For most people, personal finance is not synonymous with fun, but a new educational video game could change that perception. As part of its global financial literacy campaign, Visa recently launched Financial Football - a free, FIFA-branded video game that tests players' knowledge of personal finance topics - at the Gulf Educational Supplies and Solutions (GESS) exhibition at Airport Expo in Dubai. The credit card company also unveiled a website called MyMoneySkills (mymoneyskills. me) for the Middle East, which provides information and tools to assist people of all ages with money management.
Since it was launched, in September 2009, Financial Football (financialfootball.com) has been played online about 800,000 times, according to Visa. It has so far been introduced in Brazil, the US and Mexico, and Visa plans to roll it out in 20 more countries before the World Cup begins in June in South Africa. "We've been doing financial literacy campaigns in the Middle East and globally for a long time, and a lot of fundamental concepts haven't changed, such as making a budget, learning how to save, not spending too much money, or understanding banking products," said Jason Alderman, the senior director of global financial literacy at Visa and the creator of Financial Football.
"The real challenge is to get people more engaged with personal finance," he said. "People don't want to learn about it, because they think it's hard, it's boring, or maybe it's a little embarrassing." Mr Alderman said Financial Football is a tool that can make the typically dry subject more fun. "The game brings it to life and makes the subject more dynamic," he said. Financial Football has all the features of a typical football video game; two teams on a football field, cheering crowds, music, a scoreboard, and instant replays.
The main difference is that ins than controlling the players' moves directly, users must choose true or false statements or answer multiple-choice questions about personal finance in order for their players to advance. Questions range from easy to hard, and may include, "What happens if you withdraw money from a certificate of deposit too early?" or "What number would be best to use as your debit card pin?"
If they answer correctly, their players move forward, and if they incorrectly twice the opposing team steals the ball. When several questions have been answered correctly in a row, the player has an opportunity to score a goal. At the end of the game, a scoreboard provides statistics on the questions answered correctly and incorrectly, and are posted on a global rankings list. Although Mr Alderman contends it is never too late for anyone to learn money management skills, he said good habits should be inculcated as soon as possible. "Starting to do it right from an early age pays dividends," he said.
"We know children are great at learning. They haven't entered the financial services world yet, so if we can give them a financial education inoculation before they go out into the real world, then they're much more likely to do the right thing and have the information to be successful. It's much harder to dig yourself out of a hole later on." In creating Financial Football, Mr Alderman said he was inspired by a similar game created by Visa several years ago that targeted young children in the US.
"We had a very successful programme in the US with American football," he said. "We saw how it engaged children. When you bring out a textbook in a classroom of kids and start droning on about interest rates, the kids fall asleep. When we gave the teachers this game, we saw the kids jumping out of their seats and getting so excited." The challenge was to expand the idea of the game so that it appealed to people of various ages around the world. Since Visa is a sponsor of FIFA and the 2010 World Cup, and football is wildly popular internationally, creating a game made sense. The MyMoneySkills website also offers useful tools for those interested in improving their financial literacy. It includes several games that build money management skills, as well as calculators that assist with budgets, retirement savings and mortgage payments.
In addition, the website offers 100 pages of detailed information on personal finance-related topics, including debit and credit cards, loans, debt management and identity theft. There is also a section that guides users through financial milestones, such as buying a first home, getting married and retiring. As well as being useful for individuals, the website and game can be used for teaching purposes by parents and teachers, said Lama Kabbani, corporate communications manager of Visa in the Middle East.
"The website is a great tool for teachers and educators, as they can get a lot of content from it. Anything about personal finance is on the website," Ms Kabbani said. Lesson plans are also available to go along with the Financial Football game. The game and website's educational value is why Visa decided to launch the game at GESS, where more than 5,000 educators from the region were present. In addition, some students visited the exhibition and were able to try out Financial Football firsthand at the Visa stall, which was fitted out with a goal net. Katarina Assarsja, a member of Visa's promotion staff, said many students had visited the stall. "They were attracted to the goal net and the idea of playing football," she explained. After they learnt that the game incorporated personal finance, she said reactions were mixed. "Some said, 'that's interesting,' and some said, 'oh I just want to play football.' But all of them picked up a copy of the game," she said. Go to http://www.financialfootball.me/ to play Financial Football.