BB&T takes on another ambitious project — improving literacy rates

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BB&T has a new side project.

The $226 billion-asset company is building a game designed to teach children how to read, Chairman and CEO Kelly King said during a Tuesday presentation at a conference hosted by RBC Capital Markets.

BB&T, which recently agreed to buy SunTrust Banks for $28 billion, has a history of using gamification to educate and engage the public. The company began working with education technology firm EVERFI about 10 years ago.

Five years ago, BB&T spent $1 million “and a year’s effort” to build another game to teach leadership.

Now King wants to tackle an issue he feels passionately about — improving literacy rates.

“In the third and fourth grade in the public school, two-thirds of the kids cannot read,” King said.

"That's a very, very sad situation," he added. "So we need to be doing all we can to try to improve the system so our kids can have a chance. ... The educators will tell you that up to about the third or fourth grade, you're learning how to read and after that, you're reading to learn. We simply have to do something about that.”

BB&T plans to spend $6 million over the next three years to create a game with EVERFI.

“I can't guarantee it will work, but I believe it will work," King said.

"If we can build a game that will teach your kids independently how to read, then we have a shot," he added. "So this game, we believe, will allow them to get a head start in terms of reading because they'll be able to go home at night, play the game, have a lot of fun and learn how to read. And we think it will work. So keep your fingers crossed.”

BB&T has also been reaching out to principals of public schools through its Leadership Institute.

“Our view is that if the principals become better leaders, then the teachers will become leaders and the students will learn more,” King said. “So we've been doing that for the last several years and it's gaining traction. Our plan is to take that throughout all of the states that we do business in and it's getting very, very good results.”

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