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Should we gamify banking?

OK, no more politics … unless it’s important to banking, technology and fintech … and back to my usual boring diatribes.

There’s been a discussion a while ago about making banking fun, gamifying finance and giving rewards for smart spending and saving. I was an advocate of such ideas, but now I’m not so sure. I’m now fairly cynical about gamification.

The reason I say this is that I downloaded lots of games to my iPhone for killing time during the coronavirus lockdown. The main game I seem to play, and got a bit addicted to, is virtual golf. I enjoy the challenge and skill … except there is no skill.

I’ve played three or four of these games, and always find the same thing. You get so far and achieve so much, and then you stop getting so far and achieving so much. The game now wants you to pay. They want to force you to buy. They want to exploit your addiction to the game. They screw you over.

Now I hate that, but can totally understand it. I can see the game messing with my mind. I got to platinum level and am about to achieve diamond, but it keeps sending me back to platinum. If I pay $50 to buy a package of stuff, I’ll get diamond. If I don’t, I won’t.

However, what really gets me is that you then wake up and realise the game is a fake. It’s not authentic. It’s an algorithm. For 25 levels, I’ve played the game and believed I’m playing another person. Now I know I’m not. I can clearly see the opponent’s behaviours are not those of a usual game player. They’re taking shots that are too quick, too unplanned, too bold and too successful.

It’s the lack of authenticity that is key here. When the game behaves like a computer, rather than like a human. The game has appeared to be a multiplayer game in real-time for so long, and then the game’s behaviour changes fundamentally from how it has behaved before. It’s the lack of authenticity that is key here because, at that point, you realise you no longer care. You realise you’re being suckered. You realise it’s no longer important to play the game.

Personally, I reach that point and usually delete the game and move on. I’m not that addicted. But, what does this mean in finance?

I’m about to become a platinum customer if I can just save an extra $100 a month. I could be diamond if I saved an extra $500 a month. And I would get an extra 0.1% interest for being platinum and 0.25% for being diamond. Ooh, ooh, ooh. Oh!

Well, the key is that the gamification of banking must be authentic. The game must be true. No messing up the rules, making it harder as you go along, treating customers as pawns and so on and so on. But, what really worries me here, is if the gamification of finance becomes a thing like my golf games.

I often take risks in the golf games I would never take in life, because it’s a game. The issue is if you make money seem like a game, it becomes detached from reality. It’s a game. As a game, you take risks you would never take in life.

In my view, this is what the issue was with Nick Leeson, Jerome Kerviel, Kweku Adoboli and other rogue traders. The numbers on the screen became a game. Money is no longer real. It’s just numbers in a game. And the game becomes addictive and eventually loses authenticity when you keep losing. But, because you keep losing, you keep playing the game and taking more and more risks to win the game.

The game is rigged. Don’t play it.

The bottom line is that finance, money and banking is not a game, so why are companies trying to gamify it? If you do it in a way that is good for the customer, that’s fine; my worry is that it’s too easy to gamify to push the customer into credit; to get them to borrow more; to get them to the point where they are your pawn.

Customers are not pawns, they are people. Keep this in mind.

On the other hand, and in a more positive light, if you do gamify banking for the customer good then that’s fine. If you create a game where customers avoid debt and save smarter, that’s fine. The problem with that is: how do you make money from customers who avoid debt?

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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