gameFI focused on employee engagement to level up credit union performance

Matt Davis first dabbled with incentivizing credit union employees about a decade ago by using poker chips and a spreadsheet.

But with his gameFI startup, based in Madison, Davis has taken that idea and built a game platform that measures how those employees are doing, hoping to get them more engaged in their jobs and ultimately ensuring their credit union stays strong.

“I always dreamed back then that if I had some technology to support this, this will really change things for credit unions,” he said.

Davis has spent more than a decade trying to figure out how credit unions can improve, recently serving as the innovation director at the Filene Research Institute, a Madison-based credit union think-tank.

His self-funded startup has tapped into the growing trend of “gamification,” which typically tries to encourage customers to save money. But instead of focusing on customers, gameFI is trying to work on engagement in the workplace.

“How on earth do you expect to engage members or consumers if you can’t engage your own employees?” Davis said.

gameFI’s platform, which launched last October, already has six customers that employ around 1,300 people.

Similar to an arcade, gameFI charges institutions two quarters per employee each day, and the results so far have been “pretty promising,” Davis said. Tellers in the company’s pilot test in Michigan increased sales activity by 160 percent, boosting the amount of customers for the credit union’s financial advisers.

Employers select certain metrics and develop leaderboards, which Davis said gives clear instructions to employees on what they should “accomplish on a day-to-day basis” and then ranks them based on how they’re performing.

“Our goal is to identify the people who are doing well and maybe identify the people who aren’t doing so well, so management has a real clear insight in who needs coaching,” Davis said.

But the numbers and metrics don’t show the full picture, Davis said, which is why gameFI is also focused on using qualitative feedback.

Through its “cheering section,” coworkers and managers can compliment employees for handling a difficult transaction well, for example, with positive feedback showing up on the platform and accumulating more points for employees. Members can also fill out brief surveys rating their experience at the kiosks gameFI has set up.

All of those numbers and comments — both positive and negative — get stored for managers to reference during employees’ performance reviews.

“Now, you’ve got this wealth of information to effectively evaluate how that person is actually contributing to the success of the organization,” Davis said.

Davis said he was “terrified” when he first launched the platform at a Michigan credit union, recounting handing over an iPad mini to an older employee and seeing her looking like they “handed her a dead squirrel.” But older users, Davis said, have been among the “most engaged” so far.

gameFI has had to adjust certain issues as it’s gone along, including figuring out ways to reset the leaderboards from time to time to make sure there aren’t huge disparities in scores. Those disparities, Davis said, demotivate low-performing employees who feel like they can’t catch up as well as high performers who feel they can slack off.

“That’s something we keep a keen eye on,” Davis said.

With its first product already working in a handful of places, gameFI has begun to carefully shift into developing other gamified tools. One of those is developing an HR platform at the request of a global consulting firm that wants to eliminate its annual performance reviews to shift to a new model. gameFI also developed a professional development platform that can test employees on issues from sexual harassment to financial regulations.

Davis said he was hesitant to expand into other areas at first, but his main focus is still ensuring gameFI can “save credit unions.”

“If we don’t do a better job internally in terms of performance of our employees and the productivity and business results that credit unions need to survive, we’re going to go away,” Davis said. “It’s going to leave us in a world where it’s just the big banks that are helping consumers with financial services, and that’s not a world I’m very excited about.”

— By Polo Rocha