Stock trading has been gamified – transformed into a fun and at times casino-like game whose addictive potential captures the attention of consumers and revenues for brokerage firms. Given the widespread notoriety of meme stocks like AMC Entertainment, and Robinhood’s January 2021 halt of trading in GameStop shares, this is not news to most people. In fact, the Securities Exchange Commission is soliciting comments on a proposed rule that would regulate this phenomenon.
In various forms, gamification has spread to economic sectors as diverse as manufacturing, education, advertising, and healthcare. Thus far, however, little has been written about the gamification of banking – the topic of our recent article. Our article analyzes relevant examples, posits a novel taxonomy of bank and fintech products and services that rely on features of gamification, predicts three waves of gamification in banking, and highlights potential benefits and risks of this development.
Playing games has been a popular pastime throughout history for a multitude of reasons, including entertainment, relaxation, community-building, and learning. In fact, play promotes well-being; its health impact is formidable. Additionally, some research suggests that a high percentage of adults in the U.S. think that playing games about money, such as Monopoly, helps them learn the basics of finance. Perhaps motivated by such findings, online firm Ally Bank rolled out an “augmented reality” Monopoly game in six U.S. cities during 2019. More recently, in 2022, Truist – the 7th largest U.S. bank – acquired fintech gamification app, Long Game Savings, Inc. As Bill Rogers, Truist CEO, explained “[Long Game] utilizes behavioral economics, prize link savings and mobile gaming to motivate positive financial behaviors and drive new account growth and client retention.”
Much earlier examples of banking’s gamification include PNC Bank’s 2008 “Punch the Pig” virtual walletor the BBVA Game. However, as Rogers’ comments suggest, a recent confluence of factors is poised to accelerate banking’s gamification, with the likely result being mega financial platforms, what we see as the third wave of banking’s gamification. Such factors include the widespread use of mobile-based banking applications; the findings of behavioral economics research on habit formation; the rise of big data, data analytics, and AI; and the explosive growth of cloud computing. Among these factors, cloud computing is playing a particularly important and powerful role. First, cloud computing technology has become so ubiquitous that few firms operate without some level of reliance on cloud-based infrastructure for data storage and management. Second, there has been an increasing migration to these mega-platforms by banks, fintechs, and other financial service firms . Third, cloud giants (Amazon, Microsoft, and Google) have been particularly eager to enter partnerships with banks and trading exchanges. Finally, these cloud companies have moved into the gaming market through the acquisition of gaming-technology companies.
In envisioning mega financial platforms, we consider developments such as Microsoft’s recent acquisition of game developer and publisher Activision Blizzard, Amazon’s gaming technology acquisitions, and Google’s B2B gaming platform, in combination with these giants’ increasingly transformational partnerships with banks. For example, Microsoft entered a partnership with U.S. Bank in 2022, “embedd[ing] U.S. Bank payment capabilities across Microsoft platforms that businesses use regularly, making it easier for business customers to generate invoices and to send and receive payments.” Hence, the three cloud-company giants have become important players in the video game industry and appear on course to fortify their gaming technology infrastructure and expertise. For example, Amazon GameSparks is a “fully managed game backend service that makes it easier…to build, optimize, and scale game backend features” with capabilities such as “build[ing] and deploy[ing] game features.” We anticipate gaming platforms will ultimately become a key service offering of the cloud giants, leading to the gamification of banking and much more.
To be sure, there are various pros and cons to the gamification of banking.
For financial institutions, gamification can provide a competitive advantage by expanding their customer bases and creating higher levels of engagement with their products and services. This can increase profitability. Also, more information about a customer can lead to enhanced, data-based insights for purposes of underwriting and understanding spending preferences. The tailoring of products and services to customers based on their specific needs and financial capacity can, in turn, have benefits for individuals.
At the same time, the habit-forming potential of gamification can produce negative results for consumers. They may, for instance, begin to engage in transactions more often than necessary and in ways that are not in their best financial interest. Moreover, the widespread collection and potential dissemination of data can lead to the targeting of consumers, including for discriminatory purposes. This can also lead to regulatory risks for banks and financial institutions, whose gamification programs might inadvertently draw the ire of enforcement agencies. We discuss these and other considerations more fully in our paper. Despite the many potential benefits of gamification for consumers and financial counterparties, it is nonetheless important to recognize these risks as the use of gamification in banking and finance continues to develop and spread.
 See e.g. Tom Batchelor, Robinhood Stops GME and AMC Stock Trading, Outraging Investors, Newsweek, Jan. 28, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/robinhood-stops-gamestop-amc-stock-trading-1565122.
 Colleen Baker & Christopher K. Odinet, The Gamification of Banking, 75 U. of Illinois L. Rev. (forthcoming 2024).
 See generally Sami Yenigun, Play Doesn’t End With Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too, NPR, Aug. 6, 2014, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336360521/play-doesnt-end-with-childhood-why-adults-need-recess-too.
 Press Release, Ally Turns American Cities into Live MONOPOLY Gameboard to Help People Grow Their Fortune, https://media.ally.com/2019-10-19-Ally-Turns-American-Cities-into-Live-MONOPOLY-R-Gameboard-to-Help-People-Grow-Their-Fortune.
 Matthew Goldberg, The 15 Largest Banks in the U.S., BANKRATE (Jan. 30, 2023), https://www.bankrate.com/banking/biggest-banks-in-america/.
 Suman Bhattacharyya, New Truist Innovation Team Includes Long Game Engineers, BANKINGDIVE, Oct. 26, 2022.
 Bhattacharyya, supra note 7 (quoting Truist CEO Bill Rogers).
 PNC’s Virtual Wallet(SM) Takes Online Banking to the Next Level, PNC MEDIAROOM, https://pnc.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=3473&item=74221.
 BBVA, BBVA receives the Bank Innovation award for its gamification platform, BBVA Game (2017), https://www.bbva.com/en/innovation/bbva-receives-bank-innovation-award-gamification-platform-bbva-game/.
 Legal scholars have written about “digital finance platforms” in the asset management area. See Dirk A. Zetzsche et. al, Digital Finance Platforms: Toward a New Regulatory Paradigm, 23 U. Pa. J. Bus. L. 272 (2020).
 See Zaheer Kachwala, Microsoft looks to close Activision deal next week, The Verge reports, Reuters, Oct. 6, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/markets/deals/microsoft-looks-close-activision-deal-next-week-verge-2023-10-06/.
 See generally Ben Gilbert, Amazon quietly bought a gaming company for $10 million, according to reports, YAHOO! FINANCE (July 28, 2017) , https://finance.yahoo.com/news/amazon-quietly-boughtgaming-company-201342689.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall.
 Kris Holt, Google Unveils its B2B Cloud Gaming Platform with Stadia Tech, Forbes (Mar. 15, 2022) https://www.forbes.com/sites/krisholt/2022/03/15/google-stadia-cloud-gaming-tech-b2bdetails-features-immersive-stream-for-games/?sh=73ccfab4d725.
 See e.g. Penny Crosman, 5 Ways Banks Pushed Deeper Into the Cloud in 2022, AM. BANKER, Dec. 21, 2022, https://www.americanbanker.com/list/5-ways-banks-pushed-deeper-into-the-cloud-in-2022.
 News Release, U.S. Bank Partners with Microsoft to Accelerate the Future of Banking with Cloud Computing, Feb. 22, 2022, https://ir.usbank.com/news-releases/news-release-details/us-bankpartners-microsoft-accelerate-future-banking-cloud.
This post comes to us from professors Colleen Baker at the University of Oklahoma’s Michael F. Price College of Business and Christopher K. Odinet at the University of Iowa College of Law. It is based on their recent paper, “The Gamification of Banking,” available here.