Game On

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Will community bankers be playing with ‘gamification’ soon?

By Elizabeth Judd

Fitbit Inc., which has sold more than 25 million mobile activity tracking devices, is successful because it makes measuring health activity and data—from how many steps someone walks in a given day to how much sleep a person gets—fun. Likewise, LinkedIn, with more than 400 million users of its online professional networking site, has transformed the chore of building career success into something that is pleasant, if not entertaining, to do.

These technology companies have figured out ways to make activities that are not particularly glamorous into virtual games, where measuring progress can be a sport in and of itself. Given the success of Fitbit and LinkedIn, many technology observers are wondering why no one has yet found a slam-dunk way to turn saving for retirement or working toward other financial goals into an equally compelling activity through game technology, “gamification.”

If you haven’t heard of gamification, that may be because mainstream financial institutions have generally been slow to hop onto this particular bandwagon. Gamification, according to Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at the technology research and consulting firm Javelin Strategy and Research in Pleasanton, Calif., is using techniques of video games “to find ways to motivate you, provide insights, pat you on the back and warn you when you’re slipping into bad behavior.”

Schwanhausser suggests that motivating online activities or games that help customers meet savings, investing and other money management goals—or perhaps understand more about banking, entrepreneurship or protecting personal information identity theft—can help build a financial safety net and lend themselves to game technology quite nicely.

Although examples of gamification are still rare in financial services, signs indicate that banks are becoming hip to the concept and its potential. A study titled “Innovation in Retail Banking” by Infosys Ltd., a global financial technology provider, and Efma, a technology industry consortium, found that 31 percent of 107 polled international banks are exploring uses for gamification.

Why gamify? Gamification techniques are used to generate “adoption and engagement,” says Juan Pablo Luchetti, consultancy director of Mubaloo, mobile app developer and consultant in the United Kingdom. He points out that because gamification is a way to get users to return to an activity, it could prove particularly attractive for community banks, which tend to take a lead role in financial education and forging strong customer relationships.

Dan Latimore, senior vice president and leader of the banking practice at Celent, an international financial consulting firm, agrees. He points out that just as some local utilities give customers a scorecard of their energy use compared to that of their neighbors, a community bank could, in one conceivable example, show its customers how well they’re achieving savings relative to an average of others locally at the bank or nationwide.

Gamification isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. Latimore predicts that elements of gamification will become far more visible in banking within the next few years, even if full-fledged gamification modules remain rare. “Things like nudges and encouragement and feedback and progress bars will start to creep into different aspects of all sorts of bank and credit union sites over time,” he says.

Finally, Schwanhausser points out that gamification techniques are powerful but that the concept could misfire if not implemented properly. “Treat your customers as adults,” he concludes. “Use the techniques of gamification but avoid treating an important topic in too lighthearted a way.”


Elizabeth Judd is a freelance financial writer in Maryland.

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