Virtual banking

High street banks have spent the best part of a decade closing down unprofitable branches, as cutthroat competition forces them to concentrate on high-yield premises. Now, Dutch banking giant ABN AMRO is reversing that trend, opening up operations in new, and somewhat surreal, locations.

In fact ABN has got the virtual bug, becoming the latest blue-chip organisation to see the marketing potential of the online role-playing game Second Life. In opening a virtual financial centre, ABN will initially offer financial advice to visitors, although a bank spokesman says that other banking services may be considered in the future.

Others that have set up shop, so to speak, include Toyota, IBM and Adidas; news service, Reuters, already has a dedicated Second Life correspondent.

Second Life, which has a virtual population of more than 380,000, operates its virtual economy using a currency called ‘Linden dollars’ which can be exchanged for real US dollars. There are already nightclubs, shopping centres, even ski resorts, so why not banks?

ABN AMRO, hopes its presence in the Internet society will serve as a competitive differentiator, providing a “personal and more direct” channel through which to communicate with its customers.

To date, citizens have proven to be a rebellious lot, forcing the community’s creators to abandon plans to tax possessions. Whether the Second Life citizens take to virtual banking remains to be seen.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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