Gamification is the often-overlooked process of adding games or game-like elements to traditionally non-game systems, services, organizations or activities in a strategic attempt to drive engagement. In the financial services industry, gamified elements like points, boosters, leaderboards and badges have appeared most prominently in the financial wellness sector, encouraging and rewarding users who spend less, save more and educate themselves. However, multiple fields are adopting gamification tactics, including consumer banking and other related services.

Beyond just entertainment, gamified banking experiences can help firms provide best-in-class digital services, win over new customers, build brand loyalty and gain unique consumer insights amongst other positive aspects. They can also have adverse effects by creating dark patterns or encouraging addictive behaviors. While popular approaches—especially related to gamified demos or tutorials that reward learning—seem targeted at younger audiences, these experiences are not just for kids. Gamification practices can target and affect all generations, but they are predominantly aimed at Millennials and Gen Zers due to their familiarity with technology.

Fintech firms appear to be at the forefront of rapid innovation, though several incumbent banks also stand out and seem intent on building gamified digital experiences for their customer base. Yet, as of now, no bank has made game mechanics central to the user experience, most likely due to the practical nature of money management. To grasp the future of gamification in consumer banking, it is important to understand how the tactic emerged and who the major players are.

More than just the latest trend

The gamified experiences of many banks appear nascent, but as a digital tactic for other industries, gamification is nothing new. More than just the latest trend, gamification as we understand it today emerged over two decades ago.

Computer programmer Nick Pelling first coined the term in 2002 while designing game-like user interfaces for commercial electronic devices like vending machines and mobile phones. A few years later, Rajat Paharia founded what is now considered the first modern gamification platform, Bunchball, which boosts engagement on websites by adding basic game mechanics that provoke thought and emotion. By 2012, gamification underwent a major boom across the tech industry, from Apple’s addition of achievements within its iOS 5 Game Center and Fitbit’s release of its activity tracker app to Are You Human’s development of gamified human verification software.

Commercial banks, on the other hand, have implemented gamification techniques more slowly and cautiously than firms in other industries. While gamifying banking journey elements through sliders or attention-grabbing visuals can garner user interaction, there is a fine line before financial institutions, especially investing fintechs, dip into dark patterns that can encourage increased spending for marginal in-app returns.

Of the 17 firms evaluated in Corporate Insight’s Bank Monitor, PNC’s “Punch the Pig” feature arguably received the most attention early on. Launched in the late-2000s and removed in the early-2020s, this feature allowed users to instantly transfer funds to their savings account by tapping a customizable virtual pig, turning a mundane task into something more engaging.

Screenshot showing PNC Punch the Pig Internal Transfer Journey

Screenshot showing pass the pig customization options

More than just a digital tactic

Today, gamified banking elements can be found across a wide range of incumbent and challenger banks in various locations, with some more surprising than others. Prominent yet simple examples from incumbent banks include Ally’s badges that recognize financial engagement practices, Bank of America’s dynamic Security Center score visualizer and Wells Fargo’s FICO score visualizer.

This screenshot shows the Ally Authenticated Site Badges Page
Ally Authenticated Site Badges Page

 

A screenshot showing Bank of America Authenticated Site Security Center Visualizer
Bank of America Authenticated Site Security Center Visualizer

X1, a mobile app-only fintech with one available credit card product and another in the works, employs a dedicated Boosts screen that incentivizes card holders to spend in certain categories for increased reward earnings. The boosts refresh weekly on Fridays and activate for 24 hours, encouraging users to engage with them on a regular basis to maximize their reward potential.

A screenshot showing X1 Boosts Screens

A few banks have gone above and beyond industry norms of financial gamification, creating entirely new digital experiences for their customers. Last spring, Truist acquired Long Game, the gamified finance mobile app that enables users to engage with their banks by using prize-linked savings and casual gaming to drive new account growth and client retention.

Last year, Ally—a digital-only bank—developed an entire world known as Fintropolis in the popular video game Minecraft to teach children about money, enabling them to open an in-game bank account, take out a mortgage to buy virtual homes and even invest in the world’s stock market.

This screenshot shows Ally’s Fintropolis Minecraft World Infographic
Ally’s Fintropolis Minecraft World Infographic

These examples turn gamification on its head, with firms morphing banking elements into full-fledged gaming experiences rather than using gaming elements to improve traditional banking experiences. This idea of blending entertainment with financial services and education has even helped define the long-term marketing strategies of challenger banks like Ally.

Where is all of this going?

While the future of gamification remains unforeseen, it should be clear that, as a digital tactic, it is not going anywhere anytime soon. This is especially true for commercial banks and other financial service providers.

Some firms seem to be taking cues from popular mobile entertainment applications. This year Swedish fintech Klarna introduced its Money Story—heavily influenced by Spotify Wrapped—which provides customers with a personal overview of their annual spending in a story-like format first popularized by social media users.

This screenshot shows the Klarna money story
Klarna Money Story

The prospect of fully realized virtual reality (VR) worlds from tech giants like Meta also begs the question of how far firms will take gamification. Major banks like JPMorgan Chase and HSBC have already played a hand in crafting fully digital VR sites centered around banking, with mixed success.

Regardless of how the definition of gamification changes over time, evidence suggests the digital experiences of commercial banks and financial service providers will continue to evolve alongside it. While the future of gamification remains unforeseen, it should be clear that as a digital tactic, it is not going anywhere anytime soon.

For more insights into the future of digital innovation in consumer banking and its impacts on the user experience, check out our Bank, Credit Card, Fintech and Mobile Finance research services. And don’t forget to check out our Insights section for more industry trends and best practices in the financial services space.

Patterson Deppen

Patterson Deppen is an Analyst on CI's bank and cards team.

Micah Golomb-Leavitt

Micah Golomb-Leavitt is an Analyst on CI's bank and cards team.