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Gamifying financial literacy is tough. Can Greenlight’s Level Up get it right?

  • Financial literacy games can be gimmicky and may fail to find the balance between “game” and “education”.
  • Level Up by Greenlight focuses on gamification in a manner that's sticky, but for the right purposes.

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Gamifying financial literacy is tough. Can Greenlight’s Level Up get it right?

Gamification has been making the rounds in the financial industry as a sticky process that attracts customers and makes them come back. As shiny as it looks, though, not all applications of gamification are good for consumers.

Sometimes, the process can be too sticky and downplay associated risks. I covered this in detail in my deep dive into Robinhood last year. I recommend heading over to that article if you’re interested in how UX can mislead and cloak, rather than inform and enable.

That said, not all gamification is risky. In fact, the process is highly effective in making user experiences enjoyable and engaging. Applied to the right sector and process, gamification could work wonders.

Level Up

Enter Greenlight with its interactive, curriculum-based financial literacy game, “Level Up”. The fintech focuses on financial literacy for kids through a banking app that comes with a debit card for younger consumers. Parents can automate allowances, assign chores, and even supervise their kids as they learn and try their hand at investing. 

A collection of screens that are present in Level Up. Colorful palette of purple, greens, yellows and pinks is used to make content attractive for younger age groups.

Greenlight's Level Up

The app comes with a story-driven game, which provides a curriculum that goes beyond the National Standards for K-12 Personal Financial Education. As the image above shows, the UI uses bright, engaging colors that resonate with younger audiences, and moves the story along with characters like a wise wizard and a jetpack-toting goat. 

The company's director of education, Jennifer Seitz, asserts that a few lessons were central to the app: 

  1. Money needs to be earned
  2. Saving is essential for the future
  3. Investing early is the best way to build wealth
  4. Spending wisely is important

The game encapsulates these ideas and teaches kids to understand “financial tradeoffs” through its UI. The app is designed to be accessible to all ages, but targets kids aged 10 to 14 as its primary audience. The company plans on rolling out lessons for Level Up’s library each month. Incentivization through the app occurs by giving users experience points, badges and coins with which they can “level up”. 

Making a successful financial literacy game

Seitz adds that Greenlight had been eyeing the potential of gamification for a while. Before the product rolled out, "we were talking with customers. Then we had a beta period for the last couple of months, where we rolled it out to a percentage of users."

These are the hallmarks of an app that has clearly identified its user base and goals, and intends to make good on those through extensive user-testing. The app was in its beta phase for several months, she adds.

The company ideally wants to be able to track the level of comprehension and understanding of its lessons. It has built-in questions and scenarios before each lesson to track when kids’ thinking patterns change about a subject.

With a product like Level Up, one essential element is parental oversight. Seitz says it's built into every aspect of Level Up, whether it's how chores are assigned or how data is shared. Greenlight Level Up is a “family” product. 

In the future, the company says it wants to bring the product to every child in the country. It plans to do so by offering a free web-based product that takes the K12 standard and maps it to state curriculum and classroom requirements across the country.

Gamifying financial literacy is not child's play

Gamifying financial literacy is not a straightforward task, and others have tried it before. In such attempts, the risk of the game being gimmicky instead of useful for its young consumer base is high. For example, consider this game by Visa called Cash Puzzler, which requires you to piece together a bank note.

Another attempt by Visa (in partnership with NFL) comes in the form of Financial Football, which allows users to play as NFL teams, and interrupts gameplay every time the player is tackled to the ground.

The football part of the game is somewhat engaging. However, interrupting gameplay with financial literacy questions does not promote long-term retention of any lesson or information. There is a clear disconnect between the football part and the “financial literacy” aspect of the experience. The only bearing one has on the other is that when a player is tackled, a screen with financial literacy questions pops up. Oddly, the interface seems to be punishing the user for being tackled with financial literacy. 

Financia; Football by Visa and NFL. The screen shows a matrix of options like Life events, financial institutions ranging in difficulty for players to choose. Upon being chosen a question related to financial literacy is presented to user.
The screen shows the football part of the Financial Football game. Teams face off and wait for the whistle. A standard Fifa-esque UI fills the screen.

Financial education is tough, and gamification seems like a process that could simplify it. To do it right, particular attention needs to be paid to comprehension, retention and engagement. After all, there is a reason why students like one teacher better than another, or do better in one class while struggling in others.

Deep engagement needs to start by making the act of learning fun, not by piling it onto something unrelated. To Greenlight’s credit, Level Up is set up to do just that.

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