Are HR and fintech the next business frontiers for virtual reality?

Trading and training aren’t as cool as video gaming but they may become hot business markets for virtual reality (VR) technology.

While video games still grab most of today’s VR headlines and users, a Toronto-based VR visionary believes there’s big business potential in using the technology for financial trading and human resources (HR) training.

“HR is a huge untapped market. It’s not sexy like gaming and porn. It’s training. But this is where you make money in VR, right here,” said Alan Smithson, co-founder and CEO of MetaVrse, a Toronto firm offering VR livestreaming and branding services to the events industry.

Vantrix VR headset demo
Industries ranging from travel to finance are looking to make a business case for VR beyond video games.

“(Companies) want to be able to train their staff from thousands of miles away and not have to fly a trainer out there to meet with them. It’s very basic and very boring but saves them a ton of money,” Smithson added during his presentation at the VRTO conference in Toronto on Monday.

Last year a VR workplace training and safety lab opened at the University of Sudbury. Located in the heart of Northern Ontario’s mining sector, the lab has developed a VR app for the Oculus Rift headset that trains workers to recognize hazards in a virtual mine setting. Besides saving mining firms time and money, the technology is safer because it minimizes the number of dangerous conditions workers are exposed to during training.

Fintech VR

Trading stocks, currencies and commodities could also go virtual in the financial services sector, Smithson said. Some companies are already mocking up VR views of financial data sets that can be moved and modeled virtually to show traders even deeper insights into the numbers.

“You can get really creative with data visualization,” he said.

Instead of viewing financial data on multiple computer screens at once, he predicted, traders may someday view them in a VR headset, gaining the ability to move 3D data sets around in the blink of an eye.

Ontario’s Minister of Research, Innovation and Science Reza Moridi testing a VR simulator for workplace training and safety at the University of Sudbury in February.

Smithson said some banks will likely consider creating VR ‘staff’ to service customers inside branches. U.S.-based Capital One and Wells Fargo have experimented with a VR headset banking experience but haven’t rolled it out so far.

Travel tech

Although Smithson said HR and fintech are great potential markets for VR technology, he thinks they’ll likely be latecomers. So far, the travel, real estate and entertainment industries have been the early adopters of VR tech.

On the travel side, Marriott pilot tested its VRoom Service last fall. Guests at Marriott hotels in New York and London could borrow a Samsung Gear VR viewer for 24 hours. They could use them to watch VRPostcards, a series of Marriott-produced VR tours of Chile, Rwanda and China.

Sticking with the travel theme, Smithson said some cruise lines are up-selling passengers on port-of-call excursions by showing them what it’s like to swim with dolphins, for example, on VR headsets first.

Virtual realty?

In the real estate sector, Sotheby’s started offering VR tours of luxury homes last year. In the automotive trade, Cadillac is reportedly considering virtual dealerships where, according to the Wall Street Journal, customers could take VR test drives but wouldn’t have any actual tires to kick.

20160627 - VRTO - Alan Smithson - Captive Camera-6690
MetaVRse CEO Alan Smithson says there’s money to be made in less flashy VR applications for HR and financial services. (Photo: Jaime Espinoza/Captive Camera)

Ford has already created an augmented reality app for its customers in Malaysia. When drivers view their Ford vehicle through a mobile device, the app brings up owner’s manual details about certain parts of the car or truck.

Looking past the hype

Although Deloitte’s 2016 technology forecast predicts VR technology will hit $1 billion in sales for the first time this year, “the vast majority of commercial activity (will) focus on video games,” the report suggests. On the enterprise side, Deloitte expects 2016 to be “a year of experimentation, with a range of companies dabbling with using VR for sales and marketing purposes.”

Deloitte goes on to sound a note of caution about what it calls the “considerable hype” surrounding any emerging tech like VR.

“Any company considering marketing via VR imagery should consider the cost of making this content available to consumers. For example, travel companies wanting to create VR brochures should assess how much filming and playback in VR may cost relative to current marketing approaches. They should also assess the cost associated with acquiring the hardware needed to display these materials.”

While virtual reality technology continues to improve, Deloitte notes that some VR headsets are still uncomfortable to wear. The research firm concludes that at this early stage of VR’s evolution, “enthusiastic reactions to VR at trade fairs or at industry conferences, based on a few minutes of usage, may not convert into mass market demand.”

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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at and is now a freelance contributor.

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