Follow the money: why VR and finance are the tech trends to watch

By Oliver Smith 17 May 2017
Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable.

TransferWise and Improbable show which way the wind is blowing.

It’s been a rocky start to 2017, but finally two pieces of good news.

Britain’s most high-profile financial technology business, TransferWise, is profitable for the first time in its six-year history.

And last week London-based Improbable, which creates software to power virtual Matrix-like worlds, raised a whopping $502m from one of Japan’s most prolific investors.

These announcements are unconnected, but highlight two sectors which are on-track to dominate 2017.

Read more: Meeting the British CEO building The Matrix

Improbable's software is used to create Matrix-like worlds in virtual reality.

Building virtual worlds

If 2016 was the year virtual reality found its feet, 2017 is fast-becoming the year VR engulfs everything.

When Improbable’s CEO Herman Narula told The Memo last year to “imagine thousands of people in the same world, with millions of persistent entities,” it sounded too good to be true.

Today we have group grief counselling sessions happening in VR, IMAX opening VR cinemas that are drawing thousands of visitors, and even financial institutions are using the technology to help people manage their money.

VR is still struggling to cement itself into people’s lives. Headsets are priced beyond the reach of most and experiences still err on the gimmicky side.

While VR may not yet be perfect, but Improbable’s half a billion dollar fundraise from Softbank is the clearest signal that the technologies that power it are here to stay.

Tom Blomfield, CEO at Monzo.
Tom Blomfield, CEO at Monzo.

Faster finance

The pace and scale of change in the world of finance has never been clearer, especially in 2017.

Whether it’s Monzo’s news yesterday that more than a quarter of a billion pounds has been spent by its cardholders, Starling Bank’s debut of the first digital current account or Barclays opening Europe’s biggest finance co-working space in London.

Today’s news that TransferWise has reached break-even is great, not just for its cofounders Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann who have diligently built the firm over six years, but for the wider sector of digital finance.

With 2016’s high-profile failures like Powa still on investors minds, it’s welcome news.

If Taavet and Kristo can build a global finance business, remain independent and turn a profit, there’s hope that the Monzos, Starlings and Revoluts of the world can too.

Ones to watch

VR and finance are set to be 2017’s biggest and boldest tech trends, that’s why here at The Memo we’re paying close attention to both.

The wave of change in both sectors has never been stronger, with both technologies reshaping how we communicate, enjoy media and entertainment, and manage our money.

Today TransferWise and Improbable show which way the wind is blowing.