Bank Pekao S.A. was the first universal financial institution in the world to tokenise art and incorporate it into the world of the metaverse, creating its own gallery within. Are we witnessing the dawn of a new era of banking?

On the internet of the future, which the virtual, three-dimensional metaverse space may become, a life parallel to the real world is to be lived. A life where we make friends, seek entertainment and even business opportunities. The value of the elements of this digital world is determined by tokens, although not all of them are easily exchangeable. The unique ones, primarily attributed to works of art, are NFTs, which can also be an investment. And since values and investments exist in the metaverse environment ‒ there must be banks as well.

A Bank Card as an Object d’Art

Bank Pekao S.A. is a pioneer among the universal financial institutions of the metaverse world. It started with the ground-breaking Unique project, carried out jointly by the bank and MasterCard. Pekao's wealthiest private banking customers were offered 440 credit cards. Each of them had a unique, graphic obverse ‒ a fragment of the work "The Studio Wall", created by the world-famous artist Rafał Bujnowski. The original is a huge canvas several metres long. When 440 digital photographs found their way onto the obverse of the cards, each became an autonomous work and a bank card at the same time. In doing so, it did not lose its functional quality, which corresponded well with the idea of the original work. "The Studio Wall" is an artistic transformation of a space with a primarily practical dimension. Later, the card becomes a photograph again, which, placed in a frame and mounted in a passe-partout, returns to the dimension of art.
Each of the photographs printed on cards is reflected in a non-exchangeable token. This indestructible footprint is placed in a blockchain and thus the virtual world meets the real world.
“The Unique project is more than just access to a professional portfolio of investment products. It reflects market trends, one of which is blockchain, in a broad sense. It is an unprecedented event on a global scale, combining several matters”, says Jarosław Fuchs, Vice-President of Bank Pekao S.A. supervising the Private Banking and Investment Products Division.
The NFT was created for the bank by SmartVerum, a company with international experience in tokenisation.
“The uniqueness of the project is further amplified by the use of a fragmentation process that occurs within the creative process itself. This will undoubtedly lead to the opening of a new chapter of blockchain-based secure digital assets in the banking of the future. We are all the more pleased that, as SmartVerum, we have contributed to this unique project by making tokens available on our platform”, emphasises Bartosz Bilicki, CEO of SmartVerum, an art tokenisation company.
As a next step, Bank Pekao S.A. entered the first Polish metaverse environment, ESKA World. It featured tokenised works of Kaja Renkas, a poster artist, designer and illustrator who works both in the field of traditional graphics and in the space of cutting-edge digital technologies.
“We were the first among the world's universal financial institutions to tokenise art. Our foray into the metaverse, which is inextricably linked to NFTs, is a natural continuation of our activities. We symbolically enter the world of Web 3.0. This is why we exhibit NFTs with Kaja Renkas' artwork, created to celebrate our anniversary, 25 years of private banking, in its natural, digital environment. We understand both this space and our customers, who will certainly be exploring ESKA World”, says Jarosław Fuchs.
Tokens featuring Kaja Renkas' work, as well as animations and an interactive game, can be found in the PeoPay Gallery ‒ the virtual space of ESKA World. It is the first Polish metaverse platform, created for ESKA radio. It combines, in a digital world, interactive entertainment, the world of computer games and online commerce, among other things. The name PeoPay Gallery in ESKA World refers to the mobile application of Bank Pekao S.A.

New-Old Role for the Banks

The bankers point out that tokenised art, or NFT, brings connected opportunities to expand the experience; art is the starting point, while the token itself allows looking at the business in a broader perspective.
“Art and its association with a specific, recognised artist provides an opportunity to appreciate the value of displaying the work in digital form”, emphasises Jarosław Fuchs.
Financial institutions are noticing the growing popularity of NFTs and are keeping a keen eye on the market, looking to tokens as an opportunity to make their offerings more attractive. The world's largest custodian banks have been setting up systems to store and trade crypto assets for some time.
Such a move stems from a simple logic: since banks hold classic financial instruments such as shares, bonds or derivatives, they might as well provide custodial services for alternative funds investing in NFT-based art. It is already apparent that the impacts of this technology go beyond the world of art and also extend into the realms of music, sport and social media.
A growing number of platforms are offering standardised payment options for NFTs. Depending on how the NFT market develops, the financial institutions may have a role in handling its transactions. In the future, the banking sector may play a pioneering role, creating innovative financial products linked to NFT tokens. It is important to bear in mind, however, that this is a very early stage of this technology, and its development will require time and appropriate regulation.

Art Makes It Easier to Stand Out

Although the tokenisation of art is a new phenomenon, the concept of coupling artistic creativity with banking reliability has deep roots, falling into the category of so-called art branding. Bank Pekao S.A.'s collaboration with Rafał Bujnowski and Kaja Renkas is accompanied by advertisements stylistically evocative of the works of Wojciech Fangor; they can be seen in poster form in the windows of Pekao branches throughout Poland. This turn towards art is reframing tradition in a new form. During the socialist period, prominent Polish poster artists collaborated with the bank, creating advertising posters free from the interference of censorship and restrictions on content and form. Collaboration between the bank and artists in this field lasted nearly 40 years.
“From its very inception, the bank has made a point of ensuring the high quality of its advertising materials. For this reason, many of its commissions went to renowned artists who developed methods for promoting the bank. This task was carried out by particularly celebrated artists representing the Polish school of poster art. It already stood out internationally in the 1950s”, explains Jarosław Fuchs.
And it was the Polish school of poster art that provided the impetus for a new opening in the approach to visual communication at Bank Pekao S.A.. It was inspired by the collage format, dominant in the work of the masters of this visual form such as Wojciech Fangor and Roman Cieślewicz.
“We encounter twenty thousand advertising messages every day. Ninety percent of those, we don't even notice. Therefore, the challenge for every brand is to stand out from the crowd and be remembered”, notes Jarosław Fuchs. The bank's idea for more distinct communication is returning to the graphic patterns of the 1960s and 1970s and creatively developing them.
“Starting from a traditional poster, which has been the means of expression in the advertising of Bank Pekao S.A. for 40 years, I created compositions that extend into virtual reality. Their tokenisation has allowed me to go one step further, into the metaverse world. At the same time, by using new technologies, I stay true to my style”, comments Kaja Renkas, the artist whose works, thanks to her collaboration with the bank, have become part of the internet of the future.
Combining tradition and reliability with modernity and innovation seems to be a good plan for success in both banking and the arts. Pekao Bank shows how to put these plans into practice in all areas of its business. ©℗