(Bloomberg) -- When you arrive at Bank of America’s new-employee boot camp at the New York Hilton Midtown, you’ll find a VR headset waiting for you. Slide it on, and you’ll be confronted with an angry customer, frustrated over a mix-up with their account. Your task: talk them down and make them feel heard. Or you can practice keeping your cool while responding to a robbery, and then unwind by relaxing on a virtual island or by sitting on a unicorn. 

Bank of America Corp. uses artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the metaverse as part of an immersive training program for its 2,000 new hires. The move reflects a larger shift in the banking sector, as firms develop technology to enhance performance and cut down costs. 

“These simulations act like practice reps. It makes a new employee experienced, even if they’re brand new,” John Jordan, head of the Academy at Bank of America, said in an interview.  

Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan said in April that AI could have “extreme benefits” and would help to reduce headcount. But he also urged caution. “We have to understand how the decisions are made” as AI becomes more advanced, he said.

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At the week-long training, Bank of America executives deliver keynotes and host panels on subjects like “diversity and inclusion” and “responsible growth,” the firm’s motto. But on their breaks, new hires are encouraged to visit the conference rooms stocked with dozens of VR headsets. Using the technology, employees see a 360-degree view of a bank branch. There, they can learn by doing, not just listening — they even get virtual credit for doing so.

Additional modules walk employees through the bank’s history and explain their benefits packages. Another module offers “wellness” experiences, including that mystical unicorn. 

Mike Wynn, innovation and design executive for Bank of America’s Academy, said the virtual trainings offer real-world scenarios, such as a customer asking for large sums of money or complaining about a fraudulent account. Employees can also engage in an AI-based conversation with a bot acting as a Bank of America client, and another bot coaching them through the proper responses. 

This immersive experience isn’t just for new hires: Bank of America has been using it for more than 200,000 staffers around the world. Every one of its call centers has an AI coach to help rehearse conversations with customers. A manager having a tough time getting through to an employee can set them up with an AI bot for further training.  

Wynn said AI and metaverse trainings offer unique advantages. “It’s hard to teach traditionally. VR creates anxiety, it gets your heart rate up. It makes you nervous.” 

When Bank of America first piloted its VR program in 2019, 97% of the participants felt more comfortable performing their tasks after going through the simulations. Bank of America found that employees absorbed training material faster than they did in traditional classroom settings.

But technology has its limits, Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute who researches the impacts of disruptive technologies on business and society, told Bloomberg News. “Even if a machine could provide insight into emotional questions, I as a trainee might still prefer a human trainer,” he said.

Wynn said this new technology is “not about removing the human connection. It’s about making the human connection stronger, simulating reality.”

Bank of America is also weighing using the metaverse to tap a younger generation of potential hires at career fairs. “Instead of telling them about the experience in banking, we show them that day what it’s like to live the life of an associate,” Jordan said.

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