Regions Financial is testing gamification as a way to teach financial literacy to millennials with a mobile app that simulates a sport more commonly associated with older generations: golf.
The Regions Scholar Athlete Game, which anyone with an iPhone, iPad or Android device can play for free, aims to teach 15-to-22-year old students about budgeting and other financial topics. In the game, a fictional college student juggles sports - specifically, golf - with schoolwork and, of course, money.
The idea is to make a dry subject more palatable with a fun hook. The app features the Regions brand throughout.
The app, introduced this week, comes at a time when banks nationwide are trying to find the right way to reach millennials, working to counter rampant financial illiteracy and experimenting with new marketing technology.
Games are seen as one way to "try to spoon-feed financial education into a fun and interactive way to keep kids' or young adults' attention on a subject," said Corey Carlisle, senior vice president of bank community engagement at the American Bankers Association.
Michele Elrod, Regions' head of marketing, said the game tries to help young consumers learn financial skills through a medium that resonates with them. "Games are really popular," she said.
The $119 billion-asset bank, which tested the app with millennials, said golf is a game many people have experience with, even if some of them have only played miniature golf. It also chose golf because it is an individual rather than a team sport, useful for illustrating how a person's choices influence their personal finances.
Other banks have tried launching mobile game apps with avatars that range from monsters to kings.
BB&T launched an app designed to teach people about leadership. Bank of Hawaii created an app to illustrate its credit card program. Other U.S. banks are white labeling Banker Jr., an app designed to teach children about money.
And some financial institutions are pushing out more playful financial tips on social media sites like YouTube and Instagram to reach younger audiences.
"People aren't watching TV like they used to," said Carlisle. "If people are turning to social media to become a predominant, or the predominant, source to get information, we want to be there."
A challenge for banks is standing out in the app stores, especially in crowded categories like games, said Jacob Jegher, a research director with Celent's banking group. He also questioned whether Regions' game can appeal to a broad audience at a time when real-world golf is on the decline.
Even so, Jegher said he's a believer in apps designed to drive home financial literacy lessons and thinks Regions is on the right track by approaching college students - who are in many cases incurring loads of debt.
Regions said it plans to promote the app first to employees and then to students and to parents. It has not yet set a goal for the number of downloads, Elrod said.
The new app builds on Regions' ongoing financial education work. The bank has partnered with the publisher Scholastic and Everfi, an education technology company, to deliver financial literacy content. It also has an online financial resource, at My GreenGuide, where people can use financial calculators and read financial tips.