> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

Some financial institutions are gradually recognizing the importance of making financial products fun, but does this strategy work to build financial capability? South African retail bank Absa tested this question when it designed and deployed a series of brief games, called “Shesha” (or “quick-quick” in Zulu). The games were a business necessity for Absa, as the cost of banking at a branch was between 3 and 40 times higher for customers than the cost of digital transactions. Too few of Absa’s customers were migrating from branch banking to digital, and many mobile money accounts were dormant. Equipping customers to more confidently choose and use digital services made business sense and responded to customer needs.

Absa sent text messages to select customers inviting them to participate in the Shesha game, which consisted of basic quiz questions. While standard text message rates applied to customers for playing, the response rate was significant—up to 15 percent of customers responded (compared to 2-3 percent response rates seen in most such efforts). The bank offered prizes to randomly-selected individuals who played and got the questions right, ranging from airtime top-ups to grand cash prizes.

The results were impressive. In a follow-up assessment, customers who participated in the games had 23 percent more transactions and a 29 percent increase in transaction volume on average than those who did not play. The percent of game players who checked their balances via phone or ATM continued to grow after the game finished, and at last measure was 61 percent versus 0 percent at the release of the game. After playing, 40 percent of customers swiped their cards an average of three or more times per month.

While Absa initially was concerned that the shift to digital would reduce the profitability of its branches in the short-term, the increase in use of services and volume of transactions ensured that overall the bank would financially benefit over the long-term. This benefit comes from higher revenue based on more transactions as well as a projected increase in customers with a more compelling customer value proposition. For Absa, the benefits of the program outweighed the costs, and making financial capability fun worked both to build capability and profitability.

Financial education can be dull, but staying awake through the learning process is important! “Make It Fun” was one of the seven behaviorally-informed practices that show great promise for application in financial capability-building that we identified in our assessment of over 100 innovations as part of our recently-launched project, A Change in Behavior: Innovations in Financial Capability. Games can spark and retain interest. Cognitive research shows that humor activates the brain’s reward system, which is linked to both motivation and long-term memory. Because games are goal-oriented, people may stay interested longer, and games can also be used for learning by doing. This practice also includes drama and storytelling that engage the emotions, which are also linked to retention.

For other examples of leading financial capability-building efforts that “make it fun”, and for the other six behaviorally-informed practices, check out “A Change in Behavior: Innovations in Financial Capability”.

Many thanks to Gerhard Coetzee for bringing this example of Absa’s Shesha game to our attention.

Have you read?

A Change in Behavior: Innovations in Financial Capability

Six Recommendations on Financial Capability

Mobile Microinsurance Products and Financial Capability