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November 10. 2012 9:18PM

Web game tracks, rewards savings prowess


PRIYA HAJI 

When Debbie Newton saw a link for a new game on her credit union website, she was intrigued.

At first it looked like just another rewards program, but after a closer look, the Somersworth accountant noticed something different. The SaveUp game promoted by North East Credit Union would reward her for saving money rather than making purchases.

She's since become hooked, playing the game daily and staying on track toward saving for retirement.

"You get to see all of your financial activity in one place," she said. "You see when you're saving; you see when you're paying off loans. It's kind of cool, and it's fun because you get rewarded for paying off debt."

Newton's credit union was one of two in New Hampshire and 14 nationwide to participate in a study designed to test the impact of SaveUp on consumer behavior. St. Mary's Credit Union in Manchester was the other Granite State financial institution that joined in the six-month research project.

The study results, released in mid-October, showed that playing the game motived more than half the participants to save more money and pay down more debt than they might have otherwise.

Visitors to saveup.com register their financial accounts on the secure website, including credit cards, auto loans and bank accounts. The software tracks balances and rewards one credit for every dollar that is saved or used to pay down debt. Ten credits is the basic currency of the game.

With 10 credits, users can play one of three video games or enter a monthly drawing for a $2 million jackpot. Players also earn credits for taking financial literacy classes online or completing quizzes.

"There are three different games," Newton said. "I tend to play the same one every day. It's like a matching game kind of thing. You choose three blocks, and if they match you win and you can get money, gift cards, all sorts of prizes. You get three plays a day."

In addition to the monthly grand prize, there is a weekly $500 drawing and contests for electronics, cars and travel-related prizes.

The site has social media features, a blog with daily posts and constantly changing incentives pegged to real-time events. Last week, for example, there was a prize drawing for a $100 donation in the user's name to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief.

So far, Newton's biggest win was a $5 cash prize. Other New Hampshire credit union customers have cashed in as well. Janet Britton, a cardiac resident nurse in the Seacoast area, decided to give it a try and ended up winning an iPad.

The site makes its money from the financial institutions involved and through partnerships with the companies offering the rewards. There's no cost to the users.

New Hampshire consumers, through their participation in the credit union study, are helping to validate a new phenomenon - the "gamification" of the financial industry.

"People are now highly engaged with social games and social media," said Priya Haji, SaveUp cofounder and CEO, based in Palo Alto, Calif. "We are discovering how to bring personal finance into this new world in a way that truly benefits people and helps them to achieve their financial goals."

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.



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