The Future of Banking in the Metaverse

From Nike’s acquisition of RTFKT to Meta Platform’s Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg playing virtual pingpong, the metaverse has evolved from a buzzword into a way of doing business.

The metaverse could become a “river of entertainment in which the content and commerce flow freely,” according to Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Satya Nadella in “The Coming Battle Over Banking in the Metaverse.” Created by integrating virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, and other technologies, the metaverse is a 3D virtual space with different worlds for its users to enhance their personal and professional experiences, from gaming and socializing to business and financial growth.

That means banking may ultimately come to play a significant role in the metaverse. Whether exchanging currencies between different worlds, converting virtual or real-world assets or creating compliant “meta-lending” options, financial institutions will have no shortage of new and traditional ways to expand their operations within this young virtual space. Companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and South Korea’s KB Kookmin Bank already have a foot in the metaverse. JPMorgan has the Onyx Lounge; Kookmin offers one-on-one consultations. However, banks will find they cannot operate in their traditional ways in this virtual space.

One aspect that might experience a drastic change is the branches themselves. The industry should expect an adjustment period to best facilitate the needs of their metaverse banking customers. These virtual bank branches will need to be flexible in accepting cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens, blockchains and alternative forms of virtual currency if they are to survive in the metaverse.

However, not everyone agrees that bank branches will be that relevant in the metaverse. The idea is that online banking already accomplishes the tasks that a branch located in the metaverse might fulfill. Another issue is that there is little current need for bank branches because the migration to the metaverse is nascent. Only time will tell how banking companies adapt to this new virtual world and the problems that come with it.

Early signs point to a combination of traditional and new banking styles. One of the first products from the metaverse is already shining a light on potential challenges: The purchase and sale of virtual space has significantly changed over the past year. In Ron Shevlin’s article, “JPMorgan Opens A Bank Branch In The Metaverse (But It’s Not What You Think It’s For),” he writes, “the average investment in land was about $5,300, but prices have grown considerably from an average of $100 per land in January to $15,000 in December of 2021, with rapid growth in the fourth quarter when the Sandbox Alpha was released.”

The increasing number of virtual real estate transactions also means the introduction of lending and other financial assistance options. This can already be seen with TerraZero Technologies providing what could be described as the first mortgage. This is just the beginning as we see opportunities for the development of banking services more clearly as the metaverse, its different worlds and its functions and services mature.

Even though the metaverse is still young and there are many challenges ahead, it is clear to see the potential it could have on not only banking, but the way we live as we know it.

Understanding the Cannabis Banking Opportunity

The legal cannabis industry is growing exponentially each year, creating extraordinary opportunities for financial institutions to offer services to this largely underbanked, niche market.

Revenue from direct marijuana businesses alone is expected to exceed $48 billion by 2025, part of a larger $125 billion cannabis opportunity that includes hemp, CBD and other support businesses, according to information from Arcview and BDS Analytics.

In the last few years, the number of banks providing services to cannabis businesses has increased, along with an expansion of the products they are offering. Financial institutions are moving far beyond being “a place to park cash’ which defined the pioneer era of cannabis banking. Today, our bank clients are approaching the industry as a new market to deploy all of their existing products and services, including online cash management, ACH origination, wire transfers, lending, insurance, payments and wealth management. Additionally, a contingent of banks are trailblazing bespoke solutions.

For banks wanting to better understand what the current cannabis banking opportunity looks like, we recommend starting by:

Exploring the Entire Cannabis Ecosystem
A common pitfall for banks considering a cannabis line of business is failing to grasp the true market opportunity. It’s important that bankers explore the entire supply chain: growers, cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and delivery operations and public-facing retail and medical dispensaries that make up the direct cannabis ecosystem.

Beyond that, there is a supporting cast of businesses that service the industry: armored couriers, security firms, consultants, accountants, lighting companies, packaging companies, doctors who prescribe medical cannabis, and many more. These are not plant-touching businesses, but they require additional scrutiny and often struggle with non-cannabis-friendly institutions. All this is in addition to the significant hemp market, which represents an additional $40 billion opportunity by 2025.

Thinking Beyond Fees
Aside from low-cost deposits, many financial institutions initially entered this niche line of business for additional fee income. While the industry still provides strong fee opportunities, including account opening fees, monthly account fees per license, deposit fees and fees for services such as ACH and cash pickup, these can vary greatly from market to market and will decrease as more financial institutions build programs.

Instead of limiting their focus to fees and deposits, banks should understand the full breadth of the services and solutions they can offer these underserved businesses. Most services that a bank provides their average business customer can be offered to legal cannabis businesses — and there is a significant opportunity to create additional services. We believe there are products this industry needs that haven’t been created by banks yet.

Banks thinking about where to start and what products to add should consider common challenges that legal cannabis businesses face: electronic payment products, cash logistics, fair lending and the numerous difficulties around providing opportunities to new business owners and social equity entrepreneurs. Bankers should become familiar with the industry; find out what it’s most similar to — namely agriculture, food processing and manufacturing — as well as how it is unique. That’s where the real opportunity lies.

Building a Scalable Program
To safely service this industry and meet examiner expectations, banks need to demonstrate they understand the risks and institutional impact of banking cannabis and have the capabilities to accomplish the following, at a minimum:

  • Consistent, transparent and thorough monitoring of their cannabis business clients and their activity, to demonstrate that only state legal activity and the associated funds are entering the financial system.
  • Timely and thorough filing of currency transaction reports (CTRs) and suspicious activity reports (SARs).
  • Ability to gracefully exit the line of business, should the bank’s strategy or the industry’s legality change.
  • An understanding of the beneficial ownership structures, particularly when working with multi-state operators.

Performing these tasks manually is time consuming, prone to error and not suitable for scale. Technology allows banks to automate the most tedious and complicated aspects of cannabis banking compliance and effectively grow their programs. Look for technology that offers advanced due diligence during onboarding, detailed transaction monitoring, automated SAR/CTR reporting and account monitoring to ensure full transparency and portfolio management in your program.

Finding a Trusted Partner
When it comes to partners, banks must consider whether their partner can quickly adapt to changes in rules and regulations. Do their tools support visibility into transaction level sales data, peer comparisons and historical performance? Have they worked with your examiners? What do they offer to help banks service both direct and indirect businesses? Can they help their institutions offer new and innovative products to this line of business?

Banks weighing which partners they should take on this journey need to consider their viability for the long run.

Using Strategic Planning to Drive Value


strategic-planning-6-15-15.pngIt is certainly no secret to banking professionals and bank board members that the banking landscape has changed significantly following the financial crisis of 2008. Banks of all sizes now face radically altered economic and regulatory realities. To survive and, more importantly, thrive in this new environment requires banks and bank boards to be more proactive than ever before.

An important—perhaps the most important—element to proactivity is strategic planning. In our business, we run across banks of all shapes and sizes. I’ve spent years as a regulator and now an investment banker visiting with and observing the “haves” and the “have-nots” in our industry—and the associated outcomes associated with each type. If there was one element of bank oversight I could improve tomorrow, it would be the strategic planning process. We often tell bank boards of clients and prospective clients, “Whatever you are doing, do it on purpose.” In other words, have a plan.

Sometimes we are greeted with skepticism: We’ve all heard a variation of the old saw that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. And that may well be true—but Dwight Eisenhower, no slouch at preparing and executing battle plans, reminds us that plans may be useless, but “planning is indispensable.” In other words, the process of systematically evaluating the challenges and opportunities facing your organization as it seeks to accomplish a set of defined goals is always worthwhile. It teases out differences in approach, sets the tone on corporate culture, and outlines benchmarks against which progress can be measured.

There are many benefits to instituting a planning process at your bank, but perhaps the most important is that the regulators expect it. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve endorse it. The Fed’s own examination manual stresses the importance of “designing, implementing and supporting an effective strategic plan.”  But we all know there is the “spirit” of the regulatory guidance and the “letter.” You can certainly go through the motions to ensure you have a document that passes muster with your regulator—but in my experience effective organizations do much more than this.

Far more than a perfunctory regulatory expectation, an effective strategic plan ensures continuity between the board and the management team on key matters of setting strategic goals, the process by which progress will be measured, the talent needed to achieve the goals, the challenges the organization currently faces, and planning for contingencies (or known unknowns). Done right, a good strategic plan is the backbone around which an organization can evaluate managerial effectiveness, design compensation structure, orchestrate team building and hiring decisions, ensure infrastructure is in place well in advance of each phase of growth, execute on plans to enter or exit lines of business, and position itself to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and challenges.

Having a common mindset on these matters will enhance organizational effectiveness and avoid crippling delay when presented with new and unexpected developments. As a regulator during the financial crisis, I was amazed that, in the stretch of a single morning’s phone conversations, I would visit with executives in both severely crippled organizations as well as strong banks methodically plotting how to seize on the opportunities presented by the downturn to expand, grow and strengthen their companies. One group was in harm’s way and the other was positioned to succeed. Often, the difference came down to planning, or the lack thereof.

Another benefit of planning is to position the organization for the future. A well developed strategy along with a track record of delivering on strategic promises can position an organization nicely for more advanced stages of growth. A community bank considering institutional investors, in anticipation of well thought out expansion or a public stock offering, for example, will benefit from a disciplined and thoughtful planning process. The track record presents a benchmark against which investors can evaluate management and board performance. The bank can anticipate questions investors may ask when a robust and performance-based discussion is already part of the bank’s internal dialogue.

Finally, a strategic plan can help the bank avoid foreseeable bad outcomes. Strategic plans don’t protect the bank from all harm. But the planning process can identify employees, customers, or lines of business out of step with the organization’s carefully considered tolerances for risk. It can help companies avoid needless and unproductive spats with regulators (over the failure to plan, for example) and tense conversations with restless investors, whose first question is often: What is the plan? Good execution can establish a track record which will serve the organization well in considering mergers or acquisitions — and it can drive greater value when it comes time to sell.

Clear–eyed and realistic self-assessment, plus robust planning and benchmarking, should be elevated to a much higher prominence in the company than a simple checked box on a regulatory form. Done right, it can result in an enhanced and more disciplined corporate culture, ensuring the organization is positioned to grow responsibly and drive shareholder value.