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Why Financial Wellness Technology Needs Gamification
• Chad Porche • January 28, 2021
Stress over finances results in a host of negative impacts to overall well-being. Employers and financial professionals, through their access to a broad audience of employees, are in a unique position to offer financial wellness tools that leverage gamification to increase interest and engagement.
Adding gamification to the mix gives employees the motivation to get started on the path to financial wellness by learning new skills and behaviors to improve their finances and the opportunity to take their progress to the next level when given access to work with financial professionals.
Stressed out About Finances
There is a clear link between financial health and physical health. The stress caused by the worry over personal finances impacts every aspect of a person’s well-being and this stress is often chronic, affecting 26 percent of Americans most or all of the time.1
These physical impacts can include anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. All of which can lead to a cycle of further decline that affects mental health, family stability, and work productivity.
Regarding the loss of productivity at work, PwC’s 9th annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey found that financial matters are the top cause of stress and a major distraction at work.2
According to this same survey, more than one-third of full-time employed workers have less than $1,000 saved to deal with emergency expenses. This is across all generational cohorts and can impact people at all income levels. And these findings were from before the COVID-19 pandemic left so many Americans with even more financial uncertainty.
There is a great opportunity for employers and financial professionals to help employees take control of their financial lives to improve their futures.
What Is Gamification and What Role Does it Play in Financial Wellness?
While the notion of employers providing financial wellness programs to their employees is not new, there tends to be a disconnect between what employers are offering and what employees actually want.
Too often employer-offered financial wellness programs consist of materials and events that support things like the company’s healthcare plan and 401(k) offering with some information on budgeting thrown in for good measure.
Employees need something more personal and impactful. This is where gamification comes into play–technology built for higher engagement helps people become more invested in their personal finances.
Gamification is the application of gaming elements to motivate people to undertake difficult tasks. These elements can include competition to provide motivation, rewards for a feeling of accomplishment, and repetition to teach new behaviors and skills.
Businesses have increasingly been adding elements of gamification to their online applications for years to encourage user engagement. It stands to reason that employers and financial planners would take the next step in using gamification to help employees improve their financial well-being.
The Psychology of Gaming
You have probably enjoyed gamification without really thinking about it. It can be as simple as using a leaderboard to track a sales team’s goals to something more interactive such as receiving rewards when using a physical fitness tracker or a retailer’s loyalty program.
But why is gamification an effective tool to help someone get their financial life on track? It works by using the psychological principles summarized below3 to end bad habits and start new positive behaviors:
- Satisfying fundamental human desires such as the need for recognition and achievement. People have a natural love of competition and collaboration, as well as a desire for self-expression and altruism.
- Bolstering a sense of community where people support one another and help each other grow. Using tools such as a leaderboard lets individuals and teams compare accomplishments and engage in friendly competition for rewards.
- Forging an emotional connection using narratives developed around a learning activity makes it more engaging and relevant to the user.
- Relieving cognitive overload by clearing the brain of distractions so that better learning can take place.3
Gamification leverages these psychological principles to deepen and maintain user engagement. In the context of financial wellness, this creates an opportunity to educate people on essential personal finance topics while encouraging small but sustainable behavioral changes.
The Role of Employers and Financial Professionals
Historically financial wellness tools have only been available to the wealthiest one percent of Americans, but the real innovation is making these important tools available to everyone, regardless of net worth or planning needs.
And since millions of dollars in employee productivity4 are lost by large employers each year because of worker stress caused by finances, providing employees with financial wellness options is not just what’s best for employees, it’s also good for business.
Employees expect their employer to be a resource to help with financial wellness, and employers are uniquely positioned to step up and answer that call—they are already the primary provider of income, insurance, savings, and many other resources that contribute to financial wellness.
However, there is often one key element missing from many of these programs—access to financial professionals. Providing this access can take a workplace financial wellness program to a higher level.
Financial professionals gain from this enhanced relationship as well when employee contributions to managed plans increase, when supplemental benefits—or business lines—are added to the overall benefits plan, and when they have the opportunity to establish relationships with the employees outside the employer plan.
Delivering Financial Wellness for All
Without providing some sort of assistance, the cycle of financial stress’s impact on health and vice versa will continue indefinitely. But actions can be taken to influence better outcomes.
The appeal of gamification to the human desire for fun and engagement lowers the barrier of entry for financial planning and advice. This friendly approach provides a safe place to start for people who have anxiety about the topic, who fear being judged, and who are reluctant to talk about money. It gives them the power to take the next steps.
Small steps can have a big impact on financial behaviors. Setting a budget—with rewards—for meeting spending and savings goals can start employees on the path to success that can grow to larger accomplishments as their understanding and knowledge of financial planning increases.
To learn about how your firm can help more people manage their money, watch our on-demand webinar on Incentive, the new eMoney self-led planning and budgeting tool aimed at educating a broad audience about basic planning concepts and encouraging behavioral changes to help users achieve their financial goals.
1 Whysel, Brett. “3 Vicious Cycles: Links Among Financial, Physical and Mental Health.” Forbes.com, 2018. June 27. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettwhysel/2018/06/27/3-vicious-cycles/?sh=62e19138540d.
2 PwC’s 9th annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey COVID-19 Update, PwC US, 2020.
3 Jacobs, Susan. “Five Psychological Principles Fueling Gamification.” LearningSolutionsMag.com, 2017. July 12. https://learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2381/five-psychological-principles-fueling-gamification.
4 Stevens, Liz. “How Financial Stress Impacts Job Performance.” BestMoneyMoves.com, 2020. February
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