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Please don't ask me to visit my bank in virtual reality

Please don't ask me to visit my bank in virtual reality


This Oculus Rift skeuomorphism has to stop

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Here is, without a doubt, the most dangerous thing about virtual reality: it's convinced way too many people that the highest-bandwidth solution to a problem is the best one.

Do you watch Netflix? Well, what about a virtual Netflix where you walk around a video rental store and pick up a movie box to start watching? Amazon? How about a virtual shopping mall where every department is a different outlet store and you can examine everything in 3D, and when you buy something, you can carry it outside and drop it into a virtual drone delivery box? Looking up a word in a dictionary? Why not join an immersive virtual chat with an etymologist whose avatar will juggle anthropomorphic representations of its conjugates?

Wells Fargo invited The Wall Street Journal to its "innovation lab" in San Francisco, where employees brainstorm ideas about the future of banking. Alongside the smartcar integration and video chatting, there was this:

At times, it seemed as if Wells Fargo was trying to integrate banking into every hot new technology, whether it was practical or not. One idea, for example: Customers could use an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to virtually walk into a bank branch and talk to a teller.

I, like many people, have had difficult conversations with customer support agents. Sometimes I need the quick interaction of instant messaging, or the telephone's ability to communicate nuance. I could even see sharing a screen for troubleshooting or joining a video call for a high-stress loan negotiation. But at no point have I ever felt that my experience would be improved by being able to really feel like I was sitting across a desk from someone at the local Bank of America, especially since I would presumably spend several minutes on hold in an interactive 360-degree Kenny G concert first.

One of the most frustrating things about VR is that people conflate 'more immersive' with 'better'

The chances of Wells Fargo ever implementing this seem low, and "innovation labs" are pretty much made for throwing around silly ideas anyways. But one of the most frustrating things about covering virtual reality is the extent to which people conflate "more immersive" with "better." Text, audio, and 2D graphics aren't simply poor substitutes for physical presence, they're legitimate media that I'd often rather use — there's a reason David Foster Wallace's 1996 explanation of why people hate video phones keeps getting excerpted online.

The Oculus Rift is great because it lets you give a single experience your undivided attention. Unfortunately, some things don't deserve my undivided attention, and banking is usually one of them. It took long enough to get half-decent web and phone interfaces for managing accounts and cashing checks. Putting a pair of goggles between me and my money is just cruel.