A new era is dawning on us. An era that will be characterised by a 3D immersive world to be ruled by augmented and virtual reality where your digital avatars will meet your friends and relatives, attend celebrations — and memorials — rather than physically. And where virtual assets may even hold greater value than real assets.

If all this sounds crazy, fuzzy and fictional to many of us, we are not alone. The stark reality is that the ‘Metaverse’ era is already upon us. Neal Stephenson coined this term in his novel Snow Crash to describe an imaginary virtual world in the future. Snow Crash propagated Metaverse as a virtual-reality world in which virtual real estate was being traded. And where users choose their 3D avatars wearing VR goggles.

Thirty-years since, humanity has already taken the first steps towards augmented and virtual reality in Metaverse with widespread acceptance of cryptocurrency and blockchain-enabled non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and 3D avatars. That calls for creation of new business models and a whole new economy powered by an ecosystem of users, advertisers, platforms, enablers, technology and service providers who will create some of the most unbelievable use cases for the future.

Read Ajita Shashidhar and Asmita Dey-authored cover story on how India’s Metaverse Economy is being created, byte by byte. And the enormous challenges along the way.

On the other hand, in India’s 2D Internet world, a refreshing new set of direct-to-consumer brands are giving the established ones a run for their money. Brand-starved Bharat is rapidly embracing digital-first consumer brands in sectors as diverse as beauty and electronics; health to pet care and fresh meat to chocolates. My Glamm, Mamaearth, Bewakoof, Sleepy Owl, are just a handful of smart brands taking Bharat by storm. Read about India’s D2C Brand Sweep.

Meanwhile, the business of diagnostic labs surged and ebbed with Covid. When revenue peaked during Covid 2.0, so did their valuation. With Covid-test revenue crashing, valuation, too, has come crashing down 30-50%. Joe C. Mathew captures how pathlabs are coping with the challenge with remarkable new revenue streams.

The Special Issue this month is our brand new introduction: India’s Best Financiers — a Fortune India-Grant Thornton Bharat study of India’s best banks. A unique study that stands out for not just capturing the past fiscal performance of banks but also the first nine months of the most recent fiscal. V. Keshavdev examines how the most successful of India’s best banks steered through the past two years with foresight and patience.

The Special package is also studded with stories that bring alive what’s going on in India’s banking sector. In ‘Learning to live with fintech’, the early animosity between incumbent banks and newbies fintechs seems to be a thing of the past. The two are now collaborating to help the former slash operational costs. For the latter, it’s a question of accessing a wider universe very early in their lifecycles. In ‘Payments banks’ trial by fire’ read how, contrary to perception, payments banks such as Fino and Airtel have turned profitable. And in RBI’s digital currency challenge, consider the hurdles before sovereign digital currencies when cryptos are the flavour of the season.

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