How businesses could use the metaverse

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The alternative digital reality could impact everything from client relationships, training and employee engagement, to the way organisations sell, manufacture and pay for things.

All businesses love a good buzzword – and the metaverse is no exception. Ever since Facebook pivoted to a ‘metaverse company’ in late 2021 (rebranding itself Meta in the process), businesses such as Microsoft, Disney and JP Morgan have clamoured to get involved. For them, the metaverse is a multibillion-dollar opportunity where they can sell products and services, train new hires and bring together remote and far-flung colleagues.  

Accountancy firms are among the businesses most eager to embrace this brave new world, with the big four already setting up ‘virtual campuses’ and advising clients on its potential benefits. But how will our jobs change as a result? How can it be built with ethical concerns in mind? And will the metaverse even happen, given it will take 10 years to build and nobody has a clear idea of what this mostly hypothetical virtual world will look like yet?

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What is the metaverse? 

Not even Meta can accurately foretell what the metaverse will look like. And nobody can confidently say whether we’ll be accessing it via virtual reality (VR) headsets, augmented reality (AR) glasses (think Google Glass), haptic suits (where we can ‘feel’ what our avatars are experiencing) or fiddling on our smartphones like we do today. 

There is a consensus, however, that the metaverse will be a 3D upgrade of today’s digital world. It’ll likely consist of a never-ending network of virtual worlds where our digital clones work together, hang out, buy digital assets and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

Mark Zuckerberg is so convinced of the metaverse’s potential that Meta is investing £10 billion into building it, with the social media magnate predicting the simulated world will become the “successor to the mobile internet… where instead of just viewing content, you are in it”. 

In 2022, Meta unveiled a demo video offering some hints as to what this parallel universe could look like, but this was quickly derided in social media memes. Instead, gaming platforms such as Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft probably offer a better example of what the metaverse could resemble. Incredibly popular – over 200 million people use Roblox every month – they consist of millions of tightly-integrated virtual worlds where users play sub-games, attend concerts (rapper Travis Scott reportedly earned $20 million (£16 million) performing a Fortnite concert to 45 million fans) and buy virtual clothes or land for avatars, using in-game currencies such as Roblox. 

“The metaverse is the internet but more immersive,” says Ed Greig, Chief Disruptor at Deloitte. “We’ve already seen benefits for enterprise such as immersive collaboration, immersive learning and engaging consumers and clients. As long as there’s evidence of positive use cases to improve ways of working, organisations will want to be using these types of technology.” 

Can businesses make money from it? 

Big business is hoping the metaverse spawns its own digital economy, where users create, buy and sell goods. By 2030, the metaverse could be a $13 trillion (£9.9 trillion) opportunity for these firms, according to a report last year from investment bank Citi. 

In a future where everybody has an online mini-me, they might also need a digital wardrobe and lifestyle accoutrements too. Many brands are already setting up shop in proto-metaverse gaming platforms, hoping to engage with younger consumers. Over 21 million users have visited Nikeland in Roblox, while Samsung has opened a version of its New York store in Decentraland (mooch around on the platform for longer and you may stumble into JP Morgan’s lounge, or the Barbados embassy). 

Firms are betting that the metaverse offers them sizable opportunities. Firms such as Procter & Gamble and Disney have invested in ‘chief metaverse officers’, while McDonald’s has filed a trademark for a virtual branch of the golden arches. On a sadder note, the Pacific nation of Tuvalu – which is expected to be submerged by rising seas by 2100 due to climate change – recently announced it would become the first country to replicate itself in the metaverse, to remind their “children and grandchildren what their home once was”. 

Accounting and the metaverse 

Deloitte isn’t the only big four firm to have experimented with the metaverse. Last year KPMG launched a ‘metaverse collaboration hub’, where employees and partners can conduct virtual team meetings and share ideas. Elsewhere, PwC Hong Kong has snapped up imaginary real estate on blockchain-based platform Sandbox, while US accountancy firm Prager Metis advises clients from its Decentraland office. 

“The metaverse will potentially provide accountants with another way of engaging with clients and with our own employees,” says Ian West, KPMG’s UK head of alliances and head of telecoms. “From a consulting perspective, being able to understand the metaverse and help clients build strategies around it – while demonstrating return on investment metrics – is important as they look to invest.” 

The metaverse could also change the nature of auditing. Rather than spending months conducting an audit from a client’s physical workplace, accountants could visit their digital asset in situ and do the work from there. Meanwhile, with Zuckerberg speaking of a “wallet for the metaverse that lets you securely manage your identity, what you own, and how you pay”, finance professionals could find roles managing this digital payment system for their clients. 

Working inside the metaverse: welcome to the ‘infinite office’ 

For businesses, the metaverse isn’t just about making a quick buck selling us (virtual) things we don’t need. Zuckerberg has previously talked of the metaverse acting as an ‘infinite office’ for businesses. Some companies are already designing virtual workplaces that mirror their real offices. Here’s how else the metaverse could change the way we work: 

Meetings and collaborations 

Last October, Meta announced a partnership with Microsoft, which would integrate the latter’s software, such as Teams, Office and Windows, into its Meta Quest headsets. Not everybody is taken with the idea of donning headgear for Teams chats with their colleagues. 

Instead, many firms, especially those with an international workforce spread across many countries, see opportunities in the metaverse bridging geographical divides. Deloitte, for example, has a ‘virtual campus’ in the metaverse, where employees from Manchester to Manila can attend global events and make connections on an island with a pirate ship and waterfalls (users don’t need a laptop to visit because the campus can be streamed too). The big four firm has also recently launched Unlimited Reality by Deloitte, which delivers opportunities to experience events including concerts in the metaverse. 

Customer service 

The metaverse offers businesses the chance to serve customers from a centralised hub, offering more immersive interactions than a chatbot leaping up at the bottom of a screen. If a customer is having problems installing a new home security system or completing mortgage forms, for example, salespeople could show them how to do it within the metaverse. 

Training and onboarding 

Organisations – especially multinationals with employees dispersed across the globe – could use the metaverse to train/onboard new employees from a centralised virtual location. Meanwhile, doctors could learn how to practise surgery on virtual bodies or familiarise themselves with new devices. 

Employee engagement 

Remote employees could work from their firm’s virtual office. This may ease the alienating aspects of working from home, with bosses probably hoping it boosts motivation and productivity too. 

Manufacturing and design 

The use of ‘digital twins’ (3D replicas of real-world products or systems) within the metaverse could be used to help businesses design products more quickly, as well as identifying any points of failure. Already, BMW and Amazon have built digital twins for their factory floor and warehouse, respectively. 

The campaign for an ethical metaverse  

When social media launched in the noughties, few could have foreseen its harmful impact on mental health, data privacy, radicalisation, hate speech and sexual harassment. There are fears that the metaverse could exacerbate these problems. 

“We need to be thinking about how to create a metaverse for good; implementing this will be easier to do now than before we get to widespread adoption,” says West. “While there is potential for the internet’s common dangers to transition to the metaverse, there’s also a fantastic opportunity for creators to work alongside regulators to develop a digital world that’s safer than the internet, and where users are treated more fairly than in the real world.” 

Susie Nurshaw, director at Deloitte Digital, says that the metaverse should be built with inclusion in mind. “There must be diverse representation among those building and running spaces to make them inclusive,” she says. “There’s already a problem with diversity in the metaverse industry, with a lack of female representation. If this lack of diversity continues, it’s likely to limit the accessibility of experiences and adoption of the metaverse by under-represented groups. This risks disadvantaging these groups when the metaverse is embedded across enterprises for onboarding and training.” 

Greig adds: “A ‘betterverse’ would allow people to meaningfully connect with people they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and connect with our world in sustainable ways they wouldn’t otherwise.”   

Will the metaverse even happen? 

Last autumn, Meta confirmed its metaverse division had lost $3.7 billion/£3 billion in Q3. The tech firm’s problems didn’t end there: Meta’s share price sunk to its lowest level since 2015, while 11,000 employees were laid off. The plunging stock price was blamed on falling user numbers (especially younger generations defecting to TikTok), but also the firm ploughing so much money in its mysterious metaverse, a hypothetical entity nobody knows will be successful. 

Could the metaverse remain a make-believe neverland; a giant gamble Meta will eventually regret? 

Although 67% of businesses told one recent KPMG survey they expected to embrace the metaverse within the next two years, the survey also revealed that most organisations are waiting for their competitors to adopt metaverse technologies or for their customers to start demanding it, before making any investment. 

“It’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario at the moment,” says West. “But if the metaverse does become popular, where does that leave your brand? It could be a real missed opportunity in terms of a better, deeper consumer experience.” 

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This interactive, 90-minute webinar uses neuroscience to develop your leadership skills and help you support your business.

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Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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