Gamifying Mobile Banking with Usage-Based Sweepstakes


Just when I thought I’d shaken my Starbucks habit after their April devaluation of rewards for my relatively low-cost Americano, they reprised their Starbucks for Life game which last appeared around the year-end holidays. And I’ve been there four days in a row.

Starbucks for Life is no Pokemon Go, but it’s a lot simpler. Customers earn a virtual game piece with every purchase through 12 Sep ’16 (see inset, rules here). In the summer version, it’s an ice cube that melts away with a mouse click to reveal game pieces that fit on a virtual bingo card.

The main prize is free Starbucks for the rest of your life (30 years max). Or you can win a year, month or week’s worth of caffeine as well. And just to keep people interested, there are 2 million 25-star bonuses, which are worth about $0.50 in your chase to a free drink. My only complaint is lack of integration with the mobile app, but I’m sure they’ll get to that next time.

Sweepstakes are a tried-and-true method of encouraging usage, and costwise, they needn’t break the bank. Merchant partners can supply the prizes, and your mobile app provides a low-cost way to amplify the effectiveness with alerts, redemptions, and extra features. And email keeps pulling customers back to the game.

I’d like to earn a game piece with every:

  • Credit/debit card transaction
  • Bill payment
  • ACH debit
  • Recurring ecommerce transaction (e.g., Uber, Amazon, Apple iTunes, etc)
  • ATM visit
  • Customer self-service session
  • Check reorder
  • Increase in my savings account balance

Bottom line: Sure, you may not have anything quite as addictive as coffee to maintain interest. But people are pretty happy with free anything, so don’t shy away from gamifying your mobile banking. It’s a marketing tactic that works across a variety of demographics and is flexible enough to support multiple bank goals.

Game On: What Banking Can Learn from Fitbit

TDbank_fitbit_signageI’ve always been a “wanna be” tracker. I like watching the stats closely, but I also lose interest if the process, either capturing the data or compiling it, becomes tedious. But thanks to mobile (including wearables), the drudgery is disappearing and that has big implications for banking and financial services.

Some examples: I’ve used Mint since 2007 for personal and business expenses, so I have a massive database of transactions, which in theory should make it easy to locate just about anything I’ve charged to a credit or debit card in the past eight years. However, it’s never quite perfect because I will go for long periods without doing the required maintenance to keep every aggregated account flowing. Recently, I just fixed one of my main credit cards which has been on hiatus for two years. So, there are big holes in the data.

Then there’s BillGuard, another service I love and have been using for years. I love how it alerts me to questionable items as they hit my card accounts. However, BillGuard’s database is so good, that I rarely hear from them any more. This is good news for me (no questionable items), but less so for them. Because what’s invisible, loses its perceived value.

And I’ve tried tracking other things over the years, both financial and personal. And nothing seems to stick. Until now. I just hit my two-year anniversary using Fitbit, usually glancing at its tiny readout several times per day. So what is it about Fitbit that makes it addictive? And more importantly, how can financial institutions do the same for money management?

capitalone_uber1. Make it easy to use: While Fitibit requires zero maintenance once you get it activated, you do have to remember to keep it on you. The same goes double for a bank’s credit or debit card. You not only have to remember it, but also must choose to use it at the point of sale.

Action item: Incent users to get your card loaded into digital ecommerce sites such as Apple Pay, Amazon, iTunes, PayPal, Uber, Spotify and others. Capital One just unleased a great, albeit expensive, program with Uber to credit back 20% of rides to its cardholders (link).

2. Make it easy to see exactly where you stand in real-time: Fitbit provides feedback literally every step of the day. It’s extremely motivating, though at times discouraging when you fall way behind in personal goals. Card issuers today do something similar delivering real-time alerts right to the smartphone homescreen (and soon to the Apple Watch). But transaction alerts still don’t tell you where you are.

Action item: Make notifications smarter by including daily, weekly, monthly transaction summaries and/or credit available. They could be included in the notification, or enabled with a swipe of the transaction alert.

3. Make it easy to compare to previous periods: This is still a missing piece of my ultimate Fitbit experience. The mobile app makes it easy to scroll backwards or look at bar charts to see how you are doing over time. But there are no simple month-over-month or year-over-year comparisons to see your progress in similar time periods.

Action item: Create single-click views of financial activity and balances compared to one month ago, one year ago, two years ago, etc.

Fitbit email

4. Provide ongoing incentives: Similar to saving money being its own reward, burning calories by walking and climbing is clearly its own incentive to bump up your Fitbit numbers. But it doesn’t hurt to provide extra incentives along the way. An incentive can not only keep customers engaged, but also appreciative of the game provider. Unlike BillGuard, which so quietly goes about its business that I forget about it, Fitbit delights users with badges and pop-up notifications, for hitting various daily or lifetime milestones. (Fitbit actually needs to do more incentivizing, as experienced users can rarely get a new badge; I haven’t had a new one since last November).

Action item: The badges may be cheesy, but the email congratulations are powerful (see inset from Fitbit the first time you walk 20,000 steps in a day). This has to be one of the simplest things you could do to reinforce good money management. Send an email congratulating a customer when their savings balance, rewards points, interest earned, or whatever, increases compared to a month ago or a year ago. Who doesn’t appreciate an “atta boy or girl” every now and then (even if it is from your bank).

5. Get social: While I’m not of the social media generation, I do understand its appeal. Just today, Fitbit sent me a reminder to add friends. This allows users to compete against friends and family, a potentially motivating way to get you off the couch and moving. And while I’d never share Fitbit data with friends, I do enjoy a friendly competition with my wife. The key is to make sharing highly selective, customizable, and easy to switch on and off.

Action item: While financial information is not as readily shareable as fitness data, Venmo has proven that it has potential. The youthful set who’ve taken to using Venmo (see the Venmo line), enjoy sharing payment activity, but only without revealing the actual dollar amount, and allowing for maximum snark in the share. And there are also plenty of serious use-cases for sharing financial data, such as employees with their employers, kids with their parents, etc. Card issuers should add optional sharing to all card-management platforms.


Screenshot: TD Bank landing page (22 April 20015, link)




Picture Credit: TD Bank has been giving away Fitbit Flex trackers to new checking account customers (screenshot above). A reader from contributed this upper-right photo of TD signage in the NYC subway.


Oscar Ties Health Insurance Premiums to Fitness Tracker

imageAs we speculate about the usefulness of wearables in payments and money management, an insurance startup has already launched a direct tie-in. Buzzy health insurance startup Oscar is paying customers $1 per day, up to $240 annually, when they hit their step- goal tracked on a Fitbit-like tracker from Misfit.

imageOscar has attracted $150 million in venture capital and is looking to bring modern ecommerce thinking to the massive health insurance market. The company is looking to be on the forefront of insurance tech trends, such as mobile help from physicians, easy access to records, digital communications, and transparent costs (see app here).image

How it works
Customers who buy health insurance through Oscar (available in NJ/NY only, but coming to California and Texas in 2015), are given a free Misfit step-tracker (retail value = $50, currently discounted 50%). The tracker syncs to Oscar’s mobile app (see inset) and credits customers $1 each day a step-goal is achieved. Goals start at a relatively easy 2,000 to 3,000 per day and ratchet up to the 8,000 to 10,000 per day recommended by fitness experts.

The bonuses are paid in Amazon gift certificates in increments of $20. The Amazon credit is likely bought at a discount to par value, reducing costs to Oscar (more details here).

Significance for FIs
Oscar can pay out $200 per year because it’s selling a big-ticket item, health insurance. And it stands to benefit from healthier customers who use less medical care. Unless you are in the health insurance business, you can’t copy this dollar for dollar. The important thing is making a game out of healthy habits by keeping score and delivering tangible rewards (previous post).

Gamification & Banking

image I don’t know what we did before the term gamification was coined. Back in the day we just talked about comparisons, metrics, charts and so on (or maybe "game mechanics" if you working on your PhD). But it’s nice to be able to wrap those concepts up into a single term, even if it does have a bit of a frivolous, video-gaming connotation. 

But, let’s not get hung up on the wording. Call it what you want, but the concept of providing detailed feedback about your customers’ use and abuse of their money is a critical part of being a 21st century financial provider. My absolute favorite thing about Mint is the weekly financial summary its been sending me for five years. It’s still the single most important financial tool I use.

Since it’s Friday, I will cut directly to the visual aid (screenshot below). The weekly activity tracking summary from FitBit provides good ideas for a comparable financial version. For example:

  • Totals for the week
  • Daily averages
  • High/low days
  • Badges
  • Color coding: green is good, red is bad
  • Leaderboard (if you are sharing with friends)
  • Thumbnail picture (if you’ve uploaded)

Have a great weekend!


Weekly Progress Report from Fitbit (6 Aug 2013)


1. Graphic from WePlay, a London-based marketing consultancy.
2. For more, see the Online Banking Report PFM library (subscription required): PFM 4.0 (June 2012); Alerts & Streaming (July 2010);  PFM 3.0 (May 2010); Social Personal Finance (June 2007); Personal Finance Features for Online Banking (Aug 2006).

Why I Want My Auto Insurance Company to Track My Every Move

imageOur family has been lucky. Extraordinarily lucky. Eighty-plus years of mostly city driving, combined across four drivers, and not a single auto insurance claim (note 1). That means we’ve paid more than $100,000 (2013 dollars) in premiums for nothing, so far (note 2).

Actually, that’s not at all fair to the insurance providers. We’ve paid $100k for the peace of mind and potential financial help had we needed it (not to mention staying on the right side of the law). And it’s been worth it.

That said, I wouldn’t mind paying less for the same peace of mind. And that’s why I love the idea of mileage- and behavioral-based insurance (note 3). I haven’t always been a model driver, but I was the first person in my extended family to regularly wear a seat belt and I’ve grown to be a relatively conservative driver, especially after becoming a parent.

And I’d love to be compensated for that.

That’s why I’m all for the next generation of “smart auto insurance” that connects to your on-board computers to measure:

  • Speed
  • Miles driven per day
  • Time of day driven
  • Acceleration
  • Braking
  • How hard turns are taken
  • Seat belt usage
  • GPS tracking

And eventually, even more difficult concepts such as:

  • Driver distraction
  • Driver impairment

Not only will I qualify for lower premiums (hopefully), the feedback from the tracker will be interesting (e.g,. historical maps of your routes) and could have a significant impact on the quality of your driving (since it will directly impact your rate).  I know there are serious big-brother concerns here, especially in light of the NSA scandals of the past few months. But it can all be opt-in, though eventually, those not opting in will face higher premiums.

Progressive Insurance is an early leader in this area. It’s opt-in Snapshot tracking device (inset) has been used by more than one million customers (see screenshot below). Prospective customers can install the device free of charge for 30 days and track their potential savings online. You don’t even have to be a Progressive customer to get the free trial. 

Bottom line: Unless regulators get in the way due to privacy concerns, it’s inevitable that auto insurance, along with other types of property/casualty, will use behavioral metrics to price the risk. That will be a big change for the industry and will likely provide good openings for new entrants. 


Progressive has 1 million drivers using its plug-in tracker (7 Aug 2013)


Snapshot tracking log (via here)



1. There have been a few altercations with concrete pillars and such, but nothing severe enough to involve the insurance company. 
2. I know that I’ve now completely jinxed this, sorry family, and whomever we collide with.  
3. See previous post on Street Owl’s safe driving app and Metro Mile’s pay-as-you-go insurance.
4. For more on banks opportunities in insurance, see our full report here (Dec 2011, subscription)

Ally Bank Advertising on

image One of the more popular companies at FinovateSpring was SaveUp (note 1). The startup has modernized the tried-and-true sweepstakes approach and optimized it for the web. It’s a fun way to procrastinate for a few seconds, it’s cheaper than a lottery ticket, and I’m hooked after winning a $5 Banana Republic gift card. At Finovate, the company said it was seeing 30% of its users visit daily, and 60% play weekly.

The company is working with with 20 credit unions (with a total of 1.2 million accounts) and at least one bank (Bank of the West) to gamify savings and other financial activities. I haven’t seen any of the co-branded efforts yet, but anyone can register directly at the startup’s website and play the instant-win games or enter the sweeps. Users are limited to three plays per day, but can earn more by performing financial tasks, such as linking a credit card, or watching a video.

For the first time in my experience, today the site had an advertiser other than the brands providing sweepstakes prizes in the sweepstakes. Ally Bank had a small AdSense-like promotion running on the top of SaveUp’s newly designed site (see below, note I did not capture the actual ad). The Ally ad was a generic checking account pitch and did not include any premiums, sweeps, or any tie-in to SaveUp.

The San Francisco-based company was founded a year ago, has 7 employees, and VC backing of $2 million.


Saveup’s main page after logging in (25 May 2012)
Note: Earlier the top box contained an ad for Ally Bank’s checking account. But that ad is no longer being served to my account, and I neglected to get a screenshot of it.



1. We just published a recap of the biggest trends at FinovateStartup 2012 in our Online Banking Report publication (subscription).

My Favorite Presentation of 2010: Glenbrook Provides Roadmap for Web 2.0 & Social Payments

imageI am a huge fan of Glenbrook Partners, the Menlo Park-based payments consulting firm. I first visited them when I was transitioning from closed to open blogging in 2006. Scott Loftesness and company were enormously helpful back then even though I was potentially elbowing in to their space. It’s a kindness you never forget. I look forward to my daily dose of PaymentsNews and the occasional meetup at conferences.

But I’d never had a chance to attend one of their presentations until two days ago at NACHA Payments 2010. What a treat. Partners Erin McCune and Russ Jones drew the dreaded 8 AM Monday slot in a breakout session immediately preceding the Jack Dorsey/Square keynote. So only a 100 or so lucky attendees got to see them knock it out of the park. 

imageAnd as much as I enjoyed seeing Square and Wells Fargo’s Steve Ellis go at it on the big stage, Russ and Erin would have delivered more value to attendees. They took a nebulous and confusing topic, alt-and-social payments (see inset), and made sense out of it in a 68-slide deck (see table and chart below). Let’s all agree to use these terms going forward.

And to top it off, Glenbrook closed the presentation by showing alt-payments in use in the real virtual world at my favorite virtual pet site, Foopets (see previous post and note 1).  

Luckily, you still have a chance to hear an expanded version of this talk via Glenbrook’s live webinar next week on social payments (small registration fee required).  

Glenbrook Partners deciphers Web 2.0 payments terms…


…and it’s created a social payments classification system


Source: Erin McCune and Russ Jones, Glenbrook Partners presentation at NACHA Payments 2010, April 26, 2010
(reprinted with permission)

Playing Foopets costs money…


…but young gamers hitting the FooBank have more payment options than just their parents’ cards
Note: We previously covered Kwedit here


image1. Glenbrook says that virtual pet owners spend about the same on their virtual pets, $25/mo, as real-world pet owners spend on their real-live pets. Amazing! If only had thought to sell virtual dog food instead of the real stuff, we might still get to see the sock puppet all over Facebook.

Can Banking Be Fun?

image You don’t often see banking and fun in the same sentence. According to Google site search, I’ve used the word fun 58 times in six years of blogging here. It usually appears in a negative sense, for example, when this or that task is “no fun” (see note 1).

guest post in TechCrunch this weekend got me thinking about it. The author, Gabe Zichermann, who’s literally written the book on the subject, led with the provocative statement:

What if everything we did was a little more fun?

He even cited Chase as a large brand trying to add more fun to their offerings. And though he provided no specifics on Chase’s efforts, he did detail his thoughts on how FedEx could use game mechanics to make tracking shipments more enjoyable.

According to Merriam-Webster, fun is:

what provides amusement or enjoyment

By that definition, there is hope that the online and mobile channels are at least making banking tasks relatively more enjoyable than they were pre-Internet.

So how do we make banking more fun?

1. Reduce money worries: Financial stress hits every demographic segment. Is my money safe? Have I paid my bills on time? Do I have enough in my account to last until the next paycheck?

Ideas: Real-time alerts, mobile apps, dashboard controls, red/yellow/green indicators, location-based check-in to authorize a card transaction before you’ve even reached the counter

2. Create mobile magic: The best way to get someone excited about a new channel is to prove that it has new benefits, and it’s mobile’s time to shine.

Ideas: Deposit checks or capture receipts via mobile phone camera, 4-digit login, shake to logout, scan barcode to comparison shop, bump to pay

3. Make it a game: Make financial chores into a game you can win by making good choices (see last week’s post on In and Out Cash).

Ideas: Allow users to keep score against themselves and peers; earn points, honors, badges and discounts for credit-score improvements, savings gains, debt reductions and other measures of financial fitness and goal achievement

4. Keep score: Utility companies provide valuable score-keeping metrics on their monthly statements where at minimum you can see how your energy/water consumption compares to the same period a year ago.

Ideas: It should be easy to see how spending patterns compare to the previous year (a basic PFM function), as well as where your savings stand, how many times you’ve been late with a bill, how your credit score has changed and so on.

Note: There really is a It’s a kid’s banking/shopping portal that says “patent pending” and “copyright 2003,” so it may not be operational. Many links, including About Us, were broken (29 March 2010)