With just one-third of the world’s adult population being financially literate, it will take massive public-private efforts for the children of today to reverse this trend in the future. Realizing they have a high stake in financial education, bank and credit institutions are increasingly investing in gamified ‘edutainment’ targeted at young children and teenagers.
I went to middle school in Stockholm in the late 1970s and the high point in my school week was the double period of home economics in a special classroom with several fully-equipped kitchen stations. (I must confess I raised my three children on the basic cooking skills I acquired between the age of 11 and 14.) And though I loved the class not for entirely the right reasons, in-between the professional make-up demonstrations and making delicious “sockerkaka” (sponge cake), spaghetti bolognese or scones, we also learned how to calculate the cost of a home-made dish, how to compare products and make informed purchase decisions, as well as the basics of money management – budgeting, saving, lending & borrowing.
As evidenced by the stats, the many decades of generously funded, early domestic and consumer science education have produced as many generations of financially literate citizens in Scandinavia. With a rate of 71%, Sweden and Denmark came up on top in the S&P Global Financial Literacy Survey conducted in 2015 (vs 57% in the U.S. and 27% in Asia).
If as many as 3.5 billion adults have low financial literacy, what can we expect from the children? Most countries that do provide free and obligatory education for all children are struggling with school maintenance costs and teacher salaries as it is, and those shiny Swedish cooking stations that I remember from 1979 and which made home economics class so engaging, are far beyond their means and priorities even in 2016.
Fortunately, we live in the digital age and have recourse to a cheap and widely accessible resource – the Internet. We also seem to have reached a general consensus that the task at hand calls for concerted and sustained efforts by all stakeholders – not just parents and teachers, but private bank and credit institutions, as well. Last but not least, we can now tap into the serious games & gamification know-how and best practices accumulated since the beginning of the 21st century.
Digital games for financial literacy
Game-based learning has long been recognized as an effective form of education and is highly valued as a compelling companion to classroom instruction, boosting interest and retention.
Digital games are the medium that digital natives know and love best and can be the most straightforward way to engage and motivate them.
Owing to curriculum and financial constraints, however, school systems are unable to take on edugame development. Ideally, it would be funded and implemented within public-private partnerships to ensure broadly inclusive access.
Here is a sample of projects aimed specifically at children and teens and sponsored by financial institutions such as Visa, Canada’s Meridian credit union and Singapore’s OCBC Bank and DBS Bank, in partnership with various public organizations and game developers.
Innovating the financial education ball game: VISA’s Practical Money Skills platform
For more than a decade, VISA has been leading the way with its financial literacy program and web platform, Practical Money Skills for Life, which provides a vast range of content and tools designed for children, teens, college students and educators, including games and apps, downloadable wallpapers, worksheets, lesson plans, info packets, and even Spiderman and Avengers-themed comic books.
“Visa understands that teaching consumers about money through “edutainment” or “gamification” is an effective means of demystifying a complicated subject by using the compelling and familiar medium of video games to learn while having fun. As part of Practical Money Skills for Life, Visa created a suite of educational games – just one component of the resources Visa offers to help teach people of all ages about personal finance management.” (source: Practical Money Skills)
Developed in partnership with Marvel, the Saving the Day comic book is available in 8 languages and 350,000 copies have been distributed around the world. The second collaboration resulted in Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket’s Powerful Plan, “where the characters learn the importance of saving and managing personal finances while defeating the evil Collector and Robo-Pests” .
The comics and related teacher resources are also available on the website. Money management is not an exciting subject for kids but it would certainly be more palatable if teachers could ask their students, What does Spider-Man learn about managing his money in Saving the Day?, as suggested in the accompanying lesson plan 🙂
Two other high-profile partnerships – with the National Football League and FIFA World Cup – have allowed VISA to roll out the interactive games Financial Football and Financial Soccer (the later has been released in 41 countries in 15 languages).
In both games, players advance and score by giving correct answers to multiple-choice questions about various aspects of money management and basic banking concepts. There are single player and head-to-head game play options and three difficulty levels geared to children (11+), teens and adults. The accompanying lesson modules include an overview of the concepts, goals and objectives of the lesson and a discussion section.
The video below shows how the game can be used in the classroom, and when NFL stars are unavailable, perhaps the teachers could invite some parents to volunteer:)
The Practical Money Skills apps section includes tools to help keep in check how much you’re spending on lunch (Lunch Tracker), to compare and set your own family “tooth fairy rates” (Tooth Fairy Calculator), and one for students and parents to manage and keep within budget the cost of that priceless night in a teen’s life – the Prom (Plan’it Prom)!
The goal of making money management a universal skill implies starting from a very early age and VISA caters to the youngest visitors with two games:
Money Metropolis: Kids ages 7–12 navigate a multi-dimensional world and make life
decisions that will affect whether their virtual bank account shrinks or grows while
learning how to save for a goal and earn money. Available at:
Peter Pig’s Money Counter: Kids ages 4–7 can practice identifying and counting coins
with the help of a wise piggy bank. Available on Android devices and at:
PlayMoolah partners with Singapore banks to empower the next generation
PlayMoolah is a Singapore-based start-up founded by two young women tech entrepreneurs in the aftermath of the 2008 world financial crisis. The team designs educational digital games and community projects that “combine behavioral research with the power of play” with the goal to “empower the next generation to make smart money decisions with clarity and confidence”.
In 2012 the team partnered with Singapore’s OCBC Bank to provide an engaging platform for kids to learn about money management in a fun way while promoting the bank’s children’s savings account program.
Children who opened an account got access to the game online and on mobile. Saving $50 every month would allow them to get a “secret code” at the bank to unlock new modules and play all the available fun quests, quizzes, and mini games.
The campaign resulted in improved brand perception and customer engagement. 78% of kids saved more at OCBC through PlayMoolah and $500,000 saving deposits were collected in 6 months.
In 2014, another financial institution decided to partner with PlayMoolah – this time it was DBS bank and the goal was to engage and educate fresh university graduates living in Singapore.
The resulting app, WhyMoolah, boasts to be “Singapore’s first real-life simulation on mobile”. It allows players to experiment and see the financial impact of different decisions and lifestyle choices at crucial stages in life after graduation, including student loan repayment, buying a house and getting married.
The app further encourages savings behavior change and offers real rewards, for example for setting up automated salary deposits every month or signing up for a brokerage account.
“Since DBS Remix was launched in 2011, we have taken active steps to engage the young adults of today through a series of co-creation and digital innovation projects. For us, the journey continues as we have listened to them and want to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations.
With the launch of WhyMoolah, we are equipping young adults with an important financial management tool which can be readily accessed via their mobile devices. This will go a long way in enabling them to make smarter money decisions in their lives,” (Jeremy Soo, Head of Consumer Banking Group Singapore, DBS Bank)
Meridian and Save the Camp: “setting future generations up for success”
The latest game-based financial literacy project, to be released this month, comes to us from Canada, where November is Financial Literacy Month. “Save the Camp” is the outcome of a partnership between Ontario’s largest credit union, Meridian, The Learning Partnership charity, and award-winning app studio Tiny Hearts.
“We partnered to develop the Save the Camp! app by bringing together experts in financial literacy, youth education and game-based learning,” says Bill Maurin, President & CEO of Meridian Credit Union. “We know that strong financial skills help set future generations up for success.” (source)
Save the Camp is a completely free app designed for students in grades 7-10. It teaches money management skills through an engaging tower defense game.
The core mechanic involves constructing towers that can be can be purchased in two ways: either with a limited reserve of cash or with credit that quickly accumulates interest. At the end of each level, any outstanding debt is balanced against remaining cash and the surplus is placed into a savings account.
The trailer was released on November 1 and you can subscribe for an email notification when the game launches here:
Find other financial literacy projects and games for children and young adults through the Canadian Financial Literacy Database and check out the interactive game Charly and Max Get Involved, developed by Desjardins, Canada’s largest cooperative financial group.
Featured image: Youtube, Practical Money Skills