Banking could learn something from gaming.

calendarOctober 21 2020

David Bara explains how online banking could be made more accessible for all by taking a few tips from the gaming industry.

Banking isn’t for everyone

Millions of young people and adults are unable to fully participate socially and economically in their communities and nations because they cannot read or write a simple sentence or make a simple calculation. Indeed, the UN has a target of ensuring all young people have basic numeracy and literacy skills by 2030 (UN SDG 4). These are people who cannot use a bank account, who are more vulnerable to debt and fraud.

Amongst this section of society are those people who are identified as having special needs and learning disabilities. People who might process information differently, or have difficulties understanding. They are arguably the most need of good financial literacy as they are the most disadvantaged in society and the most at risk of poverty.

With the current trend towards cashless societies we are running the risk of further excluding this increasing percentage of the population from healthy and positive economic activity; reducing their capacity to be financially independent and contribute economically.

So it is in everyone’s interest to provide banking services that can help support and protect people whose numeracy skills are poor, in managing their money. But what can be done?

How did you learn to count?

First, I need you to do a few things for me:

Think back to when you were learning how to count.

Did you start with the digits 1,2,3,4,5?

Or perhaps the words one, two, three….?

Or were you shown pictures and given objects to handle that represented the numbers?

 image shows a child's abacus.

Do you understand NUMBER?

What helps you understand the VALUE of the number more?

The digits, the words or the objects?

Now remember when you were learning to add and subtract numbers.  

Image shows a close up of some colourful buttons.
Buttons make good counters!

Did you do 1 + 1 straight away or did you use toys, an abacus, or your fingers and toes?

Most people will use counters or something tactile to start with…things you can physically see and touch. We can easily see that 3 toys are more than 1 toy. We can easily pick up 1 toy but will struggle to pick up 3 toys with our 2 hands.

And finally, when did you learn about negative numbers?

Debt is a negative number and most of us at some stage owe money. How well do you understand the concept of owing money and needing to pay it back?

Image shows a graph with a line starting at 5 and finishing at -1.
Debt is a negative number

All of these issues make financial transactions and managing money harder to understand if a person does not have a core understanding of number and what it means. This problem is not so significant when we use cash that you can hold and touch, but online banking can make financial exchanges even more abstract.


Yet there are simple things that the banking sector can do, which we can already see in the gaming sector. When you finish a level on a game, you will watch coins, stars or gold bars rush into your pot. You can see the number of lives you have as hearts across the top of your screen, or amount of energy you have left in a bar that lights up or changes colour.

Image shows a screen shot from a game. There is a red arrow pointing to a reward bar that shows the player's progress towards prizes.
The reward bar shows how close you are to getting the prizes.

Now imagine an online banking facility that does the same thing. Imagine looking at a screen that gives you pictorial representation of the money in your account. Imagine watching the money move from one account to the other and the levels changing. You could show the money going out, coming in and provide a clear image for when the account is going into negative numbers.   

Such a system could potentially help those with poor numeracy and literacy skills, perhaps due to the way they process information or the level of education they have received. Offering the access to core banking services and the opportunity for great independence.

About David

A family photo of Emma, David, Adi and Asher, sitting together in front of the computer. Adi is wearing a  shirt that says 'cute' in English and British sign language.
David and family

David Bara (MEd PGCE MBa HONS) has 15 years in the field of special educational needs as a teacher, university lecturer, researcher and a SEND parent. He and his wife, Emma, set up WECANACCESS as a way of tackling some of issues facing them and others like them.

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  1. This is great! At our school we work with students of all abilities and in our attempts to help them access the curriculum we use manipulatives, drawings and written expressions in Math. As they learn a new concept, students usually progress through these stages in the order that I’ve written them but just because a student is using manipulatives doesn’t mean that s/he is unable to understand a concept that another student might be able to represent with written numbers. The move away from cash has taken away the manipulatives in the world of money but drawings can still be an effective way of supporting anyone to understand their bank account. There are also a number of very good resources online that offer digital manipulatives for students who need them and could provide a source for banks looking to offer better services to their clients with special numeracy skills/needs.