The fast-paced era of instantaneous information created by the Internet, social media and smartphones has resulted in a significant change in the manner in which people process information. And new research suggests that credit unions may want to rethink their approaches to financial education in looking for ways to connect with members online.
With the average consumer spending more time playing electronic games than on their personal finances, a game designer approach might help encourage people to have better financial behaviors, according to a recent Filene Research Institute report, “Get in the Game: How Credit Unions Can Engage Members, Solve Problems and Improve Skills with Game Thinking.”
“Worldwide, 3 billion hours are spent playing video games each week. In contrast, consumers spend only 2.6 hours per month on financial planning and budgeting,” said Matt Davis, innovation director at Filene Research and author of the report. “Games are fun, while personal finances are boring or overwhelming. Games are engaging; personal finances are simply unwelcome chores. Games help people escape reality; personal finances force an outright confrontation with it.”
According to Will deHoo, founder and CEO of FoolProof, a Melbourne, Fla.-based turnkey consumer education initiative for credit unions, content remains king. Sponsored by 15 state trade associations, FoolProof offers online training for young people and adults through a mix of videos and interactive modules. The company has produced a literacy curriculum endorsed by both the Consumer Federation of America and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
“We’ve found that virtually all adults think about money a lot. So our job is to present valid information in lively and timely ways that grabs the attention of the consumer,” said deHoo. “We’re finding that members are hungry for just about any tough, valid information–whether it’s about financial scams, couponing or their kids’ welfare. Many people feel that it’s a wasteland out there, when it comes to quick and honest answers about money questions.”
He added that the Internet has made consumers feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and blogs, which present advice and recommendations that aren’t always vetted.
“Where do people turn for those valid, easy-to-get answers? We think credit unions,” said deHoo. “Generally, people equally react to interesting topics or news item that we post, whether that’s in an article, video or podcast. We post a new video, article or podcast a couple of times a month on a credit unions’ home page or social network site and see an increase of traffic together with the posts.”
At University Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas, FoolProof introduced an e-alert only 300 words long.
“At first, the e-alert was only about auto-buying issues–what new developments in auto sales and safety should you know about if you’re in the market for a car? Over 3,100 credit union members subscribed to that e-alert, and the alert covers any breaking consumer news topic,” said deHoo.
Input from students, teachers and credit unions determines the content, which is constantly kept fresh for FoolProof’s high school and adult programs. For example, to reach its large member base, the California-based Pacific Marine Credit Union partnered with FoolProof to develop a tape of a Marine discussing topics unique to young soldiers.
Furthermore, the $1 billion Bayport Credit Union of Newport News, Va., recently helped the Boy Scouts modify its high school curriculum so that individual scouts statewide can use FoolProof’s modules to help earn their merit badge.
Matt Neznanski, editor-in-chief at Corvallis, Ore.-based brass MEDIA Inc., a socially driven media and technology company dedicated to helping young adults understand money, agreed that content remains the biggest challenge for credit unions as it’s generally been the hardest to create and do consistently well.
“Let’s face it, money and finance are not all that interesting,” said Neznanski. “No one is sitting around counting their money. It’s about getting them to embrace the power of their own money, take control so they are able to do what they want to do and get to living.”
To help credit unions, the company has launched brass Exchange, a program that credit unions can access and select content ranging from articles and videos to infographics in order to post them to their websites or other media outlets, including Twitter, Facebook or a newsletter.
Neznanski said being the go-to source for the financial information consumers crave only helps credit unions show their value as a trusted resource.
“It’s really about sharing an interesting piece of information they want and need more than pushing your own agenda or interest,” said Neznanski. “With all the tools available now with Facebook and blogs, the cost of entry in that adviser role is low for credit unions. Being consistent and persistent shows you’re there for the long haul, not just for yourself, but as a way to deepen relationships in the communities they serve. So have content that’s worth clicking to find out more.”
He added that when it comes to subject matter, whether video, infographics or personal narratives, most consumers want practical information or a story that resonates with them.”
As far as how they can digest that information, that’s where the application of “game thinking and game mechanics to engage and solve problems” comes into play, Davis said.
In the report, Davis pointed out that considering this new thought process has helped Nike create a thriving community for physical fitness, Ford Motor Co. improve fuel economy, and Weight Watchers inspire better eating habits, he believes it can help credit unions as well.
A few aspects for credit unions to consider incorporating include a way for consumers to keep score, an opportunity to experience ideal self-characteristics and uncertain outcomes.
“Game players expect feedback for nearly every action they take. They want to know how they have done, how they stack up against their peers and how much they have improved over time. Credit unions must shorten the feedback loop associated with positive and negative member financial behaviors, employee performance, and board participation,” said Davis in the report. “Online banking experiences, loan applications and balance inquiries serve as blunt reminders of reality. Gamified financial services may motivate consumers by allowing them to experience and learn from their ideal selves.”
He added that the prize-linked savings program, “Save to Win,” has proven the power of uncertain outcomes.
“A chance to achieve something new, win a valuable prize or gain a new experience added excitement to ordinary tasks,” said Davis. “If disengaged members, misaligned incentives, boring experiences and unmotivated audiences are the demons of traditional financial services, gamification may be the Doombringer Champion Sword that can return hope to the credit union village. Fun is a magical potion. Use it wisely and abundantly.”