Let the Games Begin!


Google “Whooo’s Reading” and you’ll find a whole lot of posts from school teachers claiming how the tool – which uses gaming principles – has improved their students’ reading habits.  If you’re not convinced, check out the Education Arcade, (from MIT) which develops games, tools and simulations to help kids learn maths and science.

While the idea of using fun to enable learning isn’t new (Scrabble, anyone?), it wasn’t until digital gaming came along that it could be packaged at scale to boost learning, engagement, competitiveness and creativity among millions, and across borders. In education, and also in business. A leading analyst claimed that by 2015, two out of five Global 1000 organizations would use gamification to transform their business operations, including banks which are traditionally seen as conservative and serious.

Take Malaysia’s CIMB, which has several gamification initiatives, including a tool that educates children about money matters, and a simulated online stock exchange. Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) created an entirely new bank called “Frank” to attract the young and is targeting the young with an online financial literacy game, Playmoolah. Go further east in the Indian Ocean, and you’ll enter Investorville, Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s property ownership simulation game.

In India, while gamification is yet to catch on in a big way, private banks such as ICICI and Axis, have been early adopters.  The uptake of gamification in banking in India will require clear guiding regulationon what can and cannot be gamed, and how. Indian banks, though, will need to be prepared with their gamification strategy. Once the regulators clarify their stand, there’s no telling how far or fast it will go in a land where two people out of three in a population of 1.3 billion, are below the age of 30.

A large part of this huge population is only now getting access to formal financial access and gamification can have a significant play in financial education. Besides, there’s simply not enough physical infrastructure to draw young prospects and draft them at scale - India has approximately 50 branches and 100ATMs respectively per 10,000 people, way below the global average of 375 and 500.

It is here that gamification can really help to bridge the gap through the customer management life cycle. Game-based learning can be deployed to introduce the really young – now that the RBI has relaxed the account opening age to 10 from 18 – to the basics of financial literacy. Converting gaming wins into financial-product rewards is a good way to get customers to test-drive additional offerings.  As customers mature, banks can nudge them towards life stage goals – a car, a home, an education loan for the kids and so on – using simulation games and rewards. But all of this requires a well thought out strategy.

I believe Indian banks should approach gamification in a phased manner. In the first phase – and some banks are here already – the goal should be to understand gamification in depth and explore its possibilities, within their own context. The next step could be to tie up with a provider who can devise a game and manage its mechanics, while the bank provides all the “domain” inputs.  The erstwhile ING Vysya (now merged with Kotak Mahindra Bank) has done just that by getting a game development company to design its “gamified” mobile banking app, with balance (speedo) meter and color coded financial status. Axis Bank recently threw a gamification challenge to developers to gamify some of their solutions, using the Bank’s platforms and APIs.

The second phase is about participating in the larger gaming opportunity. According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the online gaming market will weigh in at US$ 5.5 billion in 2018. While that may not be much in itself, its growth – 67 percent, annual, compounded, 2013-18 – cannot be ignored. Indian banks should be looking at how they can intermediate the exchange of money that takes place between game makers and players. Not only does this promise risk-free revenues, but also interesting insights into gaming habits.

The end-game of course, is total game ownership, a state in which some banks will host banking-specific games on their own portals, and offer them up to other banks for a fee. After all, why can’t banks have some fun too?