Virtual Reality Banking Gamifies GTE Financial
Members of the Tampa, Fla.-based GTE Financial who can't make it into a branch now have another option – they can send their avatars instead.
That's because on Oct. 20, the federal credit union launched what it said is the industry's first web-based, virtual reality credit union branches.
Created in partnership with the San Francisco-based Hyperfair, which builds virtual platforms, the move tracks a growing trend in financial technology: Gamification. Much like the popular, three-dimensional Second Life or Sims games, which have millions of users, the new GTE 3D virtual-reality branch combines the look and feel of a three-dimensional video game with the content and functionality of a credit union site.
GTE Financial President/CEO Joe Brancucci said the platform is a first of its kind in the financial services industry.
The idea is to attract millennials, but GTE Financial said the payoffs could also include a treasure trove of data and analytics, as well as more sales of products and services. The credit union has $1.75 billion in assets and 236,000 members.
In GTE 3D, members can create their own avatars, wander around a three-dimensional branch, play games and talk live with staff members at various booths that are set up to show them auto and home loans, insurance and investing products. Visitors can also apply for membership, open accounts and apply for loans.
The endeavor fulfills the predictions of a concept document written in 2012 by a Filene Research Institute-sponsored group of executives from the $621 million, Sylvania, Ohio-based Directions Credit Union; the $1.6 billion Educators Credit Union in Mount Pleasant, Wis.; the Malvern, Pa.-based Akcelerant Advisors and the $262 million, Jackson, Tenn.-based Leaders Credit Union. In that document, the group wrote credit unions were struggling to find penetration and profitability with millennials, and gaming could be the way around that.
GTE Financial's Oct. 15 GTE 3D grand opening event resulted in 207 chats with staff members. Plus, a virtual home loan event drew 120 visitors.
“Rather than trying to fight this younger generation's propensity to game, our group has developed a way to ferry this demographic from financial education to financial transaction, all within the virtual realm,” the report said. “We foresee this platform as a ‘portal’ that would connect the current online banking environment with an existing financial game. Much like a first-person role-playing video game, credit union members would be able to develop an alter-ego (an avatar) that represents them in the online banking environment. This avatar would carry their personal information and would be capable of participating in various ‘realms’ within the online banking space as dictated by the credit union: Transaction history, balancing, bill payment, goal-setting (PFM) and Person to Person (P2P) transfers.”
The group's intuition about gaming was right: Two years later, in 2014, a Zogby poll found 57% of 18- to 34-year-olds play video games at least three times a week, and 28% – including 37% of those aged 18 to 24 – said they have a “second life” or avatar online. Today 80% of U.S. households own a device used to play video games, and 56% of gamers are 35 or younger (27% are 50 or older), according to the Entertainment Software Association.
“They want to have social experiences and see what others do,” Hyperfair Marketing Manager Martina Ori said. “They want to have a fun experience, so I think that is also part of it, and it's a really great tool for engagement.”
Ori said it took less than two months to get GTE 3D up and running, and thousands of users can be on at the same time.
“What GTE is doing with this technology is really going to change the idea of what a virtual branch is,” Ori said.
GTE wouldn't disclose how much it spent on GTE 3D, but Ori said Hyperfair typically works on a monthly subscription model.
“It can vary, but it's really a few thousand dollars a month,” she said.
There is usually no up-front cost unless the client wants a highly customized product, she added.
Synching up with the millennial mind set is just one potential payoff from a 3D branch; impressions are another, according to GTE Financial AVP of Member Marketing and Promotion Jennifer Maxfield.
A real-life GTE Financial branch is pictured to the left.
“We look at GTE 3D very similar to our involvement on social media,” she explained. “We report metrics to the board every month, looking for month-over-month growth in exposure and engagement. We plan to incorporate 3D insights as well.”
Though users can't complete financial transactions on the 3D site (they have to go to GTE's regular online banking site for that), Maxfield said its Oct. 15 grand opening produced some tantalizing metrics. On average, she said, GTE 3D users spent an hour and seven minutes on the site. During the three-hour event, visitors initiated 207 chats with staff and registered 3,059 banner clicks and other lead generators. Also, 120 people attended the credit union's “Home Free” event in a virtual auditorium. The home loans kiosk received the most clicks of any of the services, she added.
“The homeowner is such a big focus for us and we struggle sometimes with awareness that we do home loans with our membership,” Maxfield said. “It was kind of cool to see that stat.”
Time on the site is valuable because it means more time to present products and educate members, which can lead to more sales of products and services. Hyperfair said the site can also gather quantitative (clicks and downloads) as well as qualitative data (impressions, actions, what avatars do, etc.).
“We will be able to measure every click and every interaction with 3D,” Maxfield explained. “Unlike traditional websites, where we just track clicks, we can attribute those behaviors to an actual user. In the next phases, we will even look to do trigger campaigns in email or text based on what you do in 3D. So, if you visit the auto financing booth, we can follow-up with you with very pertinent and specific information.”
The GTE 3D auditorium also offers live events, seminars and webinars, such as the career fair it hosted on Oct. 22.
“Talent representatives were logged in answering questions about open positions, taking resumes and live chatting – this is an example of how we will continue to evolve this platform and try new things,” Maxfield told CU Times.
Cutting edge technology is featured in GTE Financial's brick and mortar locations. Now that it offers a virtual branch, the credit union is focused on turning its real-world branches into retail centers.
Virtual events are often less expensive to execute and could get more attendance due to their convenience, she added.
Another potential payoff is the reduction in spending on brick and mortar branches.
“We have a strategic direction that we want to become virtual,” Chad Burney, GTE Financial's chief information officer and SVP of member technology and virtual channels, said. “We believe brick and mortar will always be there, but as everyone else is trying to do, we’re trying to turn our brick and mortar into more of a retail center.”
That translates to significant changes in budgeting priorities, he said.
“There's no doubt the shift in dollars spent, whether it's capital or expenses, is going from the traditional brick and mortar type expenses and capital more toward development dollars to more virtual-type technology,” Burney said.
Burney also said GTE Financial's real-world branches will become what he called “next-gen community financial centers” that will have, among other things, interactive teller machines for completing transactions. There are no current plans to open more branches, “but that's not to necessarily say that we won't,” he added.
Moving GTE 3D from text chat to video chat could be on the horizon, Burney noted, but for now, he's busy watching his latest creation come to life – something that was only fantasy to the authors of that concept paper written in what may soon seem like the Dark Ages of 2012.
“Our goal is that the end-user is almost rendered unaware that they are banking, but rather that they’re simply enjoying a virtual experience,” they wrote.