Emotion, Engagements, and Economics: The Psychology of Gamification in Financial Services

/ 20 September 2023

From mobile banking apps to investment platforms, gamification is subtly yet profoundly altering how consumers relate to financial products and services. By incorporating elements like challenges, rewards, badges, and leaderboards, traditionally mundane tasks become engaging experiences. 

So what is gamification, and why does it resonate so strongly in the financial sector? It’s not about turning banking into a game but about harnessing the psychological appeal of games to influence behaviour and create engagement. 

But this is the tip of the iceberg. 

As gamification continues to grow in popularity, its applications within the financial sector are expanding. It’s no longer confined to just a single aspect of customer interaction; it’s redefining everything from credit card activation strategies to long-term investment planning.

Let’s get into it. 

The emotional draw of games

Games are not just a source of entertainment; they’re a complex blend of psychology and design that taps into our fundamental human emotions. 

Here’s how the emotional draw of games translates to financial contexts:

  1. Curiosity: Games awaken our innate desire to explore, learn, and discover. They entice us to reach the next level or solve a challenging puzzle. Financial services can use this by designing elements that trigger curiosity, such as unlocking new features upon achieving savings goals or discovering new investment options.
  2. Competition: The drive to win or outperform others is a powerful motivator. Such as leaderboards in financial apps, where users can compare their savings or investment achievements with others. This creates a healthy sense of competition and motivation.
  3. Achievement: Completing a task or reaching a goal brings satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. For example, by setting clear and attainable financial goals with progressive milestones, financial services can replicate this rewarding experience.
  4. Status: Recognition and status are key drivers in games, and they can be applied to financial contexts by rewarding users with badges or ranks based on their financial achievements. For example a ‘Savings Guru’ badge for reaching a savings milestone.
  5. Self-expression: Games allow for personalisation and self-expression. This can be translated into financial apps by allowing users to customise their profiles, set personal financial goals, and share achievements with their community.

Real-world examples

Budgeting apps with challenges

Some personal finance apps incorporate monthly savings challenges or investment quests, rewarding users with points or badges upon completion.

For example, YNAB (You Need a Budget) is designed to help users take control of their money and reach their financial goals by offering challenges and community support to keep users engaged and motivated. YNAB users participate in challenges that encourage saving and budgeting habits which turns an ordinary task into an engaging and rewarding experience. 

Credit card rewards programmes with levels

Credit card issuers are redefining rewards by introducing gamified experiences where cardholders level up to unlock exclusive benefits and offers. An example of credit card rewards programmes with levels and gamified experiences is American Express and their Membership Rewards programme.

This programme allows cardholders to earn points on purchases that can be redeemed for various rewards. With tiered levels, cardholders can unlock exclusive benefits, offers, and experiences as they accumulate more points. The experience is akin to “levelling up” in a game, making the spending and rewards process more engaging and satisfying.

Investment platforms with gamified education

For new investors, some platforms offer interactive learning modules, quizzes, and simulations to make financial education fun and engaging.

An example of this is Investopedia Stock Simulator: This platform offers a virtual stock trading experience that allows users to practice trading with virtual currency. It offers competitions and challenges that mimic real-world trading scenarios. The simulator provides an educational and engaging way for new investors to learn about the stock market, strategies, and investment decision-making.

Retirement planning with milestone rewards

Retirement planning apps might offer virtual rewards for reaching certain milestones, turning a long-term goal into a series of engaging steps.

An example is Wealthsimple, a Canadian investment management service that offers various financial products, including retirement savings plans. While it may not strictly gamify the process with points or badges, its user-friendly interface, goal-setting features, and progress tracking help turn the long-term process of retirement planning into an engaging experience. Wealthsimple’s interactive tools make it easy for users to visualise their financial future and set achievable milestones, effectively turning the journey into a series of engaging steps.

The emotional draw of games is not confined to the virtual world. It’s a deeply rooted connection that financial services are harnessing to transform the user experience. By incorporating gamified features like points, levels, challenges, and rewards, financial providers are not only making finance more engaging but also building a more profound and enjoyable connection with their users

The psychology behind gamification

Gamification isn’t just a trendy buzzword; it’s a sophisticated blend of psychology and design that resonates with the fundamental aspects of human motivation. Let’s explore the underlying psychological principles that make gamification so effective, especially in financial contexts.

Variable reward schedules

Variable reward schedules are a core psychological principle harnessed by gamification. These schedules provide rewards at varying intervals or ratios, keeping the user engaged and uncertain about when the next reward will come. 

This uncertainty taps into our natural curiosity and can create a sense of anticipation, much like a slot machine in a casino. In financial applications, such as credit card rewards programs, variable rewards can lead to increased spending and engagement with the product.

Flow state

The concept of the flow state refers to being fully immersed and energised in an activity, experiencing joy and total involvement. Gamification creates this flow by providing challenges that are neither too hard nor too easy, coupled with clear goals and immediate feedback. 

The result is an optimal experience where users lose track of time and feel a strong sense of accomplishment. For example, in financial education platforms, this can turn a dry subject like investing or budgeting into an absorbing and enjoyable learning process.

Social influence

Gamification often leverages social influence by including features like leaderboards, challenges, and social sharing. We are inherently social beings, and the desire to connect, compete, and cooperate with others is a powerful motivator. 

For example, in financial apps, this social layer can create a sense of community, encourage positive financial behaviours, and enhance customer loyalty.

Mastery, empowerment, and social connections

Progression systems, levels, and skill-building tasks enable users to experience growth and competence. This resonates with our inner drive to excel and feel in control. 

For example, investment platforms with gamified education can guide a novice investor from basic understanding to advanced strategies, offering a satisfying journey of personal growth.

Feedback loops, clear goals, and progression pathways

Gamification’s success also lies in its ability to provide feedback loops, articulate clear goals, and create compelling progression pathways. These elements tap into our intrinsic motivations, offering constant reinforcement and a sense of direction. 

The user is never left wondering what to do next or how they are doing. In the context of retirement planning apps, these features can turn an overwhelming long-term goal into manageable, rewarding steps, keeping users engaged and aligned with their financial objectives.

👉To sum up, the psychology behind gamification is deeply connected to how we think, feel, and behave. By understanding and applying these principles, financial services can craft experiences that are not just engaging but resonate with what motivates us at a fundamental level. 

In a world where financial decisions can often feel complex and daunting, gamification offers a path towards making these choices more approachable, enjoyable, and ultimately, more effective.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key applications for gamification in banking and finance. 

Gamification applications in banking and finance

Gamification is changing the face of banking and finance, not just by adding playful elements but by fundamentally transforming user engagement and behaviour. 

Here, we will delve into specific applications of gamification in the financial sector:

Engaging through challenges and rewards

Gamification introduces challenges and rewards that are in sync with younger users’ love for games and achievements such as:

  • Spending challenges: Some banking apps offer spending challenges, rewarding users with points or badges upon completion. These achievements often link to tangible rewards like discounts or cash back.
  • Investment quests: Investment platforms use quests and missions to encourage younger users to explore and learn about different investment options.

Social connections

Leveraging social networks and peer comparison can create an engaging, community-driven experience, such as using:

  • Leaderboards: Apps may feature leaderboards where friends can compete on saving, investing, or other financial goals.
  • Social sharing: Encouraging users to share their financial milestones on social media can create a sense of community and accomplishment.

Personalised experiences

Creating personalised, interactive experiences is key to resonating with younger users who often seek individuality and relevance by providing:

  • Custom challenges: Banking apps that allow users to set custom saving or budgeting challenges cater to individual goals and preferences.
  • Personalised insights: Gamified insights into spending patterns or investment strategies can provide value while maintaining engagement.

Education through gamification

Younger demographics often face a steep learning curve in financial matters. Gamification can make education more engaging and accessible using:

  • Interactive tutorials: Banks can use game-like tutorials to educate users about various financial products and services.
  • Quizzes and puzzles: Fun quizzes and puzzles related to banking, investment, or personal finance can be an exciting way to learn.

Real-life example: Monzo uses gamification to provide insights into spending habits and offers various challenges and goals to help users manage their finances.

Increasing digital engagement among younger demographics requires an understanding of their needs, preferences, and lifestyles. Gamification aligns perfectly with these factors, transforming banking and finance from mere transactions into engaging experiences.

From personalised challenges to social interactions, these game-like elements resonate with the younger generation’s psyche, creating an emotional connection with financial management.

Encouraging positive financial behaviours

Gamification is well placed to encourage financial responsibility with its engaging mechanics and psychological nudges and can do this in the following ways:

Saving with rewards and challenges

Gamification can turn the act of saving money into an engaging and rewarding process.

  • Saving challenges: Banks can introduce monthly or yearly saving challenges, encouraging users to reach specific targets, and rewarding them with virtual badges, discounts, or even interest boosts.
  • Visual progress bars: Representing saving goals with visual progress bars adds an engaging touch, making the act of saving more enjoyable.

Investing through education and encouragement

Investing can be complex, particularly for newcomers. Gamification makes it more accessible and engaging.

  • Investment simulations: Investment platforms may provide simulations, allowing users to practise with virtual money. This gamified approach helps demystify investing, fostering confidence.
  • Missions and achievements: Completing investment-related missions and earning achievements can create a sense of accomplishment and guide newcomers through the investment journey.

Budgeting with interactive tools

Budgeting is essential for financial wellbeing, and gamification adds fun and interaction to this sometimes tedious task.

  • Personalised budgeting challenges: Apps might allow users to set their budgeting challenges, tracking progress and rewarding success with points or virtual rewards.
  • Interactive budgeting guides: By turning budgeting guidance into interactive, game-like experiences, financial apps can make budgeting appealing and engaging.

Real-life example: Moneybox offers a gamified approach to investing, allowing users to round up their daily purchases and invest the spare change. Their engaging interface makes investing approachable for everyone.

These gamified approaches not only make financial management more engaging but also educate and empower users to take control of their financial futures. As these methods continue to evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative and impactful applications of gamification in encouraging responsible financial habits.

Making financial education and literacy more interesting and accessible

The world of finance can often seem daunting and complex, especially for those new to the subject. Gamification offers an innovative and engaging way to break down barriers, enabling more people to acquire vital financial skills by deploying:

Interactive learning modules

Interactive learning modules take users through different financial scenarios, helping them understand essential concepts like budgeting, investing, or managing debt. By allowing learners to make choices and see the consequences, these modules provide practical, hands-on experience.

Quizzes and challenges

Gamified quizzes and challenges test users’ knowledge and understanding of financial concepts. By earning points, badges, or completing levels, learners are encouraged to deepen their understanding, creating a stimulating and rewarding educational experience.


Financial simulations enable users to practise real-world financial decision-making without any real-world risks. These simulations might include managing a virtual stock portfolio, budgeting for a virtual household, or navigating a virtual financial marketplace.

Gamified apps and platforms

Many platforms are specifically designed to educate users about financial literacy through gamified experiences. These apps often integrate tutorials, challenges, simulations, and rewards to create a comprehensive and engaging learning environment.

Real-life example: iGrad’s Enrich platform offers personalised financial literacy courses with interactive tools, quizzes, and videos. It’s designed to empower students and adults with the knowledge they need to make sound financial decisions.

Gamification has transformed financial education, making it more engaging, interactive, and accessible to a broad audience. From interactive modules and quizzes to simulations and gamified learning platforms, these innovative approaches cater to diverse learning preferences.

By turning the educational process into an enjoyable and stimulating experience, gamification in financial education ensures that more people acquire essential financial skills in an engaging way. 

Gamification for customer onboarding

The onboarding process is a critical moment in a customer’s relationship with a bank or financial institution. The first impression can shape how a customer perceives the brand and their willingness to engage further. 

Gamification has emerged as an innovative solution to make the account opening and registration process more engaging, guided, and, ultimately, more successful in converting potential customers. Here’s how:

Personalised pathways

Customised onboarding journeys, framed as quests or challenges, can guide customers through the registration process. By segmenting tasks into manageable steps, gamification helps transform a tedious procedure into an engaging experience.

Rewards and incentives

Offering virtual rewards such as points or badges can motivate customers to complete the process. These rewards can translate into real-world benefits like discounts or exclusive offers, further enticing the customer to complete the registration.

Interactive tutorials and guidance

Interactive tutorials can be an invaluable tool for guiding customers, especially if they feel uncertain about any part of the process. Gamified tutorials can provide hints, tips, and reassurances at each step, improving customer confidence.

Real-time feedback

Real-time feedback and progress indicators can help customers understand where they are in the process. Whether it’s a progress bar or a visual representation of the journey, it helps to alleviate uncertainty and keeps customers engaged.

Engagement analytics

Banks and financial institutions can leverage analytics to understand where customers might be dropping off during the onboarding process. Gamification can provide insights into user behaviour, helping to optimise the process for future users.

Real-life example: U.S. Bank uses gamification in its mobile app to improve the customer onboarding experience. The “Start Smart Savings Program” is designed to make saving money fun and rewarding for new account holders. New customers are guided through the process with engaging prompts and rewarded with cash bonuses for reaching specific savings goals. The program has not only enhanced the user experience but has helped increase savings among new account holders.

By personalising the journey, providing interactive guidance, offering rewards, and analysing customer engagement, financial institutions can create a more engaging, satisfying, and efficient onboarding process.

Gamification for personal finance: streaks, points, and achievements

By integrating elements commonly found in games such as streaks, points, and achievements, financial institutions and FinTech companies are creating engaging experiences that motivate users towards better financial habits. Here’s how this approach works:

Streaks: building habits

The concept of streaks (consecutive daily actions) is employed to encourage consistent behaviour. For example, users might receive a ‘7-day streak’ badge for checking their spending or saving goals daily. This encourages regular interaction with the app and fosters a habit of daily financial monitoring.

Points: quantifying progress

Points offer a quantifiable measure of progress. By completing specific financial tasks, such as setting a budget or saving a certain amount, users can earn points. These points may lead to different levels, unlocking new features or rewards, providing both motivation and satisfaction.

Achievements: celebrating milestones

Achievements or badges mark significant milestones. Whether it’s saving for the first time or paying off a credit card, these virtual rewards celebrate success. They act as both motivation and recognition of progress, enhancing user engagement.

Real-life example: Qapital is an innovative personal finance app that uses gamification to encourage saving and investment. By setting rules and goals, users can automate savings in a fun and engaging way. For instance, users can set up a “Round-Up Rule” where spare change from everyday purchases is rounded up to the nearest dollar and saved. 

Additionally, they can earn achievements for reaching specific savings milestones. By transforming the process of saving money into a game-like experience, Qapital motivates users to actively participate in their financial well-being.

By leveraging the dynamics of games, financial apps can connect with users on an emotional level, encourage positive financial behaviours, and foster loyalty. Streaks, points, and achievements act as daily reminders, motivators, and rewards, turning the otherwise mundane task of personal finance management into an engaging, productive, and satisfying experience. 

Levelling up credit card rewards: gamification in action

The integration of gamification within credit card rewards programs is another area of innovation. This approach leverages elements found in games to enhance user engagement and encourage specific spending behaviours. Here’s how it works:

Points and levels

Credit card rewards programs often employ a points system, where cardholders earn points for every purchase made. These points can then be redeemed for various rewards, such as travel discounts, gift cards, or cashback.

In a gamified system, these points can be connected to different levels or tiers, where reaching a higher level unlocks exclusive benefits or offers. This can encourage cardholders to spend and engage with their credit card in ways that align with the issuer’s objectives.

Challenges and achievements

In addition to levels, credit card issuers can create challenges and achievements for cardholders to complete. Completing a challenge such as spending a certain amount in a specific category (e.g., dining or travel) within a month could unlock additional rewards or offers. These challenges add an engaging layer to the rewards experience.

Personalisation and engagement

By offering personalised challenges and rewards, issuers can make the rewards program more relevant to individual cardholders. This helps in building a stronger connection between the cardholder and the issuer, increasing both satisfaction and loyalty.

Real-life example

Chase Bank’s Ultimate Rewards programme offers a points system where cardholders can earn points for every purchase made. These points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, cashback, or even for purchases on Amazon. What makes this program particularly engaging is the ability to earn extra points in specific categories that rotate, adding a dynamic layer to the earning process. 

Some Chase cards also offer tiered benefits where higher spending unlocks additional rewards and bonuses. For those who want to maximise their points, understanding and playing within these rules becomes a game itself. 

Credit card rewards programs are a natural fit for gamification, offering opportunities to create engaging experiences that resonate with cardholders.

Online trading and investing platforms: making investing engaging through gamification

The world of investment, often seen as dry and complex, has seen a transformative change. Gamifying investment platforms makes the experience more approachable, engaging, and stimulating, particularly for new or young investors.

Real-life example: eToro’s social trading platform stands out for its integration of gamification. Users can start with a virtual portfolio, trading real markets with fake money, which allows them to practise and understand investing in a low-risk environment. eToro also offers a “CopyTrader” system where users can follow and copy the trades of successful investors, turning the investment process into a social and interactive experience. 

Features such as leaderboards, social feeds, and badges reward participation and success, making the process more game-like. 

eToro’s platform not only makes investing more engaging but also helps educate new investors by providing a practical, hands-on approach to learning the market. The social components, like following and copying other successful traders, add community engagement and a competitive edge that resonates well with the intrinsic motivations of many users.

Employee training programmes

Gamification is not just about customer engagement; it’s also being used internally within banking and financial sectors to train employees. Let’s dive into how this is happening:

Financial institutions and banks have begun to realise that traditional training methods may not be sufficient to equip employees, especially financial advisors, with the necessary skills and knowledge. Gamified learning platforms are becoming an attractive solution to this challenge.

Real-life example: Deloitte’s Leadership Academy offers an online program that uses gamification to train employees, including those in the financial sector. Users go through different modules and courses that are filled with challenges, quizzes, and simulations. They can earn badges, points, and even see how they rank on leaderboards against their peers. 

The platform also offers tailored content depending on the user’s role and interests, making it more engaging and relevant.

Deloitte’s platform is a great example of how gamification can turn the process of learning complex financial products, compliance, ethics, and customer service skills into an engaging experience. The competition, rewards, and sense of progression tap into the intrinsic motivators that drive human behaviour, making the learning process not just effective but enjoyable.

Retirement planning: a gamified approach for a brighter future

Retirement planning is an essential part of financial planning but often perceived as dull or overwhelming, especially for younger generations. Integrating gamification can transform this perception so that it doesn’t have to be a chore or a topic that’s pushed aside for “later.” 

With gamification, financial institutions can make retirement planning more approachable, interactive, and satisfying.

Real-life example: Voya Financial’s myOrangeMoney offers a standout digital experience with its myOrangeMoney online platform. Designed to make retirement planning more engaging, it allows users to visually see their estimated monthly retirement income. Users can move sliders to see how different savings rates, retirement ages, and investment strategies could impact their future financial stability. 

This interactive experience, though not strictly a game, brings a gamified approach to retirement planning by allowing users to “play” with various financial scenarios. It’s an excellent example of how gamification principles can be applied to foster better understanding and engagement with retirement planning. 

Through myOrangeMoney, Voya has managed to create a bridge between the distant future of retirement and present-day financial decisions. This interactive, visually appealing platform offers users an engaging way to interact with their retirement planning, making it more approachable and less intimidating.

Cryptocurrency engagement: elevating experience through gamification

Cryptocurrencies have captured the imagination and interest of investors and enthusiasts alike, and the introduction of gamification within this space has further ignited engagement. The world of cryptocurrencies is fast-paced and constantly evolving. It offers plenty of opportunities but can be intimidating for those new to the digital currency landscape

To enhance user engagement and loyalty, many crypto platforms have started leveraging gamification techniques.

Real-life example: Binance one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, offers an educational platform called Binance Academy. It’s designed to make learning about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology fun and accessible. Through interactive quizzes, video tutorials, and achievements, users can progress through different levels of understanding. 

Challenges are set, and rewards are offered for completing different learning paths. This gamified approach helps demystify complex crypto concepts, making them more accessible to newcomers and providing continuous learning opportunities for more seasoned traders.

By incorporating game-like elements into the learning and trading experience, Binance Academy not only educates but also engages users in a fun, interactive way. This promotes continuous learning, builds loyalty, and encourages more active participation in the cryptocurrency market.

The future of gamified finance

The era of gamified finance is just beginning. The fusion of technology, psychology, and economics is redefining the way we engage with money. Whether it’s through encouraging sustainable investing or turning financial education into a rewarding experience, the future is full of possibilities.

3radical is at the forefront of these innovations, helping businesses tap into the power of gamification to create compelling and meaningful financial experiences. 
Explore how 3radical can reshape your financial engagement strategy here.

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