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The Proliferation and Potential of Gamification in Retail Banking

by Sachendra Yadav
6 min read
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By making transactions more fun, banks can drive customer behavior, improve brand loyalty, and increase engagement.

Usually organizations innovate by introducing new or improved products to the market. However, in a service-oriented industry like banking, the product is the service and therefore the innovations will be oriented towards process changes as opposed to new product development in a traditional sense.

According to a Gartner Research Report, by 2015, more than 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes. By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay, or Amazon, and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.

Making Retail Banking Fun

Gamification can be used to make the process of banking more fun and engaging and to drive specific consumer behaviors, like increasing savings or making prompt payment on loans and credit cards. It’s not new to retail banking. Banks have long been using credit card reward points to promote customer spending and to ensure that credit cards become a preferred payment option as opposed to cash.

Jane McGonigal, Director of Games Research and Development at the Institute for the Future, says that the qualities that make games so compelling—the immersiveness, the need to collaborate with others, the fun, and even the killing—could all be harnessed by banks in their mobile applications to help customers better understand their finances and reach specific goals such as savings and debt reduction.

According to CNN Global Research, 48% of Americans say they worry more about money than anything else. If we could take away some of the anxiety and replace it with positive emotions like creativity, optimism, excitement, awe, and wonder, think about the impact it could have on people’s lives. What if we could bring these positive emotions to mobile banking or commerce? What would it feel like if every time we made a financial transaction we were experiencing a positive emotion? Would that change our relationship to money?

The Rules of Gamification

The primary challenge with gamification is that if you take something that is intrinsically boring, add points and badges and declare it gamified, it’s probably still intrinsically boring. If you want your audience to engage with something, you need to make it fun by designing things that your audience is interested in.

Gabe Zichermann, the chair of the Gamification Summit—having worked with dozens of startups, non-profits, and Fortune 500s to bring gamification to life—has come up with some rules of gamification which can be used to start the design process. Among them:

  • Understand what constitutes a “win” for the organization/sponsor. Identify the key metrics that move the organization’s needle. In many cases you can use the five core E metrics as a starting point: recency, frequency, duration, virality, and ratings.
  • Unpack the player’s intrinsic motivation and progress to mastery. In order to design a meaningful and engaging system, we need to understand what drives our users, well beyond just the context of their interaction with our products. By understanding the consumer in their whole, emotional context we can build better experiences.
  • Design for the emotional human, not the rational human. This doesn’t mean we should design irrational experiences, but rather that we should speak to their desires and fears, and give them the tools to learn and grow in that hemisphere. There is increasing scientific research (elucidated well in books like >Blink by Malcolm Gladwell) that we make many of our decisions instantaneously—so called “thin slicing.” This suggests that a more emotional persona lives within each of us. If we can use gamification to speak to this homo sensus, we will have accomplished something very powerful.
  • Develop scalable and meaningful intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. A good system of gamified design relies on both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to drive short and long-term behavior. Human motivation exists on a continuum that is only served, in practice, by both kinds of rewards. We can use cash and non-cash systems to provide these benefits, and we need not always focus on the tangible.
  • Most interactions are boring. Make everything a little more fun. By aligning our experience with user’s desires, and striving to make every encounter more meaningful, we can bring fun to every dull corner of the world.

Zichermann says that, based on his experience, these rules form an excellent foundation that every organization, regardless of industry, can use to begin the process of gamification.

Design Patterns

A design pattern is a general reusable solution to a commonly occurring problem within a given context. Nadya Direkova, a game mechanic and Senior UX Designer at Google, describes 16 design patterns in using game mechanics to create engagement.

Direkova’s patterns include things like prizes and rewards, visual cues, tutorials, mischief, and sharing milestones, which can be applied across three aspects of the user journey: designing for first time users, designing for social engagement, and designing for return visits. This can all be very useful in solving common problems, like:

  • Designing effective sign-up sessions and tutorials
  • Promoting virality
  • Inviting return visits
  • Applying game mechanics beyond points and badges

If a pattern works for you, use it! However, it’s important that you don’t start throwing in these techniques just because you can. Try to really understand the mind of your user, and then use the design techniques that will help them get the most out of your product.

Examples of Gamification in Retail Banking

Facebook Check-In is used by some banks like DBS Bank in Asia and Citi in Singapore. Points earned from check-ins are posted on the site so players can compete with each other to earn prizes with their points. This helps create a social media community among customers, which builds brand equity.

Playmoolah is an online game designed for children to teach them financial literacy and the value of saving. It helps start a lifetime relationship between young customers and money management, improves brand perception and customer loyalty, and introduces parents to financial services based on their children’s activity.

Payoff is an online tool to help users meet their financial goals. You start by sharing your dreams and setting up goals that motivate you (like paying off a credit card or saving for a trip). Then, you link your accounts to track your finances and see where you’re spending. You can also win badges to help serve as a visual reminder of how far you’ve come in paying off what you owe and might also win cash prizes to keep you motivated.

BankFusion is something MISys is experimenting with that incorporates a financial education game into the core digital processing system it sells to retail financial institutions. The game gives customers points for making deposits in their savings account. The game’s users can also set goals that they are saving for, allowing the bank to then market products and services directly related to those goals.

BBVA Game is a web app allowing customers to earn points for watching videos on financial education, making simple banking transactions, and using the bank’s mobile app, improving customer retention and online customer experience. Those points can be redeemed for products and services (direct-downloading of music and streaming of online movies) or applied toward sweepstakes giveaways.

SaveUp is one of the best examples of gamification. It’s a game where players earn credits for saving money in their accounts, paying credit card bills, and other behaviors which the bank wants to promote. Players can use the credits to play for big money prizes, like cars, vacations, and even a $2-million Jackpot.

Punch the Pig is a simple and effective example of promoting saving behavior. When users are banking online with PNC, they just “punch” the piggy bank whenever it pops up and money—in an amount of the user’s choosing—will transfer from their Spend account to their Growth account. This promotes saving by transferring user’s own money away from their Spend account. Users decide how often the pig pops up, or for more spontaneous types, PNC will surprise users by throwing it out there at random moments.


In the realm of retail banking, gamification has an exciting role to play in driving valuable customer behaviors, making important transactional activities engaging, building customer loyalty, and generating engagement with products. By increasing engagement and loyalty banks will inevitably generate more money from customers, in theory allowing them to offer better rates. Gamification also has the potential for changing customers’ attitudes toward money by making financial management fun.


Image of piggy bank courtesy Shutterstock.

post authorSachendra Yadav

Sachendra Yadav,

 I lead Accenture Studio for Experience Design. With a diverse background and passion for the many ways people interact with technology, my expertise lies in creating intuitive and desirable experiences that utilize deep insight into user behavior and psychology.


Say hi on Twitter @sachendra


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