24 October 2023

After The Hype: Do Businesses Still Need To Plan For The Metaverse? (Video)

Gowling WLG


Gowling WLG is an international law firm built on the belief that the best way to serve clients is to be in tune with their world, aligned with their opportunity and ambitious for their success. Our 1,400+ legal professionals and support teams apply in-depth sector expertise to understand and support our clients’ businesses.
For today's business leaders, understanding attitudes towards new technology will be crucial to successfully implementing and communicating strategies that include emerging tech, such as the metaverse.
UK Technology
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For today's business leaders, understanding attitudes towards new technology will be crucial to successfully implementing and communicating strategies that include emerging tech, such as the metaverse.

The rules and regulations of the metaverse are still to be defined, generating opportunities and challenges for leadership teams. In different markets, organisations are implementing metaverse experiences and technologies at different rates, leading to varying levels of awareness, understanding and attitudes amongst consumers.

In this webinar, we are joined by a panel of experts, including Will Turner, head of Strategic Growth, Partnership and Innovation at HSBC UK and Jane Wakefield, technology journalist and consultant specialising in artificial intelligence and the metaverse, to discuss the potential concerns or threats to organisations operating in the metaverse and the opportunities to accelerate growth.

This webinar gives you an opportunity to hear real examples of organisations expanding into the metaverse: from HSBC being the first global financial institution to enter the metaverse to insight from a renowned metaverse expert and journalist on how we should be communicating technology advancements to clients and customers.


Davey Brennan: Good morning all and thank you for joining us for this webinar. To those of you attending Birmingham Tech Week which is in full flow at the moment I hope you are enjoying the sessions and that the networking is going well for you all. I am Davey Brennan I am a corporate partner here at Gowling WLG an international law firm where I co-chair the firm's 300 strong global tech group.

Before we get started a bit of housekeeping so this session will last 60 minutes finishing at 11am, we will have 15 minutes for Q&A after we have had a bit of a panel discussion and you can submit your questions to us at any stage during the discussion using the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. So the other thing to say is that the session today is being recorded and will be available on our website shortly after the session.

So what are we here to talk about today? We are here to talk about the Metaverse. So perhaps we should start with a quick reminder of what that actually is. The term Metaverse was first coined back in 1992 by the author Neil Stephenson and his science fiction novel Snow Crash and Stephenson described this as a place where people used digital avatars or replicas of themselves to explore an online world using virtual and augmented reality to interact with others. So put simply the Metaverse is a parallel to real life or more accurately a platform where you can spend your digital life.

In 2021 Mark Zuckerberg came out and rebranded Facebook as Meta which for many lit the blue touch paper on a global explosion of excitement about the concept of the Metaverse and then this time last year we launched our report discussing global attitudes towards the Metaverse. It was the latest technology at the front of everyone's mind at the time, there was a lot of hype around it and it is all that we read about in the press.

Fast forward 12 months to today and business leaders are faced with a new problem. They need to continue with developing Metaverse strategies but also balancing the interests of their shareholders who may want to see a refocus into other technology such as AI for example. So understanding the sort of changing hype, if you like, around new technology such as the Metaverse and AI is therefore a major challenge for many business teams.

So we are going to talk about some of these issues today and I am delighted to be joined by two experts, we have Will Turner who is head of strategic growth partnership and innovation at HSBC UK, welcome Will, and we have Jane Wakefield who is a technology journalist and consultant specialising in AI and the Metaverse, welcome Jane.

So together we are going to explore how attitudes towards the Metaverse have changed over the last 12 months and what this means for organisations who have already begun developing Metaverse strategies.

So Jane perhaps we start with you, what do you think, has the Metaverse hype blown over as people have decided that it is not what they thought it was going to be or is there something still going on behind the scenes.

Jane Wakefield: Yeah well I think as you said, you know, when Zuckerberg announced this rebranding of Facebook to Meta everybody sat up and took notice. It is one of the biggest tech companies in the world, if he is putting all his eggs in the Metaverse basket then so should everybody and, of course, after that we saw the hype go up, up, up, up, up.

That, I think, changed when Chat GPT kind of entered the market, partly because suddenly here was this tech that everybody had access to, not everybody had access to a virtual world or anything kind of a head set or any of the kind of stuff but everybody could play around with AI and could immediately see, you know, that it was game changing in many ways.

So I think it did suffer from a bit of a kind of down cycle after AI took over. Of course, in Mark Zuckerberg's eyes the two things go hand in hand its worth noting, you know, he thinks that AI and the Metaverse will walk together and its not all bad, we are seeing a bit less investment in this area, investors turned away a bit from the Metaverse turning to AI instead but the headsets that Meta sells 20 million units I think sold so far, it's a fraction of the gaming market but it is still considerable.

So it is definitely something that businesses need to think about as we have seen with all technologies, you know, if something is hyped everybody wants to get involved in it. If it goes down a bit they put it in their back pocket and I think at the moment it is probably taking a bit less centre stage and AI is probably more on people's minds from a business perspective.

Davey: Ok, thank you, well what about you, what do you think?

Will Turner: Yeah, I can agree with a lot of what Jane has said, right, we have seen a new distraction in Gen AI but I think it is important, Davey you talked about 92, a lot of people watching today watched Ready Player One from Steven Spielberg years ago.

I was always feeling and the firm was viewing this as a multi decade journey there is an interesting upgrade here to the internet in the Metaverse and that is around the databit that Jane talked about. That brings around digital identity, different forms of money and exchanges of value and then you have got the experience upgrade and we are all working through a more hybrid world now we recognise Zoom was phenomenal for what it did during Covid and other tours but actually is it immersive enough for what we have going forward?

So I think we are still continuing to play around, to test, to learn, to ideate but I think it is fair Davey to say that it is not as frequent or as prominent in conversations we are seeing with customers and with colleagues. Part of that, 12 months ago if we are honest a lot of people wanted to put a headset on, talk a selfie, show friends and post about it, I am looking at technology. I am actually still really enjoying the conversations with those thought leaders who are saying ok but what will this still do? There are still groups and cohorts still looking at this and that is where hopefully those listening today are in that camp and we can continue to talk about it through the session.

Davey: No exactly, and if they aren't doing it at the minute and they are listening then maybe it is something they will take away off the back of it, you never know, so that is the hope anyway, right?

So, ok, so then if we move on to think about markets, so one of the things that came out of our report which gave us a bit of concern but also mild amusement was the UK was not really that keen on this concept of the Metaverse. I think we called it the Met-averse and how people were looking at it and how they thought it might be mainstream or not as the case may be and we talked about the sort of Eager East and the Wary West and if you actually looked at how the world was split, if you like, in that regard. Will any observations on that in terms of what you are seeing given HSBC's global reach?

Will: Yeah, Davey it is interesting because yesterday I spent the day in Birmingham at a number of events and the Metaverse wasn't discussed very regularly. So perhaps that aligns with what was in the report. We here and select groups know that things are still happening and we are still looking at things across government level and across the private sector. I do think it is fair to say that there are the markets that continue to do things.

So if we take Dubai as an example we have gone through a process of documenting and creating a virtual experience in our oldest bank branch in Dubai that is there for colleagues and is more of a historian sort of level to bring this to life and protect it for the future and then the government have come out in Dubai under a multi-year plan and are looking to create 40,000 virtual jobs by 2030, or sorry jobs in a virtual reality space, whatever it turns into and about $4 billion coming into the national economy. So Dubai have continued to take a lead, we have seen a lot of things happen in Hong Kong and Singapore so as an example we have created for wealthy clients particular portfolio of assets with exposure to trends around augmented and virtual reality and that has then also led to things around Belt and Road initiatives. Huge investment journeys that can at times be hard to bring to life for colleagues to stakeholders of showing multi-billion dollar investment plans and this is where there has been another opportunity to test the technology. How does this bring it to life for people in a way that you couldn't otherwise articular in a slide deck.

So we continue to see a lot of conversations in Asia, a lot in the Middle East, across the network, and that is with colleagues that are curious, that is customers that are still asking, how do I think about this and there are particular examples around the sporting space and I know the FA and other organisations have even created roles recently to look at this.

It has gone beyond a "what is the Metaverse" and now where we are chatting with customers it is actually well, hang on, how can you commercialise your international fan base in a different way and is this a way to look at it. So there is more meaningful conversations below the surface that can capture something that is by its definition borderless with a capability of the reach and the inclusivity that could drive through these types of settings in the future.

Davey: But it sounds very much then that things haven't changed that much in the sense that it is East perhaps that are leading the way for some of these conversations and some of these initiatives and I guess, I mean are you seeing anything at all over in this part of the world or is it a case of the East will lead us there and we will get there eventually but it sounds like most of the focus is out, sort of, Dubai, Hong Kong and in those parts of the world.

Will: I think that is fair but this past weekend I was lucky enough to be in Paris, I was there for the Rugby World Cup and I was in the fan zone which was interesting because you had the corporate brands associated themselves with the Rugby World Cup and in the fan zone in the centre of Paris there was a pop up stand for Meta. The longest line to go and have an experience in this fan zone with tens of thousands of fans was at the Meta stand where it was engaging with different demographics, different ages, around different games and they have done a campaign around the city where team have created avatars that are popping up on buildings. There were buildings on the Champs-Élysées that were folding in and inside was a mascot for the particular team, so an example a global event perhaps Davey but if I can take the win for where there are things happening still that was a good example I think in Europe of some immersive experiences engaging with citizens across the world.

Davey: And that's interesting, one of the things you mentioned there was gaming and of course when we think about the Metaverse and those who perhaps aren't as familiar with the concept they might think it is just for gamers given, you know, you mentioned the VR headsets and immersing themselves into that space and maybe therein that is where the problem lies. People don't realise that actually this is something that could be brought in to the business world and I guess the key thing and the key concept is getting employees almost to believe there is something useful in it for them it is not just for those wanting to play the latest game that has come out onto the market.

Will: Davey just one thought on that we may come on to use cases later but something that we saw more frequently with customers and here organisations in the UK was that onboarding experience.

So you join a new organisation on day one historically you get a big folders like that, you get shut in a room and you go and read about the culture and you understand the business culture but there are many different ways to do that and there are some phenomenal experiences now where if you have got colleagues working remotely or even in an office still to have an immersive experience to understand the bank's culture in our case, to understand what happens on the 42 stories of a head quarters is difficult to bring life unless you have different technologies. So I think that is one use case where it is not perhaps a new commercial opportunity but it is engaging with colleagues and for me if I was joining an organisation on day one and had that type of experience I think it would drive the right culture around innovation and about how the firm at any particular company is thinking about the future and that might spur other ideas of what I could do therefore if I have actually understood the technology.

Maybe one use case that will continue to grow out in the near term and then there is the more truly immersive business to business transactions in the next, sort of, years to come.

Davey: Well that is a nice segway Will, I actually think we have planned this, so why should businesses care? You know, key challenges being faced by business leaders at the moment. Jane, perhaps we will come to you for this one in terms of your thoughts on what businesses are up to and how they have perhaps had to change their focus, or have they?

Jane: Well one thing that we are definitely seeing is lots of companies wanting to get their brands into these virtual worlds, so we have seen lots of tie ups with Roblox, which is an absolutely huge game if you are a parent of a child of a certain age you would almost certainly have heard of Roblox. If people don't have young children they might not have done but this a virtual world that kids are really involved in and you know GenZ, these are the people that are going to be the next generation that bring these things on so reaching that generation is really important to brands and we have seen ties in Roblox with Walmart, Heineken, Banks, you know lots of people are getting involved in these virtual worlds and I do think actually that whilst you might see gaming and business as separate actually one of the things that the Metaverse is trying to do is bring these things together.

Remember that Zuckerberg's vision was that we would all game, entertain ourselves, educate ourselves and work in the Metaverse and whilst that still feels like it is quite a long way away definitely I think from a business perspective it makes sense to sort of start having a presence in these worlds and just to get back to that question that you asked before about the East/West and where these things are coming from let's not forget what happened when TikTok exploded in the world.

You know things that come out of Asia have a habit of going global and there is a really interesting virtual world based in Asia called Zepeto which is a virtual world with about 340 million users. Interestingly the majority of those are female and this again is, you know, something that comes along and can disrupt and give people, businesses, access to new markets is really important.

So I think, you know, the idea that is this stuff more happening in the East or the West let's remember that ultimately all of these brands want to become global and there is talk that Meta's Horizon Worlds, which isn't doing particularly great at the moment but that might become web-based. If that becomes web-based that could explode in ways we haven't seen so I think from a business perspective it is keeping an eye on what is happening on these virtual gaming platforms which ultimately is the seed from which the Metaverse is growing and if they can have brand presence in those places why wouldn't they?

I mean I don't know whether there is any figures that prove that doing that increases your profits because it is such early days but I think that the smart businesses will want to be involved even at this early stage.

Davey: I mean it is interesting you mentioned things like VR headsets and the interest, I mean we had a stand at Legal Geek a couple of weeks ago and actually one of the things that the team did was have a VR headset at the stand and have an immersive experience for anyone that was walking around and there were a lot more people, I'm not just saying it was the VR headset I'm sure the team were wonderful as well but there were a lot more people at that stand than other stands because people see something of interest and think I want to have a go of that and if it is there they are interested to see what it is like and if you haven't experienced that before you know it is quite an amazing experience if you have that actually available to be able to pop on and have a go.

Ok so lets maybe then move through to maybe business impact and you know we talked about the consumer, we talked about the gamers out there but how and why should businesses consider developing Metaverse strategies? Why should they be doing that and looking at it at board level? Will perhaps I could come to you to begin with on that?

Will: So the way we have approached it, certainly in the UK, is we have grouped our focus on Esports Gaming and Metaverse together, perhaps linking back to some of the comments earlier on some of the synergies across that thinking and a different way of interacting.

Then we have done a few things where we have got colleagues across the business at all grades and all levels and all teams just to come together, we did something last summer where we had people just throw in ideas we would work though once a week and then we would present it back with some of the ideas that we had. Some were predictable in as far as they were things we had seen before in reports but some were also very different so for us we have touched on brand already so the brand is important to make sure that you are putting your brand where your future consumers or your future employees are and that is fundamentally changing. Behaviours are changing, whether its going to be on TikTok, whether it is other things so it is a really key point for any business to think about the brand but we have also seen some missteps perhaps where experiences haven't been authentic or haven't been well thought through and large amounts of money have been spent and it has actually set brands back. So that is not unique to this that is across a marketing strategy but I think it is really really important.

We have looked around linking it to quite a few of our events so HSBC sponsor the Hong Kong Sevens for example and around the world in certain cities we have done experiences bolted on to that so particularly in Hong Kong we have had digital art exhibitions where NFTs were on offer for attendees and it was through a Metaverse experience through gaming you could win the NFT in this particular case so there is a bit about making that authentic again and linking it to your brand strategy.

We think a lot about future ways of working so I touched on the onboarding journey but actually particularly with colleagues who are working through accessibility challenges, learning difficulties, there is an ability actually here to make this more inclusive I know that might sound counter productive given the high entry costs for the hardware as opposed to, say, a phone but I have seen some really neat opportunities, charity organisations like Wizz-Kids and I was thinking about how this technology could help people and bring communities together.

And then I think the one that has been more easier for colleagues and for the markets you think about is around the digital twin concept. So there is a lot of regeneration going in around offices around the UK to meet new EPC regulations around transition and green buildings. There has been some very neat opportunities to show what a building could actually look like from a virtual setting, so building that digital twin of a business and some of us probably years ago were used to buying a sofa for home and it was always hard to think about what it was going to look like in the living room, that sort of augmented experience that we had through our smart phone is now becoming more prevalent in some of the corporate office redesigns and then sensors around transition. I think it has been really interesting.

A final one we had one really nice suggestion from a colleague where often with banks or lenders there is the requirement to go and do factory visits or site visits around the world, aside from carbon footprint of taking teams to go and look at a factory in Asia or the Middle East is there a different way of doing that? Is there a better way of doing virtual factory visits and it looks in addition to an example but we thought that was something that was quite interesting so we continue to test around that so there is a few bits there that I think have been relevant to my business but equally hopefully help others on the webinar looking at how they might sort of think about this and I will stress this is over, like, years or decades to come not necessarily by the end of the year but building that sort of execution muscle, that curiosity, I think is a really helpful mind-set to have whether it is on Metaverse or Gen AI or something else.

Davey: Thanks Will and if we sort of then segway into the sort of the thought process around how businesses communicate, their approach to the Metaverse with maybe the shareholders or stakeholders, etc? You know, are there occasions, Jane, for example, where VR can be helpful for businesses in that regards? Sort of building on what Will has talked about?

Jane: Yeah, I mean I think the potential for VR is huge in terms of, so one thing I saw the other day which I thought was really interesting was a company that was using VR headsets for wellness within companies. So, you know, if people were suffering from stress or anxiety they could go to a room, they could put on a headset, they could potentially talk to a counsellor, but they could be in a wonderfully calm environment and just basically chill out in it.

You know lots of companies now are seeing wellness as something that they need to build into how they look after their employees so that is a really interesting use of it and of course in health care we have seen some amazing uses of VR being used for surgeons to try out how they do operations and training generally I think could really benefit from investment in VR because you can just practice stuff, you can do stuff that you couldn't do in the real world. You could try it out on the digital twins thing that Will talked about is obviously huge and I do think that will a lot of this tech, I think the same is true of AI that a lot of the benefits of it are actually quite background and might not be the sort of sexy, kind of use case star playing in a virtual world but having your brand presence in a place like Decentraland and that is fine too because I think businesses need to ask themselves about any bit of tech why do I need this? You know what is this going to bring to my business and not just have it because they are panicking that it is the latest thing and they have got to be part of it.

To Will's point about something is going wrong I remember a couple of years ago when it was at its height, hypest, if that is a word, being invited to a launch in Decentraland which is one of these virtual worlds that actually now have very few daily visitors but at the time was a very popular one for people to use and this launch happened but lots of the journalists that when to it didn't really know how to use the tech and didn't know how to sort of get to this, it was the equivalent of inviting somebody to a press launch but not giving them the address, you know. And again that is what business need to think about, its like just jumping into something for the sake of it isn't going to be any good but in the background there is lots of use cases that you could apply it to that would really help your business and kind of your employees as well which I think is what businesses should really be thinking about.

Davey: Yeah, and looking I guess beyond the profitable side of it as well right? So it is the wellness of your employees and how you can sort of apply and use VR in a slightly different way.

I mean in terms of, you know, we talk about a little bit about economic benefits to investing in this technology and businesses looking at why they should be doing it but if we look at the current climate we are in, you know, its not just our economy, right? It's a number of economies around the world that are struggling a little bit at the minute and we have heard a lot talked in the press about the cost of living crisis etc and that has an impact right, on any sort of new technology and the cost of these things has an impact on the person at the end of the day that is going to try to buy them.

So what does that mean for businesses who want to explore the industry? Will, lets come to you for that one.

Will: I think it is such an important point and there are a couple of components to it so on the consumer side yeah the buying power is undoubtedly stretched today and I think if we look at compressed budget, household budgets and disposable income I suspect more people will find an immediate gratification of buying a new iphone or a new smart phone as opposed to a bet on a piece of hardware for a virtual experience without a clearer runway of experiences and use cases.

Speaking personally I have an Oculus Quest, it is something that I bought at a point in time today I would probably put my money on a new smart phone as opposed to a piece of hardware just because the more inclusive world that I could use that and the different things I can use my smart phone for and that is why there is 6½ billion smart phones in the world today and only a couple of hundred headsets so that is a journey we will need to go on as price points come down but I think if we look at businesses similarly when there is still prioritisations that all businesses are having to make, whether that is banks, insurers, any organisation we try and really focus our innovation strategy on three different horizons and the first horizon is the sort of incremental innovation. This is more the digitalisation of historic journeys, it is using existing technology and it is by and large looking at existing process and just sort of making that incremental change.

Where I try to focus attention and budgets and resource and internal power is around that horizon two and horizon three so where is there actually a new technology that we could bring to HSBC or to our customers or when then the horizon three where is there new technology and potentially a completely new business model that we haven't looked at before and I think it is fair to say that that prioritisation decision for large businesses, for small businesses and where do you spend time, resource and valuable capital to drive a return through and linking to your comment on some of the external pressures of public companies there is that call for patient capital but it is a little bit harder at the moment when there is a requirement to be getting businesses through a really tough trading period so just to summarise the link for us it is really around making sure that we are doing something that has incremental value to customers and colleagues but leveraging that new technology or that new mind set just to drive that through for our 700,000 business customers in the UK or our 14 million retail customers in the UK.

Davey: And so looking at the sort of cost of the technology and the consumers and assuming the consumers are in a position where they actually look at the price of something and think that they are going to go out and invest in it because that is the point, right, there has to be a good enough reason to do that and to your point, you know, a smart phone now is not dissimilar in price really to some of the VR technology that we are seeing. Jane, in terms of, you know, government policies, because at the minute, you know, let's be honest, we don't really have many policies in place around this and around the Metaverse in particular but would a change or how could a change in those government policies around Metaverse technology influence how consumers actually feel towards its integration. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jane: Yeah, and before I talk about government policy just wanted to add to the point about consumers and businesses. I think that, you know, if businesses can save money, so for instance if they could use VR to do product design and that is going to save a lot of money over how they do it currently then that is a good use of the tech right? And that I think is what everybody has to kind of think about in the business work really does this, is this going to ultimately save me money by using this technology? And you know as developments come out, especially as VR and AI get more linked then it could definitely be something that businesses should invest in and to the point of consumers I think the problem at the moment is that like you were saving Davey when people put the headset on at first they are like wow this is amazing but then how long does that experience last. You know the headset may end up in the cupboard not being used after a couple of month unless there is always a flow of good content coming out to encourage us to wear it and I don't think we are quite at that point yet although of course we are about to see the launch of Apple's headset which is certainly going to be very expensive and perhaps not within the reach of most consumers. So that is going to disrupte things again I think but to your question about government policy I think that we have seen the online Safety Bill, this mega bit of legislation and as it has kind of made its progress through Parliament it has tried to hoover up everything that is happening in the online space because regulation is slow, government change is slow, technology on the other hand is very fast and a piece of legislation could by out of date before it has even sort of hit the legislative process. But the government has said in terms of the Metaverse that everything that applies in the online Safety Bill will apply to the Metaverse so issues around privacy, data protection, you know, bad behaviour, making sure that people are safe, those things will be in the scope of the Bill but that doesn't mean to say that everything will be covered by it because of course things are changing very quickly and this is an ever moving thing but the government is trying to keep up to date with that and legislation regulators are very aware of need to legislate and think about what we do in virtual worlds.

Davey: I mean I think this came of the report as well I think part of the reason I attributed to the UK perhaps being a little bit less onboard if you like with the Metaverse was as a country we are used to a gold standard of regulation, you know, we are used, we are cautious, well most of the time! We are used to doing things properly and the regulation, if it is not in place, consumers perhaps feel a little bit open or exposed and if you look at the consumer protections we have in this country there is a really strong legislative framework that sits behind that so to your point, and it's the same in every jurisdiction, but with technology moving at the pace it is moving its pretty much impossible for the governments of every country to keep up because they are sort of learning as they go as well. So I do think that there is a major point there which is until we have got proper regulation that sits around this we may find countries that are a little bit more used to being led by the hand perhaps a little bit slower at actually adopting these things. So I think that is a really valuable point.

Jane: And its probably worth adding that even the companies that are designing these virtual worlds haven't truly always thought through how to make these worlds safe so with Meta's Horizon Worlds there was a lot of press about people's avatars feeling unsafe being kind of bullied in the space and it was only after the press kind of got hold of this and started writing about it that they devised a system that would allow you to set up a virtual barrier so that people can't kind of come too close to your avatar. That probably should have been thought about before and this is something we see with tech all the time that things are rolled out, people are very excited about it, look at this new shiny tech and then the guard rails for it are only thought about afterwards. I mean we are seeing the same thing now with AI right? Open AI brought out ChatGPT and then all the issues with its hallucinating and making things up, that is only really being thought about now after the event so that is another reason why things go slowly I think and why it is hard for governments to think, to kind of plan for this stuff when the companies that are devising it haven't even done that.

Davey: Yeah, no exactly. So that leads us then to sort of thinking about, you know, we talked about approaching the consumers, we talked about governments and obviously that's not just applying to the UK. So how, maybe we should think about how businesses approach communicating changes to Metaverse technology in different markets because obviously not all markets are the same and is there anything that we can learn from parts of the world where the Metaverse has already been implemented across sectors and Will given what you have been telling us about what you are seeing in Dubai and Hong Kong can you perhaps talk to us a little bit about that?

Will: Yes, certainly speaking from the perspective of my colleagues it is fair to say I have seen more openness to test and learn around the world and maybe that is because of other trends that have happened in Asia, perhaps around super apps and different connectivity where there is more inclination to look at that in the way that it has been managed in certain markets.

We have continued to see businesses equally be curious but I would say that there is no substitute for that in person meeting and if Covid taught us anything it is that actually the human connections and the face to face is what really really matters to people and I think that is maybe what is perhaps was an accelerant earlier on and then has actually been a step back now. I enjoy coming to the office, I like seeing customers in person, I enjoy getting a coffee in person and I think that is sort of a step back a little bit to Jane's point without the content coming on that actually drives a different experience through yes I could sit at home on the sofa with my headset on and watch a movie coming through or something coming through Youtube and look around and see the Horizon World and see everything around me, nice the first time and then I'm not so sure.

So I think we have got some way to go until we can clearly articulate from a business communication perspective that this is different. The only bit I would stress is there is naturally a language barrier on conversations that happen around international trade. There is technology naturally within this with the transmission that has the ability to translate in real time, that is very very helpful, it would avoid the difficult conversations I have had trying to have business meetings in Cantonese in Hong Kong, it would have done me a huge favour, could there be something there? With a real use case that brings that though? But again if I bring that back you could do that on a mobile app on most things today. So if that killer use case? I don't think so I think we still need to really see that accelerant for business communications change.

Davey: And that is a point, right, so we had lockdown, I know we have all forgotten about it, or maybe we haven't, but we all had to get used to zoom and teams and spending our lives sat, I mean its highly ironic when I am on a webinar at the moment! But we all got very used to that way of communicating and we suddenly thought this was wonderful, we are going to save thousands of pounds and the planet by not having to travel on business to all parts of the world but what I have found, especially with a lot of my US clients was that it was fine for a year, a year and a half when you had to do it but actually people craved that human interaction, that face to face meeting, people buy from people I always say. I think, I have to say I think that has gone completely the other way now in some cases, where there is that craving to get out into the world and to go to events, Birmingham Tech Week this week, you know you mentioned Will in the earlier in the call we had before this started about the number of people in the room yesterday for that opening session. I mean isn't that wonderful to see people are obviously just wanting to get out again and to have that human interaction and maybe that is where a lot of the mindset sits at the minute with this concept of the Metaverse because is it a bit like going back to what we had where you are sitting on zoom calls, sitting in teams. Clearly there is that immersive aspect to it and there is the 3D aspect to it but it feels like perhaps a bit of a leap to get people from where they were over that lockdown period perhaps to that? Jane, do you think there is any merit in that sort of argument?

Jane: I mean I think it is no coincidence that the Metaverse was at its peak hype when we were all locked down because we were living our lives virtually, we were forced to live our lives virtually so this was forefront and centre of our minds so the idea that the virtual world was going to sort of sit, run concurrent with the real world was very compelling to everybody, businesses and consumers alike and you are right that that has changed now.

I think that Will's point about translation stuff is really interesting actually because this is the sort of stuff that could really change things, I think in some ways when Meta sort of demonstrated how it was having meetings in its Horizon Worlds it was a bit too early, like the avatars were really poor, they didn't have legs for one thing, they were a bit jerky, they didn't really do a lot but we know that Meta is working on that and is working on AI tech that will allow you to do that thing of not having to go through a smart phone but have conversations with somebody in a different language instantly and if they get that right then that is a sort of game changer really because that does mean that globally we can speak to anybody at any time at any place. So I think that is really interesting.

I think we do prefer meeting in real life, right, and face to face but I have to say that there were bits, because during lockdown I went to quite a few virtual conferences, and whilst I didn't get a lot out of them in the same way I did from real world conferences some things were better. So, like, if I needed to get hold of somebody straight away I could and I could find them like I knew they would be in that sort of space and I would be able to find them and have a chat with them. So I think perhaps the future with that sort of stuff, with meetings and conferences lies with combining the two, you know, yes we need the real world stuff but virtual world stuff can play a huge role and if it can be enticing enough and make us want to be part of it and its not clunky and maybe we have legs would be helpful if we have got avatars with legs I think that would improve things immensely. But you know it is, if it can be got right and it is probably a few years away then I think that there is a huge benefit to that and not least the fact that real world conferences are not great for the planet. So it might not be a choice, it might be something that we are forced to do because we cannot really justify flying round the world to different conferences for that much longer.

Davey: Yep, no thank you Jane. So maybe looking at, you were talking, Will, about the future there and what is going to happen so maybe a bit of predictions or future gazing, sort of, from a business sense, Will from HSBC's prospective what are you looking at, seeing, planning, thinking?

Will: Yeah, just before I go on to that I think something Jane mentioned took me back to something I watched a couple of weeks ago, so for those curious there is a new podcast that Mark Zuckerberg has done with a gentleman called Lex Fridman that is on Youtube, it is on the podcast store but I recommend that people should watch it on Youtube. You will see there a near full body scan creating an avatar for an in-person, remote but in-person podcast. Jane to your point that was something that I wasn't aware of, was launched and looks very interesting and it is an evolution and shows where this could get to.

So I took quite a bit of comfort, for us it is still very much about test and learn and this will be across the full spectrum of how we are looking at our innovation agenda, whether that is generative AI, whether it is Metaverse, whether it is tokenisation of bond trading platforms. The teams continue to spend a lot of time looking at this.

So this is very much, sort of, on the agenda, it is still very much being looked at, it was always a multiyear journey, we are just having to make sure that we are tempering some of the excitement. So actually what is the saying that we typically under, we overestimate the short-term impact and over, which way round is it? We overestimate the short-term impact and underestimate the long-term impact of this technology, actually we saw a lot of colleagues, a lot of customers, a lot of stakeholders very interested about this and now because the hype cycle did peak it has come down and viewed as a failure so part of my role in the team is actually tempering that a little bit, bringing it to life on what would this look like over a multiyear, how do we actually look at the small wins and build the execution muscle, build the use cases out to prove the technology and then take the thinking to another level.

So not showing here's six things by the end of this year that are going to be live but this is the step that we were going to sort of crawl, walk, run. So we will continue to look very seriously around out innovation agenda. HSBC acquired the Silicon Valley Bank and now has HSBC Innovation Banking and a real strong customer base and colleague base there looking at future trends, future industry and how do we become the number one bank for the innovation economy.

We can't do that if we are not looking at the innovation trends ourselves and improve them with the tools and resources that my colleagues can use but equally our customers can use to thrive. So we are spending a lot of time with it and there was some references earlier to government so we are also spending more and more time around unique opportunities now where we are bringing together government regulators and the private sector and I would signpost something called CFIT to that so something that came out of the Kalifa Reviews so the sense of innovation and technology, some really nice use cases coming through where 30/40 organisations are coming together to recognise things are changing very rapidly. The UK does some amazing events, we perhaps aren't bold enough about that at times, in talking about it, so there is some really strong progress in the UK across the innovation eco system, around technology and actually how do we help other markets around the world take that and embrace that to make sure that the UK gets it due credit for some amazing stuff and that attracts talent and capital and it drives the fly reel to make sure that we are creating these technologies, looking after them ethically and responsibility to drive the UK forward, so we are doing an awful lot I think Davey it is fair to say.

Davey: Yeah, well that certainly sounds like it. Perhaps we could touch on, I am conscious of the time as well, so perhaps we touch a little bit, we talked earlier about some of the barriers to entry I guess for the Metaverse and we talked a little bit about the cost of living crisis and the headsets etc around that. Jane do you want to talk to us a little bit around your views perhaps on the technology and especially around some of the practicalities surrounding and the convenience surrounding some of the actual hard tech if you like?

Jane: Yeah, I mean I think it is currently not there in terms of the experience with VR, the headsets are quite clunky. I haven't tried Apple's headsets so I don't know if that has improved, a more lightweight, more wearable, but the headsets I have worn haven't been particularly comfortable which, you know is a problem. So there is the interface and the way we get into these virtual worlds needs to think about although as I mentioned earlier we are seeing companies, even like Meta, looking at launching this stuff on a web browser and I think there is a lot to be said for how the Metaverse might change the whole nature of computing.

You know this idea of screen and a keyboard does feel really dated, you know it has been around for a long time, it feels like it is ready for the next stage, this kind of more ambient computing and because our phones are with us all the time we are constantly, whether we want to be or not, and whether it is right or not we are, we are constantly connected so if there is methods and technology that make that happen more seamlessly so that the virtual and digital worlds are really joined obviously it is not just about virtual reality it is about augmented reality and we have seen movements there towards making glasses, although I think I read the other day that Snap's abandons its AR, some of its AR work, so and I think if that is the case it is because this stuff is difficult and this stuff is expensive.

You know, the computing power necessary to sort of power these virtual worlds, if everybody is using them, if everybody is creating avatars, if everybody is wanting to talk and move around in these virtual lives, that is a huge tech challenge that I don't think we have really thought about or know what the answer is to yet.

So there is lots and lots of things that still need to be thought about but to you sort of bigger question about where the future lies I do genuinely, I agree with Mark Zuckerberg, and I don't say that very often, that it is kind of virtual reality walking hand in hand with AI that these are both very powerful technologies and together I think, you know they have the power to do some really special things, things we haven't yet thought about.

Davey: So basically we shouldn't be looking at them as two separate technologies, we should be seeing one as an enabler for the other?

Jane: I think so yeah.

Davey: Well that could be an interesting concept in itself right because that is the thing a lot of the press now you are reading is around AI taking over and that is going to be why the Metaverse has been parked but perhaps there are a lot of things going on in the background of the Metaverse adopting that AI technology and perhaps using it to sort of move things forward. Who knows, we'll see.

Look we are on the quarter to of the hour and I wonder whether we have a little look at the questions then that have been coming in which I have, let me just open this up and have a little look. So let's start with this one, so good morning Nick Foxmere, thank you for your question, Jane this is going to be directed at you, and I actually was going to ask you this during the session and I thought I would leave it but Nick would like you to say a little bit more about what is or what was Decentralands that you mentioned at the beginning.

Jane: Yeah, sorry I should have been clearer on that. So it is a virtual world but that the thing that makes it kind of appeal perhaps to brands and why it kind of when through such a lot of hype is that you don't need a headset to access it. So this is, as I was talking about a web browser based experience but it is trying to create a virtual world and lots of people were buying up land in the Decentraland, I spoke to some people when I wrote a big article about the Metaverse and I spoke to some people that had spent millions on land in the Metaverse. You know they bought up tons of real estate in it. So for a while it was considered, you know, it was trying to create cities and experiences and brands were launching things in it and it was all based on the web but I have to say that its user numbers aren't looking great. I think they are very low in terms of the numbers of people that are visiting Decentraland now. But I hope that explains a little bit about what they about, what it's about.

Davey: Thank you Jane. We have another one here and this is sort of channelling with some of the things we have talked about Anonymous, won't it really help, only help when Metaverse becomes boring and part of tech infrastructure.

So maybe this is the thinking around, you know, after the hype, fits in well with that in terms of is the development of the Metaverse actually only going to really move forward once all the noise around it has subsided. I mean I suppose Anonymous we are thinking here about Block Chain and what we went through with that when it first was a thing and that is all we heard about and then it subsided and things started to move forward and you have got your banking apps, plug for Will, where you have now got that technology working in the background and actually you don't know it is there it just makes things happen. You know Will, Jane and further thoughts on that?

Will: I guess, yes there is probably some truth in that and I can relate to it but I would also say this is still a big problem to be solved in as far as the engineering capacity to build out the content, the layers, the regulation requirement, some of the legal and privacy points coming through and as an element of that needing to come from venture capital and from private capital that has funded these business so if it is perceived as boring will the required capital come in to the concept in the industry can Meta continue to invest the quantums they have done to get to where that business would like this to get to. That would be probably the only challenge where there might therefore be some headwind if it is perceived to be boring but I certainly agree that when we look at our early days of going to an ATM or using a banking app its wasn't natural, it took quite some time to be comfortable with that as a journey and a protection there will be bad actors unfortunately across most of the things that technology brings to life for consumers and for businesses. How can we work that through? In the right time I think it is now common place to use a smart phone to check your bank balance with a face id, the layers below that and the providers doing that probably not well know to most consumers but that trust is across that point and we are clearly not here yet on this particular topic.

Davey: And actually one of the other questions we have had in from someone similar to that Will is saying how can businesses mitigate potential risks associated with the Metaverse such as privacy and security concerns. Jane do you want to have a little chat about that in terms of just around your views on that topic?

Jane: Yeah, I think it is an interesting one isn't it because it sort of all depends on what happens. Whether this stuff is in a walled garden or whether we genuinely do have interoperable worlds which is the vision that Zuckerberg kind of put forward when he was talking about his ideas for the Metaverse.

But I think, you know, businesses are really going to have to think about this because imagine we have got avatars wandering around in an office setting and then maybe going off somewhere else or if they recreate the, I don't know, the canteen of an office, people are having discussions with others, you know where are the barriers, how much can they say? How protected is kind of the companies IP if it is being discussed openly in some kind of interoperable Metaverse world and this is a really worrying thing for businesses who I think are only just really getting to grips with how they protect their data from cyber criminals that might, sort of, be able to access their systems via hacking. Hacking is going to continue in the Metaverse because we know cyber criminals are always a couple of steps ahead of technology and using it for their own ends.

So businesses definitely need to think about this because privacy is not by any means a natural thing in the Metaverse, in fact the opposite is true I would say, it is kind of one of the least private spaces we have and whilst younger people are very happy to share their data and don't see data privacy as quite as big a deal as older people. Businesses with, you know, secrets and things they don't want to share with other people really do need to think about how much of that they want sort of discussed openly but if they have a walled garden effect and they only have their, recreate their own offices in the Metaverse or a virtual world then what is the point of that, aren't they just recreating something for the sake of recreating it?

So it is going to be a tricky one to deal with and I think we will see a lot more questions about this before anybody is really prepared to jump in full scale.

Davey: Yep. One of the, and I have to read this one out, Alex Brodie, who is my co-chair of tech, Alex thank you for joining, that is very kind. She has asked the question Meta's VP of Metaverse has given an interview to Fortune saying the Metaverse is dead, now we can put our heads down to build. And she says what is its primary value to all of us and others and businesses can have a view but if people don't know what they would do with it can it ever succeed?

So a very poignant question because that is fair point. So is there a piece here around education? You know if people don't know what it is for or how it can be used and how it can benefit them, my point earlier around employees, I guess, of a business understanding what value add it will have for them going forward. Will is there a piece round here, I mean given what HSBC are doing in this space around just I guess brining everyone with you as you go, so education, you know from the board down making sure everyone is aware of what perhaps the approach is, the plan is for the Metaverse?

Will: I think that is certainly the right way to go and we have seen it from Execs, all levels down, having the off-site, having the consultants coming in and bringing it to life and really enforce it. I guess I would only probably say to the end of the question like when we started using the internet did we ever envision that we would be living the lives we are living today. When Steve Jobs created the iphone did he anticipate Uber being built off the back of it, right? Is there something here where we rarely have all the answers when something new comes. Now I acknowledge I find it harder to plot the path through from here on this particular technology compared to other things. I think the education bit is really really important and a quick tangent on to generative AI but as an example we have recently launched an AI ambassador network so 1,800 colleagues two weeks ago dialled in to go through a 30 hours training programme with external accreditation to understand generative AI. There is that curiosity there.

I didn't see that in the same way with Metaverse. It was more around I want to play for half an hour so I can talk about it but I think there is more real term connectivity into the other trends like generative AI where people have been able to experiment, 100 million people are using ChatGPT in the first week so it is downloadable on an app store, use it for free, test and learn, I have got six year old twin girls and I have stories created about Elle and Sophia on unicorns and stuff. I couldn't do that in the same way so I think the only bit I would say is for businesses to encourage that education and engagement is super important around anything around innovation. Maybe it is easier to get right now around generative AI given some of the productivity, some of the applicability colleagues can see. And that is how we are going about it with AI and will continue to do it with innovation ambassadors, innovation leads to try to drive this cultural mindset shift across all of the organisation because there is amazing ideas that sit in our teams across organisations. Surfacing those and working on those problems, that is where we see the real benefit for the businesses we run and the customers that consume and use what we do on a daily basis.

Davey: Great, thank you Will. Jane, heads up I might direct this one at you. With an increasingly elderly population in the West how will they adapt especially as they have the most money? Interesting point given what we are talking about East/West. Conversely with younger populations in developing countries will this increase the old versus young divide and reshape global norms? I know that is a big questions but just Jane any thoughts on that one?

Jane: Well I think definitely that younger people are much more used to the idea of virtual worlds than older because they are gaming more, right? You know a lot of this, and to answer the other question as well, you know, what is kind of the use of it, how would people kind of get into it, you don't need to ask somebody that is playing Roblox or Fortnite what the benefit of virtual worlds are because they are there, they are seeing it and yes its only for entertainment but it is a huge part of their lives.

We have seen, kind of, how, when dealing with the sort of problem of the older population and how you, kind of, keep, how you use tech to help that, it has always been a dilemma hasn't it because we have seen things like robots being put in care homes but it is not really a solution. It is not really what people want it is something that they, it has a place but again not the same as human contact which is ultimately what we need for an older generation to keep them in contact with everybody else.

I have to say though when my mum wore a VR head set, she is in her 80s and when she put it on and saw that she could kind of travel around the world she was quite fascinated by it and I think, again, it is that thing isn't it, this is the big dilemma (a) people don't really know what the Metaverse is because it is sort of a very vague term and people apply different uses to it and we are not really sure but on the other hand if you try on a VR head set and you see the power of it then you have a slightly different view and that is the sort of dilemma and I think there is no reason for there to be any kind of age divide but we have always seen older people less keen to adopt new technology shall we put it that way.

Davey: I mean it is interesting one of the clients I am speak to at the minute and they are actually looking at the elderly living environment and people who still want to be independent and be able to live at home and we all remember the sort of the big red button, grandparent or parents of that age, you know you hit that when something goes wrong and actually that, in this day and age, fairly antiquated right, there has got to be better ways of doing this and there are companies out there who are looking at that and looking at the use of technology and whether that involves, I mean it might not stretch to the Metaverse with that sort of thing but we can certainly see the need for technology and that aging population becoming more adept and perhaps willing to actually adopt that technology. There is definitely a shift because it is all around us at the moment so that is an interesting point Jane.

Timing wise looks we have got loads of questions here popping up, I am struggling to sort of get through them all so thank you so much to everybody for actually asking the questions. Whether I'm going to get round to them all and a few of them are anonymous but look if anyone has got anything that they wish to follow up on or wants to ask any of us directly please do contact us directly. We will send our details around in a follow up email after the webinar so please don't be too despondent and apologies that we haven't got round to all the question but I am very grateful for the interest and asking them so thank you for that. So look we have got a couple of minutes left, I am conscious of people's diaries, I think we probably need to think about drawing a line under this Jane and Will, so look what have we learnt today? So quite a lot, I have certainly learnt quite a lot as well so it sounds like despite conversations switching to focus on AI we are hearing that AI is perhaps the thing that is needed for the Metaverse to actually go forward which is good to hear. The next 12 months is going to be perhaps interesting, Metaverse technology is still an area that businesses should perhaps still be looking at and perhaps they still are looking at its just that they are doing it very very quietly in the background. We have heard that businesses or when businesses were forced to quickly adopt Metaverse technology last year and the great panic that we had and the hype around it it wasn't always successful so perhaps now is the time to get ahead of the curve and to sort of make the leaps forward perhaps that they weren't able to do last year and then I guess what I want to say is a massive thank you to Jane and to Will for joining me today and a massive thank you to those of you who have kindly dialled into this webinar, we hope you find it useful and we hope you find it insightful. Perhaps lots for us to think about and maybe Birmingham Tech Week will get a few more conversations going off the back of this who knows.

A recording of this webinar will be shared shortly so please do feel free to pass it around your colleagues or clients that may be interested in this sort of topic and remember to check out our website, to download our report that we have been talking about today and for all our podcasts and articles. But thank you very much everybody for joining us it has been a great pleasure and enjoy the rest of your week.

Take care.

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