Billions are being invested in the metaverse, and tech moguls worldwide are calling it the future. But what is the metaverse, and will it ever affect the accounting profession?
The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash”. In the book, the protagonist is a hacker who can jump between a dystopian Los Angeles and a virtual world where avatars interact — the Metaverse.
In 2021, CEO of Meta (previously known as Facebook) Mark Zuckerberg stated that his company would now focus on bringing the metaverse to life — sparking worldwide interest in the futuristic concept. In this article, we will explore what the metaverse is and how it could affect businesses such as accounting firms in the years to come.
Oxford English Dictionary describes the metaverse as a “virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users”. Although Meta’s version of the metaverse will likely be one of the largest, it will not be the only one. Different businesses and people can create their own versions, but they will be interoperable with each other.
The technologies that might make up the metaverse include virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR is characterised by virtual worlds that continue to exist when you’re not present, and AR combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds. Users can access the metaverse through a VR headset or games console, and each user will have their own character or avatar.
The metaverse represents a new digital economy, where users can create, buy, and sell goods and services. For instance, an accounting firm could set up its own business in the metaverse and serve users in the virtual world.
The concept of the metaverse is in its infancy, yet there has already been substantial movement in the area. Google’s Project Starline reimagines an entirely new virtual world, where users can interact with holographic images of their colleagues as if they were in the same room. The virtual fashion house The Fabricant produces digital-only clothing.
Although it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel — as that’s where the idea originated — the metaverse reflects an interesting business opportunity for organisations racing to embrace the digital future.
In January 2022, Prager Metis International LLC, a New York-based accounting and advisory firm, opened a virtual three-storey property on a site it bought for almost $35,000. The firm, which operates globally, made its purchase on the Decentraland platform in partnership with Banquet LLC, a firm that manages blockchain ventures.
It’s the first time a CPA has officially opened an “in-game” branch, bringing real-world financial services to businesses and individuals trading in the metaverse.
In addition, PwC Hong Kong became the first member of an internationally recognised professional services network to publicly buy virtual land on The Sandbox. William Gee, Partner at PwC Hong Kong, stated: “The metaverse offers new possibilities for organisations to create value through innovative business models, as well as introducing new ways to engage with their customers and communities.”
Selling services in the metaverse isn’t the only way accountants can utilise the virtual space. With remote working becoming a staple in many firms, the metaverse offers a unique possibility to collaborate with colleagues from anywhere. CPAs can meet in the metaverse instead of having a call or sending messages, making it a more interactive and immersive experience.
An innovative business model based in the metaverse could also become a unique way of interacting with clients — depending on how the metaverse unfolds. If it becomes more mainstream, certain clients may opt to meet virtually with accountants instead of having a phone conversation. Accounting firms operating in this way could attract a niche market of future-thinking clients, but does every firm need to start thinking about the metaverse right now?
Ericsson forecasts widespread use by 2030 of virtual environments that engage all five senses simultaneously. But, to become the “future of work”, the metaverse will need to overcome some major roadblocks. For instance, the mass adoption of the technology will require a great user experience that is accessible to a cross-section of the population. Moreover, if firms were to embrace the metaverse, HR would need to develop new policies to keep its users safe online.
Despite being years away from the mass adoption of the metaverse for business, the journey to a virtual realm is an exciting prospect for forward-thinking accounting firms. The metaverse promises to produce imaginative ways for CPAs to work and collaborate online. Hybrid working could become about balancing time between the real world and the virtual world. But there are significant challenges that tech companies must overcome before the so-called “future of work” becomes a reality.
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