Finance Education Via Crops, Handbags in Online Games

By Osuri, Laura Thompson | American Banker, May 13, 2011 | Go to article overview

Finance Education Via Crops, Handbags in Online Games


Osuri, Laura Thompson, American Banker


Byline: Laura Thompson Osuri

Alice Albudget is a rising Hollywood starlet who loves buying expensive handbags and designer dresses with her credit card. Each day hundreds of people try to become her money manager and teach her how to use credit cards properly and control her spending habits.

These trial money managers - who must keep her happy or risk getting fired - are among a growing number of people gaining financial education through online video games.

The D2D Fund, a financial literacy nonprofit in Roxbury, Mass., is leading the charge in developing such games. It has introduced five so far, including Celebrity Calamity, featuring Albudget.

About 125,000 players have tried them over the past year, including some who learned about the games from their community banks. Research shows they play an average of 22 minutes and that they are improving their financial skills while having fun.

"We are not creating games for video games' sake, but are turning their minds on and getting folks practicing and taking action to increase savings and minimize debt and fees," said Nick Maynard, D2D's director of innovation.

Since launching its online video game portal in April 2010, the organization has promoted Celebrity Calamity through several outlets, including banks, community colleges and the military.

Maynard said he expects banks to become even more involved with the initiative because the next step involves linking the games to actual products and services so players can apply their financial knowledge.

Guaranty Bank in Milwaukee made Celebrity Calamity the focus of a marketing push last summer, after setting out to find an untraditional way to get a financial literacy message to its customers, said Jennifer Tucker, the thrift's corporate communications officer.

"We are always looking for innovative ways for customers to achieve financial literacy," she said. "The game is exciting and engaging, and really grabs the customer's attention. It's a lot different from most financial literacy methods."

The $1.3 billion-asset thrift touted the game in branches and included notices in monthly statements. Guaranty also encouraged employees to play so they could discuss the game with customers. What really drew people in, Tucker said, was a large Flash image on the thrift's home page, which made it easy to click and play.

The three-month promotion drew 9,539 unique visitors - about 8% of the total players to try out Celebrity Calamity since its launch. Guaranty did not measure if customers learned anything, but Tucker said she is confident they did, based on anecdotal feedback and the fact that customers played an average of 15 minutes.

D2D has done its own testing among low-income individuals ages 18 to 35, finding that participants gain a lot of knowledge after playing at least 60 to 90 minutes.

One sample of 44 individuals who played Celebrity Calamity showed a 50% to 70% improvement in answering key financial questions correctly. They also had a 15% to 30% boost in their financial skills self-confidence.

Maynard said that all the games have gone through years of development and testing that involve both financial education experts and professional video game designers.

The concepts are based on popular video games; one called Farm Blitz has characteristics in common with both FarmVille and Bejeweled. The player is a farmer who must harvest crops to earn money. To harvest, a player must get three identical rows of crops, similar to the way a line of three jewels is needed in Bejeweled. …

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