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Gamification: Are Banks Ready To Play?

While foreign banks are beginning to launch gaming initiatives in their digital channels, U.S. banks have been hesitant to follow suit. But any bank that's serious about customer experience will have to take a hard look at the growing trend.

Although gamification is talked about a great deal in banking circles, few U.S. banks have been willing to give the concept a try. The hesitation is understandable given that banks have little experience in designing digital games and - as with any new trend - banks may be questioning how best to approach and implement a gamification initiative. But outside of the U.S. many banks are diving into gamification and are already showing direct benefits from it.

U.S. banks may have been slower to adopt gamification so far because they have a more cautious attitude toward digital interaction with their customers, says Stessa Cohen, research director at Gartner, an analyst firm. "U.S. banks are a little more reticent. Look at how they use Facebook. They use it to push info; they don't engage [with customers]," she points out. But Cohen predicts that banks here will have to take a serious look at gamification and how banks in other countries are using games as they try to outdo each other in digital customer experience. "I think we will definitely see more banks incorporating gamification. The focus [U.S.] banks are putting on customer experience will definitely take them there," she says.

The Spanish bank BBVA is one of the foreign banks that have already gotten into gamification with last year's release of BBVA Game, a game that gives customers points for using the bank's website. The bank wanted to improve its customer retention and online customer experience, says Bernardo Crespo Velasco, BBVA's head of digital marketing in Spain and Portugal. Since its launch last June BBVA Game has added 75,000 users, Velasco relates, and the customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The game is made up of challenges that include watching videos on financial education, making simple banking transactions and using the bank's mobile app. One of the challenges is a poll where game users get to rate the game and its impact on the website's user experience. Customers have called BBVA Game "addictive" and said that they're "in love with the bank's website," Velasco reports, and the website's overall satisfaction among the game's users is 4.14 out of 5. BBVA Game users earn points and medals that can be used to enter sweepstakes for prizes such as tickets to Spanish soccer games.

The bank grew interested in gamification because it was looking at new avenues to increase use of its website, Velasco says. The bank found that many customers simply felt more secure in going to the branch to do their transactions, he reports. "We can offer security certificates for our website but some people just won't use it. So we said, 'Let's move on to another perspective. Why not move on to something fun and enjoyable?'" he says. The bank has been so impressed with the results that it wants to get all of its online customers involved in the game by June of this year, Velasco says. "We're going to make it an integral part of our It will be part of the value of our website," he says.

Simply hoping to improve customer experience can be a difficult goal to measure concretely, Gartner's Stessa Cohen says, and that may be another reason that U.S. banks have been shy about gamification. She suggests that banks directly tie their gamification initiatives to increased use of specific products and services, such as opening new accounts or paying off a loan.

Misys, a global banking software provider, is planning to introduce a new game for tablets as part of its product line that gives customers points for making deposits in their savings account. "As with any initiative you need a specific view of the expected benefits," says Alex Bray, Misys' retail channels director. "You have to look beyond customer experience. The Misys [game] app will help with customer experience, but it will also help in attracting deposits." 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.

The users can also share the rewards they earn in the game with their friends and contacts via social media, Bray says, allowing players to compete with each other to earn the most rewards. "By adding competition you can ramp up the customer's interest another level," he explains.

BBVA Game similarly allows users to share their medals and badges, as well as earn points for referring friends through Facebook, BBVA's Velasco says, which helps the bank pull in new users. One out of 10 of the site's new users since the game's launch are referrals from BBVA game and the bank has also doubled its Facebook fans through the game. "Imagine your friend is like 'Wow, I made a bank deposit.' People don't care about that. But if people see activity in the game through their social networks its different," Velasco says.

And BBVA game's users are not just the young and urban crowds. Velasco says that the game now has players in 44% of the villages in Spain, and most of the users are in their 30's and 40's, with some players who are in their 60's. "We're creating a way to reward people who are really heavily financed, people with mortgages and with loans. It's not for people under their thirties," Velasco explains.

Misys' Alex Bray says that bank's should discard the idea that gamification is just for younger customers and look to target specific customer segments with the game's rewards during the design stage of any gaming initiative. The Misys game allows the bank to choose from different rewards to offer players. "Young customers might want a badge that they can share on Facebook while older customers might want better interest on their savings," he suggests.

Although banks may be new to designing games, that is no excuse for them to hesitate in joining this trend, Gartner's Stessa Cohen comments. She says banks need to look at other finanical institutions that are already involved in gamification and look at successful gaming initiatives in other industries. "Banks have to see what the games look like. They're rich in design and color. They don't look like your typical banking site," she says.

Being at the forefront of a new trend requires some willingness to take risks. Cohen encourages banks interested in gamification to "take some chances, get experimental, and see what works." So who's ready to play?

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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