What the video gaming industry can teach us about the future of digital banking services

What adjectives do you think people would use to describe their online banking services? How about “dull, lack-luster, stodgy”? The way most financial institutions provide online banking services is far from compelling and is certainly not geared toward keeping people engaged and increasing customer loyalty.

As consumers increasingly turn to online service providers for everything from shopping to personal care to education, an outdated experience is not going to be competitive. Yet, the online platforms most credit unions offer to members are woefully and consistently lacking in creativity and innovation.

You might be thinking, “banking different – this is not like shopping for shoes or scrolling through funny photos; it is serious business that must be conveyed in a serious manner.” We agree that being a part of people’s financial lives is a serious matter, but that does not mean the online tools that credit unions provide to their members have to be uninspired.

Instead of “thinking outside of the box,” we suggest “thinking about the console” – the video game console, that is. The video gaming industry is creative, innovative, and has a loyal, involved and “sticky” customer base. We believe video games can offer some surprisingly useful insights for credit unions. 

Video gaming and Financial Services

Incentives for creativity

Credit unions must learn how to foster loyalty, expand relationships and better engage with their members online. That requires creativity and most creative ideas about online customer engagement do not originate with traditional online banking technology providers. That is partly because of the way technology providers sell their solutions – typically under five-year agreements – so platform developers have little incentive to provide ongoing innovation. 

It is also largely due to embedded expectations. Video game players expect ongoing innovation, so the industry provides it – otherwise, players would get bored and go elsewhere. Therefore, video game makers have built-in incentives to be creative. Credit unions may not realize it, but they increasingly face the same incentives from their competitors. Today’s financial services customer is much more likely to switch to a different provider because newer, better fintech offerings are making it easy for customers from “traditional” platforms to switch.

Gamers are not our core customers

Credit unions may think that their members’ demographics makes them less likely to “jump ship” in the way that video game players would switch to a new, more compelling offering. But, how do the demographic characteristics of the video game industry compare to a credit union’s members? It may be surprising, but video gamers are not primarily teenage boys. In fact, the profile of that community is not radically different from the typical credit union’s member base – 60% of Americans play video games; 72% are over 18 years old, with an average age of 34 years old; and 33% are adult women.

Although a credit union’s older members may not be avid gamers, they have certainly accelerated their use of online services. Even seniors have become adept at using various mobile devices, participating in videoconferencing, streaming content to their devices, and shopping and banking online. While the “under-18” category may not be a credit union’s target today, teens and ‘tweens will be potential members in a few years, and credit unions need to have the mindset to provide online experiences that will attract them.

One-dimensional versus immersive

Having the right mindset means credit unions must make a leap equivalent from 1980’s PacMan® to today’s online gaming world. For those who remember how flat and robotic PacMan looked, most online banking services are stuck in what is essentially that world – crude, monotonous, and unlikely to hold your attention for long. In contrast, today’s video game environment is immersive and realistic, and easy to navigate.

To remain competitive, and to attract and retain new, younger members, credit unions must make it more intuitive for people to navigate the online financial services environment. How, specifically, can this be done? We offer the following guidance.

Video game Design Keeps Gamers Engaged

Why have video games become so popular? There are principles underlying the way video game providers create compelling services that are applicable far beyond that particular gaming environment. The following five aspects of video games should guide credit unions in creating their next generation of online financial services. 

Downloadable Content

In the early days of the video game industry, people would buy individual game cartridges/DVDs. The elements of a game were limited to whatever was on that cartridge/DVD since there was no way to change the experience over time. The environment was the same from the first time the consumer played the game, to the last day they used it.

When the industry shifted to downloadable content, the paradigm changed. Now, games can be updated, and new content can be introduced on a regular schedule, or as a “special event” to launch new characters, new storylines, and so on. New elements are seamlessly integrated with the existing features, and they are all part of the whole (from the gamer’s perspective). Engagement intensified dramatically, along with the value ascribed to the game.

Consumers expect frequent updates and expect those capabilities to be integrated with other services they use on their devices. Online banking providers should plan to make frequent updates to content and services – not just bug fixes, but valuable features, to address how people use banking services holistically.


Video gamers love to customize their “avatars” (on-screen representations) when playing a game, and it deepens their relationship. Quite simply, we are individuals and should not be required to have the same experience, or way of interacting with online services. A 17-year old who sees bank branches as a stuffy, outmoded way of handling money (that age group uses apps for everything) does not want or need the same experience as a 70-year old, who may prefer a more traditional approach.

Banking service providers tend to give all of their online consumers whatever is perceived to be the least offensive, most generic solution. For those who spend time in the customizable world of video games, that approach looks outdated and feels unsatisfying.


Video game developers are experts at creating challenges that offer rewards to gamers.

Many are “timebox-based challenges” to complete for a type of reward within the game. The more consistent players (who tend to become more skillful at playing) earn more rewards, which gives them even more reasons to stay loyal. The game designers use the feedback generated by these challenges to gain information about what their player base likes.

How could we use this principle in online banking services? Creating challenges and measuring members’ engagement with them, using rewards – allow creation of tools that could emphasize education about new services. 

Community and Communication

Gaming is a community experience. Friends gather together to watch each other play. Events are even held inside video games, such as a concert – and the avatars dance as though they were at an actual concert. 

The community nature of the video game experience could be applied to online banking services. Providers could create avatars with different personalities on their platforms to guide customers, making them authentic by using “people” who come across as genuine and believable. 

Online communities could be built around these personalities, with conversations or “chat sessions” that could demonstrate how best to use financial services. Events could be held on the platform, specifically designed for groups with similar needs and interests. This would be vastly different than watching a canned video of someone explaining different types of accounts.

Platform Access

The move toward open platforms is the latest value-creating disruption in the video game industry’s business model. Fortnight™, by Epic Games, is one of the most successful video games ever made. Additionally, Epic Games is best known within the industry for its “Unreal Engine,” which powers other games, is used to generate information provided on The Weather Channel and is used in the movie industry.

This open platform concept is a game-changer that online banking service providers cannot ignore in order to survive – and thrive. Consumers do not want separate fintech apps, with separate logins and passwords, that do not communicate and cannot be seen on the same screen when trying to accomplish tasks that they see as related.

Legacy providers have been pushed to offer open API solutions, but that still requires credit unions to do things on their own. A truly open platform integrates content from many providers that do different things, to provide a cohesive experience.

Video games point to the future of online banking

It is no exaggeration that video games are the best way to visualize what online banking will look like in the future. To provide real value, credit unions need to apply the principles that the video gaming industry has embraced so effectively, to continuously meet and exceed expectations. A compelling, engaging, intuitive online experience is not just a “nice to have” – it is central to how banking services are evaluated.

In conclusion, to prevent switching to another financial institution that has a better online environment, credit unions should adopt these five foundational principles: Downloadable Content, Customizability, Rewards, Community and Communication and Platform Access.

Kristopher Kovacs

Kristopher Kovacs

Kris Kovacs is the CEO and Founder of Constellation Digital Partners. Prior to his entrepreneurial role, Kris spent 25 years with some of the largest and most technologically-advanced credit unions ... Web: https://constellation.coop/credit-unions Details