I attended this week’s Gronstedt Group meeting in Second Life to hear David Castera of Crédit Agricole describe the French bank’s activities in the virtual world. He told us that 30% of their educational meetings are slated to take place on their virtual campus. The bank’s CEO, Jean Philippe, was reported as saying he wants 100% of his employees to have an avatar by the end of 2009! Anders Wildcat, of the the Gronstedt Group, observed that strong CEO support makes all the difference when it comes to businesses exploring the potential of virtual worlds. Anders cited IBM, Cisco and Sun Microsystems as examples of companies working in Second Life with strong CEO backing.
Crédit Agricole runs computer servers dedicated to e-learning outside their firewall, this means Second Life can be safely accessed by staff as it well beyond the reach of the secure banking systems. At this stage Castera estimated just 5% of their staff (of around 1800) have a Second Life account thus far; as he said, they are just beginning the drive to equip all staff with avatars. Castera saw Crédit Agricole conducting an experiment to create ‘digital territory’. He added that the bank also runs a blog La Seconde Vie du Crédit Agricole and a facebook account, and they are considering the creation of an island to help more French people discover Second Life.
It is intriguing to see a bank experimenting with virtual worlds (Crédit Agricole are also delving into OpenSim). Banking types have tended to project themselves as ultra conservative and cautious; I wonder if the recent examples of banking scandals, with their episodes of feckless, reckless, and greedy mismanagement here in the US, might cause banks to project themselves differently? There has certainly been some hypocritical bahavior on the part of US banks (as well as UK banks, I don’t know about the track record of French banking). I see Crédit Agricole starting a new trend. One where banks behave in a more approachable (and accountable) fashion whilst also cutting down on travel and thereby helping the environment.
One of the most positive aspects of virtual words is the break down of national boundaries. Imagine if this could mean the ability to walk into a virtual bank on the synthetic high street and open an account there. It might be the case that I physically live in one country, and the bank is located in another, but accounts would link into something like the LindeX Exchange. As those long in the tooth of Second Life years will recall there was a banking scandal in the virtual world itself, and people lost considerable amounts of ‘first world’ money. Read Technology Review’s Second Life Closes Banks for an uncanny foreshadowing of the recent ‘real world’ financial collapse. In both the real world and virtual world the problem boiled down to lack of regulation, and a laissez-faire attitude on the part of governments (I include Linden Labs as a government in this context). As Technology Review writes, Linden Labs eventually ‘banned virtual banks that can’t furnish “proof of an applicable government registration statement or financial institution charter’. Now, could a bank like Crédit Agricole open up virtual world banking because it can comply to these strict regulations? I wonder if they will give incentive gifts for registering with them? What would a virtual incentive look like?