Although it is a popular buzzword among technology and investment companies, it is difficult to define exactly what “the Metaverse” really means. The term doesn’t actually refer to any one specific type of technology, but instead is a way to broadly encapsulate an evolving future where our interactions will change through leveraging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Henny Crauwels and Frank Dekker, senior and expert portfolio managers respectively for APG’s developed market equities team agree that the term Metaverse is being thrown around quite loosely.
“We are a bit worried about companies now throwing a lot of money towards concepts and chasing buzzwords without knowing exactly what they really want and how they’ll eventually make money out of it,” they told AsianInvestor
Crauwels and Dekker do, however, agree that the Metaverse will have a big impact on society over the next 7 to 10 years, and most of us already have one foot in the Metaverse.
“You could argue that the Metaverse has already penetrated our society with the advent of many contacts being digital with more meetings being done via Zoom or Teams, customer relations with companies moving online and being handled for a large part by bots/automation,” they told AsianInvestor.
“If you consider this combination of current online interactions and the advent of social shopping as a follow up and next step on the trend to purchase items and services online then the Metaverse is already huge.”
INVESTING IN THE METAVERSE
APG is the largest pension provider in the Netherlands with over $719 billion in assets under management, and as such the fund approaches all investments through a long-term lens.
The Metaverse requires big investments, but the returns are still uncertain at the moment, according to Crauwels and Dekker.
“For the short term, we see more opportunities in AR/VR than in the Metaverse — which is kind of a frontrunner in what Metaverse could be,” they said. “We believe AR/VR will be enabled by “stand alone” 5G networks, which will be introduced in 2022 and will go mass market in 2023. In addition, Apple is expected to release an AR/VR device in the second half of 2022.”
APG has invested in several interactive media (Gaming) companies such as ATVI, EA, Ubisoft, as well as social media and digital advertising companies like Meta, Google, Snap, “that potentially could benefit from the Metaverse,” they said.
“We are also invested in connectivity providers and telco’s such as KPN, Singapore Telecom, T-Mobile US and companies that deliver the infrastructure for the data transport such as Vantage towers & Cellnex."
For future investments APG monitors how well companies are prepared for a more digitally centric future and the need to handle ever more data traffic.
“Next to that, we look at the hyperscalers who will play an important role in data storage and processing,” said Crauwels and Dekker.
For telecommunications operators, APG focuses on markets with a good market structure, these companies have better pricing power.
“In Europe there has been little pricing power in mobile over the last 10 years — traffic growing 40% per year, average sales per customer falling 4% — 10 year CAGR. Good markets are able to increase sales per customer 1-5% with 40% per year traffic growth.”
METAVERSE PROJECTS TO WATCH
APG is keeping an eye on several Metaverse project but since a lot still has to be invented and is several years out, it is hard to have definition of what will eventually drive the success of the Metaverse, according to the portfolio managers.
In their view, what is important for the Metaverses’ development is the availability of content.
“Gaming plays an important role for content,” they said. “What surprises us is the lack of focus on Google. Google has loads of content via Youtube and together with the huge network of content creators this can possibly evolve into creating content for the Metaverse in the future.”
Crauwels and Dekker also highlight Roblox — an online platform and storefront where users go to play games — as having the potential to become a major player for the Metaverse.
“They provide game developers with software tools and charge a fee for these tools. Roblox has a strong position among young people,” they said.
“Meta (Facebook) seems an obvious choice, but we are concerned about regulatory risks and a possible decline in customer base.”
The Growth Factory is part of APG and focuses on innovations around the needs of participants, employers and pension funds.
The Growth Factory is scanning the market on a regular basis to analyse how, and if, the Metaverse provides new opportunities that will benefit APG’s participants.
“We will then prototype and validate these solutions to test their added value for our participants, pension funds, employers or APG-colleagues,” Anne-Marie Le Doux-Janssen, head of the Growth Factory APG told AsianInvestor.
Le Doux-Janssen said that the Metaverse is still just a concept, but one that has the potential to completely revolutionise the pension fund’s interactions with its clients and participants.
“Though originally thought to be of value for specifically the gaming industry and social media, Metaverse technologies turn out to be also of practical use for traditional sectors such as the financial services industry,” she said.
Currently APG is experimenting, or preparing to experiment, with a diversified portfolio of practical applications and techniques from the Metaverse. For example, AR & VR are being used to simulate different financial scenarios.
“Participants can for example visualise how their current financial decisions will impact their financial future. This will make it so much easier to compare saving to, for example, investing and the outcome that will have when retiring,” said Le Doux-Janssen.
Another practical application APG are testing is screen-sharing, which can be very useful when interacting with participants while not in the same physical space.
“Avatars are already an important aspect of the Metaverse,” she said. “Last year APG experimented with digital humans and we are expecting to integrate these into our platforms and channels within a few years.”
In general, the Growth Factory is particularly interested in all techniques that could eliminate frictions in the customer journey, focusing on human touchpoints within the digitised experience. These can help APG to provide personalised, relevant and accurate services, and to improve its participants sense of trustworthiness.
“Another movement that drew our attention is the recent opening of the first customer services centers,” she said.
“The Metaverse is expected to become an important platform for both personal and business interactions, including financial transactions. We are watching the development of this new economic system closely.”