Home Banking The Game is Afoot

The Game is Afoot

by internationalbanker

Manish Jain, Industry Principal, Infosys Finacle and Sudhanshu Hate, Senior Technology Architect, Infosys discuss the impact gamification will have on the banking sector

When you think of games what is the first thing to spring to mind? For many people the most immediate association is of fun and frivolity; of wasted afternoons spent playing chess or checkers, or sitting in front of a computer screen. If you are one such person it may well surprise you to hear there is another element to games and gaming that is helping us solve some of the world’s most intractable problems: everything from climate change to the war on disease. 

Games are also, as we shall see, providing banks with wholly new ways of enabling their customers to interact with financial products. It is a change that has the potential to revolutionise the way in which customers manage their own finances while driving up customer satisfaction – but only if banks get a few fundamentals right. Welcome to the world of gamification.

Gamification applies the fun and intuitive process of games and game theory to serious enterprise functions and processes. By so doing, these activities become easier to complete, more engaging, more memorable and, well, more fun. Gamification has been used in the corporate environment for a number of years now – for an example, one need only look at how HR functions employ point scoring and the like to training and evaluation scenarios – but is gaining a new lease of life through the rise of social networking and growing comfort levels with the online world. When it comes to the banking sector, this is all very good news indeed.

Gamification in banking

Banks today are faced with two major challenges. On the one hand, there is the ongoing reputational damage caused by the fallout of the recent tough economic climate, with customers more suspicious than ever of financial organisations. On the other is the empowerment of the customer. If customers don’t like the service they are getting they can alert hundreds or thousands of people to this fact with a simple click of a mouse button. Legislation in some areas of the world, moreover, has made it easier than ever for customers to switch banks if dissatisfied with their service (in the UK for example, the Current Account Switch Guarantee means that disgruntled customers can swap current accounts in just one week).

The battle lines have clearly been drawn: those banks that will succeed in the future are the ones that can win over the hearts and minds of customers and boost their reputations. It is here that gamification has a role to play.

Banks have already been hugely successful in their launch of online and mobile services. To a large extent however, such services are becoming commoditised with little – in developed markets at least – to differentiate the offerings. This is where gamification can provide a real competitive edge. For those banks that can apply game design to these online services they will find that engagement increases. Through gamification online portals can be made ‘stickier’, with customers spending more time than ever on the sites. Not only will this give them a more enjoyable brand experience, but with every extra minute spent on the site the potential of upselling to the customer increases.

Changing customer behaviours

Where gamification really delivers however, is in its ability to modify customer behaviour. For example, making the way a customer manages his or her personal finances more fun and game-like, the bank has in place the perfect platform for educating the customer on good financial governance in an utterly engaging way. Through game features, banks can show customers how to avoid over-spending, or how to maximise the return they are getting on savings. The need to penalise customers for repeatedly going over borrowing levels, for example, will thereby be reduced. This improves the customer experience in a way that is hugely beneficial to the bank.

For such approaches to work however, gamification needs to be approached with utter seriousness. The deployment of gamification is not, after all, a game. Simply adding the attributes of gamificaion – rewards, point-scoring and badges for example – is not enough, rather banks must look to gain a deep understanding of their customers’ psychologies.

The key to good game architecture

The way in which ‘games’ are created within the banking environment needs to be influenced heavily by both the financial context and the motivation of the customer being targeted. The profile, needs and behaviours of a teenager with his or her first bank account will, of course, be a world away from those of a successful businessman approaching retirement. Any gamification strategy must therefore be built on the foundations of context, motivation and behaviour if it is to be successful.

Once the game has been created the next step is to keep customers playing. The initial novelty of gamification will ensure an audience, but to keep them engaged the game needs to be designed for the long-haul. Here banks can take lessons from the computer games industry, where the most successful games are those based on strong narrative with an engaging plot and interesting characters. With the nature of banking being fairly complex and consequence driven (if I buy something I can’t afford the consequence is that I go in to debt, for instance), this narrative approach seems to me to be very well suited to the industry.

Good game design is not simply about psychology however, technology must also play a role. So just as computer gamers also have a range of devices to choose from to play their games, bank customer should be able to play gamified services across whichever platform they desire, whether that is a smartphone, kiosk tablet or PC to name a few. On the backend, gamified elements must be seamlessly fused with existing processes and applications, a process that can mean expensive re-architecting of systems and interfaces. The cost and flexibility challenges that gamification presents are therefore significant, but they can be overcome through a platform-centric approach.

Such platforms offer banks the capability to quickly configure gamification environments and integrate them easily across technologies, devices and form factors. This write once run anywhere approach is not only the most cost effective way of delivering gamified services but is also the most efficient and easy to administer. In this framework gamification becomes a central part of the overall enterprise strategy, rather than relegated to the position of discreet, federated elements.

A serious game

Gamification really does promise to change the way banks deliver services to their customers and enable customers to interact with them. To live up to this promise however, a number of criteria must be met. Above all, gamification must be approached with the correct mindset. To work it cannot be seen as a fun novelty, or a one-off project; it needs to be a viewed as a long-term investment that will add tangible value to the bank’s business. Secondly, banks must work to make sure that gamification drives clear and measurable beneficial changes in customer behaviour. If this does not happen then there can be no guarantee that any value is being created at all. As we have seen, to do this the game must be tailored to the very specific set of circumstances surrounding each and every player.

Gamification is a bold move for the banking industry, but it is one that will deliver huge rewards to the bravest.


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