How Gamification Can Drive Real Business Results in Banking

Gamification in the financial services sector is not just a novelty or passing fad. Well considered and executed, it speaks to the base nature of just about anyone who likes a challenge and contest. Is your financial institution ready to play?

If you try to stay in shape by running, walking or hitting the gym, there’s a good chance you’re using a smartphone app to track how you are doing against fitness goals, and as a tool to stay motivated.

That’s an activity that’s been “gamified,” and the same ideas are now being applied in the financial services sector.

Instead of running faster, the mobile or tablet app and related messaging might be about reaching a savings goal. Instead of a workout log, there might be charts and credits that show how a customer is doing against household budget targets.

Getting a friendly pop-up message on your phone, congratulating you for keeping a monthly balance high enough to waive a fee, is infinitely more compelling than seeing a balance credit entry on a bank statement

Gamification, carefully considered and applied well, can be a very meaningful part of the customer experience, education and service mix for banks, just as it is for the millions of people using sensors, apps and GPS to track fitness. It’s an effort to use the mechanics and metaphors of games to get people engaged in an activity, keep them motivated by making that activity valuable and relevant, and drive some defined and desired behaviors.

In simple terms, regardless of age, a great way to get people to do things is to make a game of it.

Fun Is Only A Factor

Research suggests games are good for our brains, and gamification is a unique way to influence consumers. Gamification has been around for several years, and business marketers and communicators are starting to draw some conclusions about what works. There’s now plenty of evidence in the field, in the financial services sector, of what makes sense and what maybe doesn’t.

Some gamification efforts are purely about fun, emulating arcade games as branding tactics, while at the other end of the spectrum, the focus has been on education. For example, an Australian bank developed a gamification project that took participating customers through an online game site that simulated the life cycle of an investment property, getting people familiar with the obligations and implications of things like property takes and insurance. The “game” is there to educate and inherently lower the lending risk for the bank.

Most marketers talking these days about successful gamification strategies are more focused on businesses establishing and driving objectives, and tying whatever gets gamified to measurable data, while also ensuring whatever game is at play is one that holds user interest past the initial novelty.

The dynamics and subject matter are also different in financial services versus pure retail settings, and marketers applying gamification need to think about issues such as privacy and appropriateness of the activity in that kind of setting.

The focus is not just on consumers. Companies are starting to use gamification to raise the effectiveness of training and elevate production metrics by introducing the social power and dynamics of competition, using things like badges, scores and leaderboards in workplace environments.

Defining The Goal And Activity

What are the consumer actions and activities your bank is trying to influence and shift? It could be any number of things, like:

  • Boosting deposit numbers
  • Getting kids to better understand banking principles
  • Setting millennials on the home savings pathway through goals and trackers
  • Helping customers match products to needs
  • Broadening awareness of apps and online services
  • Retiring loans and rewarding those milestones;
  • Visually explaining spending habits and budget allocations, and rewarding good habits
  • Driving new customers and loyalty in target groups
  • Gathering data insights about customers

Bulgaria’s DSK Bank launched DSK Gameo in late 2013, a multi-layered program that used several different elements of gamification, from education quizzes to incentives for changed habits.

Whatever gets used, gamification experts stress having a clear set of goals and tying those goals to well-defined actions. Did an app-driven “game” actually drive more account activations for home savings in the target demographic? Is deposit frequency up? Is app usage rising and the traffic within app sessions changing based on what a gamification effort is trying to shape?

A leading Spanish bank, for example, has a game tied to a points program, all based around driving website usage. Customers get points based on simple activities like transaction, as well as downloading and using the bank’s mobile app and watching financial education videos. The end game is elevating customer experiences and retention levels.

Soft goals like improving customer experiences are real, but will prove very hard to quantify other than through research.

It’s also important to talk through audiences. Gamification has been around, in various ways, for decades inside corporate environments – tied to things like sales performance, customer service response times and overall morale building. The game should be tuned to the need or opportunity.

Getting The Game Right

The success or failure of any gamification project owes heavily to the design and user experience, and that’s not typically a core competency of bankers. In the same way a bank wouldn’t hand off its firewall upgrade to a motion graphics agency, games shouldn’t be designed and guided by people with no experience and insight into effective gamification.

While marketers may “own” the project and effort, industry observers, writing about gamification, say it’s critical to hand off the strategy and experience design to people who wake up in the morning thinking about that kind of work. They understand what initially engages and motivates people to opt in on a gamification activity, and they know how to keep users coming back – all the while providing more and more insights on what interests those customers, and how they find and use information.

The experts also caution that banks need to ensure their game design stays within regulatory requirements in areas such as online gaming, and integrates within the security and operating framework of information services divisions.

Game design also needs careful budgeting – as few of these efforts are one-time costs. Most games need steady updating in look, feel and functionality.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing bankers is coming to grips with the notion of games as a marketing tactic – a foreign idea to many or most enterprise companies. It’s compounded by decision-makers who grew up before gaming was pervasive across mediums and devices, and don’t “get” the influence of gaming on younger generations.

Still in the Early Days

The market analysis and research firm Gartner two years ago pegged the gamification industry as being worth US$2.8 billion by 2016, but there are still many questions about its real future and potential.

An Infosys study last year focused on banks around the world revealed gamification was still in its infancy, particularly in the United States. The study of 160 banks found less than 10% had activated a gamification program, but two-thirds of banks had plans in the works.

Gartner has looked regularly at gamification, first declaring it a “highly significant trend” and suggesting it would quickly be part of the fabric of most major companies globally. But the company has also decried how many gamification efforts are just novelties, and predicted four of five deployments would fail to meet objectives because of poor game design.

Pew Research did a large survey of online experts and found little more than half of them thought gamification was a trend with staying power.

Gamification in Banking Around Globe

Here are some examples of different ways gamification is being applied in financial services:

  • Customers of a Bulgarian bank get rewards through a mobile app for setting and then reaching savings and financial goals.
  • A Singapore bank created games for children intended to start brand awareness and loyalty early. The adventure games combine fun with education to get kids understanding how saving money brings greater rewards than spending it as fast as they get it.
  • Another bank in Singapore has scores of interactive screens in two major branches that allow customers to design personalized credit cards.
  • An Austrian bank used gamification to collaborate on thoughts and designs for its bank of the future, using a program borrowing on a Facebook farm simulation game to create a bank branch “sim” game used only by the bank’s own top managers. More than 240 managers participated over a six-month span.

Digital Signage Can Play a Critical Role

Gamification may seem very much an exercise for mobile and consumer desktops, but screens in branches play a central role in the success or failure of these projects.

First, app downloads and activations rely heavily on awareness and the steady reinforcement of the value of using them. There is no more immediate and contextually relevant means to do that than on the branch premises. If customers aren’t using the app, messages on large screens drive downloads. For the percentage that has it installed, those larger screens will get customers turning them on.

Second, gamification is about competition, reward and positive enforcement. Done right, it’s also data-rich. When a bank knows how many people are using something, how much money they’re saving, how many goals have been met and rewards given, that’s tremendous data to visualize on screens on the storefront and in-branch.

When a consumer sees people in that branch, or city, have saved $1,000s in fees or made the credits that are leading to matching bank funds to build schools or fund camps, that sort of leaderboard information can be powerful.

And third, games have winners, and winners tend to have smiles and success stories. Bank marketers can use stock images to show a pair of models holding the keys to their first home. Or they can show a real couple – their photo and story mined from the game app and social media tie-ins – to tell a story that has a genuine emotional resonance.

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