the likes of the financial sector are increasingly looking at how to utilise the technology. Despite the tremendous potential it affords, a key question remains: How can financial services incorporate technology in a way that genuinely benefits customers?

Notably, the retail sector has been enthusiastic with its use of VR, creating new ways of experiencing a brand. Examples from the sector include Peroni’s ‘House of Peroni’, which showcased virtual art exhibition that recently made its way around the UK. What’s more, Coca-Cola have used VR to demonstrate what it would be like to drive Santa’s sleigh with their take on the classic flight simulator.

Though these are interesting and innovative experiences within retail, the financial services sector is a different beast entirely; consumer relationships with brands tend toward the functional – has my bank provided me access to my money? Has it a good interest rate for my savings, or a good APR?

Ultimately, we must ask what people want from their bank or building society. Our proprietary ‘Make It Matter’ research spoke to thousands of customers; we found that within Financial Services, customers are motivated by their provider helping them, and keeping them informed of changes. In essence, customers want their FS provider to make their lives as easy as possible. Despite being undeniably innovative, VR activities rarely enhance or simplify day to day activities.

Unpacking this further – there are several issues with using VR to make things simpler for customers. Just look at who uses the technology day-to-day. It’s unlikely to be the average financial services customer, as most VR headsets retail somewhere between £500 and £1000. Few customers are likely to have, or want to spend that!

Additionally, given cost, most VR executions at the moment take the form of pop up events. It’s quite clear that in order to appeal to financial services customers, the environment created needs to be consistent and help augment their experience/s with their provider. Events won’t do this alone.

When the cost falls, and with it, the convenience of the technology improves, VR could play a role in-branch, allowing access to specialist advice and scenario planning. This would do much to ‘re-tool’ bank branches for the 21st century – given mass closures and declining customer footfall – there’d be a reason to go in-store. However, we aren’t there yet.

Creating an alternate experience

Where VR provides escapism (often, it conveys an experience difficult to replicate within the real world), Augmented Reality is more workmanlike. Where VR is currently inaccessible and too expensive for a lot of people, AR can be operated via smartphone – something most people have in their pocket. AR can be used to enhance the processes that every customer already engages in like making payments or troubleshooting.

Within banking and finance, heightened security measures for bank transfers and account access have meant that brands run the risk of frustrating their user-base. AR’s convenience is best demonstrated by banks allowing customers to take a photograph of their card, something that auto-uploads their details, saving them time and effort. This utilises AR technology well; it is genuinely helpful, cutting out a customer pain-point.

Utility and simplicity

The principal advantage that AR has in the financial services arena is that it can be part of the existing customer journey. Given that the technology is established and inexpensive, it has the potential to improve customer experience. With that in mind, there are two key questions to ask when considering whether it should be implemented:

Is using AR going to create a barrier for customers? Though most customers are au fait with smartphones, there will be a number who don’t use them. It’s important that AR doesn’t prevent access to products or services; customers should be free to use services as they want to. One person’s helpful is another’s inconvenient.

The second question that must be asked is whether your customer base will use the technology more than once. The best AR concepts seek to improve an experience by providing useful information – by simplifying or removing layers of a process to make interaction with the brand easier.

For example, using AR to tap into the iPhone’s Wallet feature when issuing new cards. This feature means brands can now print codes on letters that will be auto-read, preventing further cost to the brand, or certain security issues. This provides a means of moving between analogue and digital banking. Installing scannable technology in-store adds value; providing personalised information relevant to the customer and their circumstances.

VR is hugely exciting, but it currently suffers from a lack of accessibility. As prices fall and more people adopt the technology, it will become a more viable option, particularly in-branch. However, given that customers want help and information from their financial services providers, brands must tread carefully when considering it. Ask yourself: ‘How is it improving my customers’ experience?

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