Gamification of financial wellness

While the financial industry is booming, companies are struggling under competition between banks, startups, e-commerce, and social networks to attract clients. In such a saturated market, customer loyalty becomes crucial. 

Financial service providers want to change perceptions from someone who wants to charge as much as possible, to a partner or a coach who is helping clients to be financially successful. Banks and fintech entrepreneurs have started to release content on how to be financially conscious and blogs with advice about money basics, paying for college, loans, and buying a home. However, the attention economy is squeezing available user time, making behavior changes difficult. 

Mobile and computer gaming engages almost three generations in digital activity. High-adoption principles of gamification are applicable to fields that are not directly related to gaming, such as luxury retail, education, workplace, fitness, advertising and loyalty programs.

Gamification is a key tool for driving clients’ financial consciousness, helping them grow their assets, and learning how to gain financial health. Efforts to improve financial inclusion expand immediately address market needs  in developing countries. To be an ally for the underbanked customers globally by helping them to create wealth is not only a social responsibility, but also a catalyst for loyalty and future success. 

Gamification is based on universal rules and practices that can be found in every culture, which help an audience without formal education to gain knowledge and stay engaged in establishing smart money habits. 

Summary

  • The basic principles of gamification and banking-related examples of products that leverage them;

  • Financial Wellness Startups with gamification as a core fundamental;

  • Business Models that companies use for gamification in financial services.

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Gamification mechanics

Gamification stands for exploiting features and mechanics from traditional games in other activities. It can come in the form of simple exercises or complex challenges with basic rules.  Because the process is meant to be enjoyable and fun through triggers in a rewards loop, both motivation and engagement metrics increase by 100% (Source).

These principles include:

Feedback and Reward

Reward systems provide positive feedback on specific user activities empowering clients to earn more points, get badges and level up. An example is with US-based PNC Bank as they involve depositors in setting and reaching their savings goals in a virtual wallet with a gamified feature called Punch the Pig. When user status in the system is active, a piggy bank appears on the screen and motivates customers to transfer a certain sum from their checking to savings account. 

A more sophisticated system was developed by Emirates NBD in partnership with a fitness app. The most active and healthy customers were able to get the best savings rates for deposits. For example, 12,000 steps per day unlocked 2% interest rate. Besides the social responsibility of motivating clients to be physically healthy with a workout, the campaign resulted in $4.37 million in savings which leads to financial health.

Interactive Interface + Coaching 

Social media disrupts users' attention. The average person can’t digest long reads or find proper information if it will take more than 3 minutes. Customers growing expectations demand an experience of being interactive, personalized and straightforward. Chatbots convert an application process to a conversational experience so that getting advice or having a product consultation is as easy as a text chat with friends. Emoji and gifs are welcome even for traditional institutions! 

To reduce negative feedback from clients on removing free checking accounts, Extraco Bank launched a game with mechanics where the bank explained the benefits of converting customers’ checking accounts. Customers went through a series of questions about their spending habits and learned the ways of reducing new fees with online bill pay or direct deposits. Compared to the previous long and official announcement, the test got a 7x conversion rate — Extraco sent 21,665 mailings, and the game had 4,250 visitors. Of those, 14% converted to Bonus Banking, the account being pitched. They said a typical conversion rate is less than 2%.

Spanish institution BBVA promoted online banking services with a web application where customers can earn points for watching educational videos explaining how to make simple banking transactions, use the mobile banking app, or pay taxes online. Bonus points were converted to certificates, gifts, and music downloads. 

Progress Path

Most of the games are built as journeys where a hero experiences challenges. A map with achievable game levels and steps on the way to success make it both compelling and interesting to engage — especially when you compete with someone else.

CommBank of Australia released Investorville to let customers simulate buying and owning a property. Players can experiment with applying for different types of mortgages, go through renovations and gain experience of paying property taxes. While playing, first-time buyers can see the consequences of their financial decisions and analyze potential pitfalls.

Enrich, a financial wellness program for the workplace uses daily challenges similar to a fitness app as a key motivator to open new levels of goals. 

Startups

Numerous emerging startups on the intersection of gaming and fintech show demand for engaging mechanics of classical savings and investments. 

Long Game

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Lindsay Holden, founder, and CEO of this startup states that 40% of Americans have no savings, 70% have less than $1,000 in savings, and 63% can’t cover an unexpected $500 expense. The problem is even more dramatic: ”Yet Americans spend almost $70 billion on lottery tickets every year, with the average household spending $540 annually on lottery tickets.” San Francisco-based Long Game secured a new funding round of $6.6 million to address this issue by leveraging behavioral economics for understanding what motivates people to spend on lottery and gaming. The company offers to create a savings account and be rewarded with virtual coins, which can be used to play games on the mobile app. 

Long Game has partnered with Blue Ridge to open and operate savings accounts. It also supports 700 banks across the U.S., meaning that if individuals have a checking account at a supported bank, they will be able to transfer money into their newly opened savings account at Blue Ridge. Long Game has nearly 70,000 users who add an average of $60 to their savings account each month. The startup’s revenue model is a percentage of the transactions. 

A similar gamification tool is already on the radar of other savings apps, like Digit, Clarity Money, and Save to Win. Not long ago the company launched crypto assets, including ETH, BTC, BAT and ZRX, for users to earn and win, and is providing education about these assets and blockchain technologies in general.

Blast

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Gamification platform Blast is targeting specifically gamers and teaching how to earn cash every day by saving money. The company’s story and mission are based on a thesis that games are good, and life and gaming can exist in harmony. Blast’s users can choose a mission for ‘triggering savings’ (for example, earn 25¢ for gathering candy in the game, make 50¢ for collecting coins, or get $1 for conquering that pesky level 7), compete on the leaderboard for a higher rank and watch how your savings are growing.  

The California-based startup has closed a seed round of $12m from personal growth entrepreneur Tony Robbins, Palo Alto-based FinTech fund CreditEase, and influencer-focused VC fund RX3. The company has launched its app on the Google Play Store providing support of Android phone users.  Blast accumulates money in an FDIC-insured account earning 1% APY, alongside any dividends earned through ‘missions’. A mission allows a gamer to test a new game or playing their favorite games at higher levels. 

Nestlings

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Nestlings resembles a mobile game with a collection of whimsical creatures characters to choose from. Besides beautiful graphics, it helps to save money.  After connection with a bank account, it starts to trigger game events with savings.

For example, the turtle-like Shellebrate puts away 50p every Friday, just to celebrate the end of the week. If you avoid public transport for a day, a little birdie called Wonda puts away £2 and a tall dark creature in a cloak emerges every time you spend money after midnight and pulls out 75p from your bank account putting it into your savings pot. With the help of these micro-savings on a regular basis, you can have a wallet to slowly build a savings pot automatically. 
Developed by fintech company, Thought Machine, and game studio, Glitchers, and Nestlings will be launched soon. “Saving up a decent nest egg could take quite a while – we’ve been suggesting £1,000 over 12 months – so keeping people engaged was definitely an issue,” explains Thought Machine’s Chief Design Officer Mark Warrick. 

Acorns

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Acorns isn’t a typical saving game but it represents how gamification principles can be used for micro-investing. It’s an automated investing app that rounds up your transactions. The app is designed around the concept of modern portfolio theory and costs $1-3 per month fee to use. After downloading the app and registration, you are answering a few questions that lead to a recommendation of an efficient portfolio for you from conservative (lots of bonds) to aggressive (all stocks and real estate).

To connect investing and the shopping experience, the company introduced a partnership program, Found MoneyⓇ, which combines the micro-investing concept with the cashback site concept. When you use the Acorns app to purchase from a select list of retailers, the companies will deposit Found MoneyⓇ around 1-2% into your account. Top retailers include Apple, Walmart.com, Airbnb, The Wall Street Journal and more. 

Moroku

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Unlike the startups above Moroku is a white-label gamification service provider for banking — offering complete solutions that increase customers’ engagement created by mobile, social, gaming and cloud. The company is positioning their product as a tool for banks to bridge the gap to the previously underbanked audience with a sociable gaming experience. “

As banking, becomes more digitized, the general population in the developed world is getting worse at it. Treating financial services as a game is the most transformational opportunity available to financial services executives looking for an opportunity to out-compete the market” - Moroku’s website states. 

The startup was based in Australia and launched in 2012 with a mission of making banking fun. Moroku’s vision is a world where everybody is included financially and being smart with their money. They take the principles of gaming and behavioral economics and apply them to build and run contemporary mobile banking experiences for banks. The provision of a cloud service, banking templates and APIs enables banks to rapidly deploy a quality, digital banking experience.

Flourish

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Flourish was established in 2017 by UC Berkeley Haas student Pedro Moura and his Haas MBA classmate Jessica Eting. Pedro’s family emigrated from Brazil to California. His mother worked double shifts at various odd jobs to help make ends meet and, while they knew that saving for the future was crucial, putting money aside was often more an aspirational goal than an achievable one. Flourish was created as a tool that helps minority and immigrant communities build financial health habits and save money.

The premise is simple enough: each time the user successfully hits a saving milestone (e.g. saving their first $100), they are rewarded with in-app tokens that they can use to play a variety of in-app games and participate in lucky draws and raffles. Founders think that network of partnerships is the key to Flourish’s future: “We are helping banks reach and engage demographics that they have traditionally struggled to connect with in a cost effective manner. It is a win-win all around, users are getting a free and exciting way to save money while our banking partner is generating additional deposits. Additionally, we are also creating new activity and transactions in existing dormant accounts for our partners”. Flourish takes a small fee from banks for each account opened and courts sponsorships for their regular lucky draws and raffles. As the next step Flourish wants to gain access to users spending patterns and refer them to better priced alternatives, while also collecting a referral fee from the companies selling those alternatives.

Business Models

Gamification service providers exploit diverse approaches to revenue streams:

  • B2B2C. Service as a Corporate benefit. Studies show that financial education increases employee engagement and loyalty, particularly among younger staff. However, workplace financial wellness programs are not working well usually because of poor execution. Roughly 80% of employers offer them, and less than one-third of employees participate.

  • GaaS. Gamification-as-a-service. In case when a bank doesn’t want to develop its own solution, it can partner with fintechs that offer a white label solution. The second option is to be integrated into a product and promote service among clients with special bonus points.

  • Open Innovation. Attract startups on an early stage. To avoid expensive R&D, some banks prefer to define the problem to be solved and launch the contest or hackathon that brings the brightest minds. For example, Barclays announced its Launchpad Business Challenge to see how gamification can enhance the online and mobile banking experience for customers. The bank shared sandbox APIs and asked companies to contribute their ideas. With about 16 million customers worldwide, the bank is likely to attract the attention of the most innovative startups.

  • B2C.  Develop a product that addresses customers directly. Apps use freemium, subscription and commission-based as transaction business-models.

  • Proprietary solution. Established financial institutions that already have a product team can afford to develop their own solutions that can be integrated into an online banking app. 

Conclusion

By helping customers build a savings habit or automate behavior in a fun manner, financial institutions can boost deposits and educate clients on how to use other financial products.

For the underbanked segment, gamification simplifies the perception of complex banking products and increases financial literacy among customers and their kids who become a secondary target audience for engagement. However, gathering data insights about customer behavior should be done ethically and complaint to policies and data regulation. 

References