Emma Simon: Can Lara Croft make saving and investing sexy?

Emma Simon 450 Index

Could Lara Croft make saving and investing sexy? It may sound far-fetched, but one financial company has hired computer game designers to rethink the way it communicates with customers.

Seven Investment Management has hired a team of experts who cut their teeth at Nintendo to design new money management tools and apps.

The thinking is despite the technological revolution, most financial companies haven’t really changed the way they talk to their customers. Rather than send paper statements twice a year and copies of fund factsheets, these are now simply uploaded online. To understand and make use of the information provided requires a degree of financial know-how that might appeal to keen investors, but is hardly likely to engage the vast majority of consumers.

Will game designers take a different approach? On first glance the new apps are certainly pretty to look at and intuitive to use. They have been designed so people can access information easily on their iPhone or tablet, and can easily see where their money is invested, and how it is performing. Rather than drill through various data-heavy tables, clients can, for example, swipe round a 3D globe to see how much money they have in various regions.

It strikes me that this approach doesn’t just appeal perennial “early adopters”. There is also the opportunity to design tools to appeal to older investors. My 80-year old mother-in-law remains somewhat sceptical about online banking, but she’s got an iPad that she is far happier to use.

But while this is a start, far more could be done, not only to encourage people to engage more with their finances, but to actively save more.

One of the biggest problems facing the financial industry is that people view it as both confusing and dull.

But gamification – adapting the mechanics and design of computer games for other industries – could help address both these factors. It will be interesting to see how this could be used with behavioural economics, to nudge us into making better financial decisions.

You might think a financial app would never become as addictive or as fun as, say Grand Theft Auto. But thousands of people spend hours whiling away time playing games where they match sweets, tessellate shapes or tend a virtual farm. Why not allow them to run fantasy portfolios, see how quickly they could make £1m, or incorporate some virtual rewards, if players met certain preset targets.

Better still, couldn’t the information gleaned through such apps be used to deliver tangible rewards. It seems a damning indictment of the financial industry that coffee companies seem to have a better understanding of their customers. If I buy 10 coffees from Starbucks I get a free cappuccino. Whether I save £100 or £10,000 into a pension I am getting the same service and paying the same fees.

Even an online bing-bong sound saying “Well done. You saved enough to afford to send your child to university” or “Congrats. You won’t have to live off cat food in retirement” would be something. And just imagine getting onto the leaderboard and looking forward to a life of caviar and white truffles from the age of 65.

Of course demystifying finance, means that customers may feel empowered to make their own decision, or to question others.

Perhaps that’s why there’s been such reluctance. It could make some financial companies look like Donkey Kongs, and leave all their customers as Angry Birds.

Emma Simon is deputy personal finance editor at The Telegraph