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A new planning tool for advisers challenges clients to win a game

Using gamification can help further conversations

May 2, 2014 @ 11:49 am

By Joyce Hanson

Financial planning, advisers, gamification, retirement planning
+ Zoom

Ahead of the big financial and banking technology conference Finovate Spring 2014 April 29-30 in San Jose, Calif., I met up with FlexScore chief executive Jason Gordo in New York for a demo of his new online investment adviser tool.

Mr. Gordo told me he was bringing FlexScore to Finovate because the online tool uses the popular tech trend of gamification to engage consumers in the process of goals-based wealth planning.

Gamification helps advisers bring game dynamics into their practices to encourage desired client behavior. So it's no surprise that the first advisory firm to sign on for FlexScore Pro, an adviser version of the product announced at the conference, is United Capital Financial Advisers.

United Capital has already used its Money Mind Analyzer question-and-answer game to help couples determine whether each partner's financial life is driven by fear, happiness or a desire for commitment. Now the company plans to use FlexScore to further gamify its Honest Conversations web-based decision-making tool.

FlexScore is not alone in using gamification to aid adviser-client conversations. Fidelity Labs' “Beat the Benchmark” investment game is an excellent example of the trend. I spent a Saturday afternoon not long ago replaying the game over and over again to figure out how I could beat the system.

Mr. Gordo is based in northern California, where he runs his FlexScore startup along with co-founder Jeffrey Burrow. The two also are co-founders of Valley Wealth Inc., a wealth management firm with approximately $350 million in assets under management.

“People use games to measure their activity,” Mr. Gordo said. “Why not money?”

He added that FlexScore had its beta launch in May 2013, when he and Mr. Burrow became principals of Flexscore. Their initial goal was to get 10,000 users of the free consumer version when in beta, he said, but that figure jumped to 30,000 within a year.

So here's how FlexScore works: The game generates a numerical score that reflects a consumer's financial health. Measured on a scale of 1 to 1,000, the tool — whose consumer version bills itself as “financial advice for the rest of us” — calculates investments, savings, debts, future goals and related expenses.

Users get more points based on “action steps” taken to boost their score along with a visual display of how harmful financial decisions can decrease their score. And as Mr. Gordo explained, FlexScore is monetized by these action steps, many of which involve reading articles about investments such as alternatives and life insurance provided by FlexScore's partners.

It was fun to see how FlexScore works when Mr. Gordo ran the demo for me, showing me all of the tool's bells and whistles. But in my free time, when I tried to “play” the FlexScore game on my own, the fun seemed to go out of it. Unlike “Beat the Benchmark,” FlexScore is a lot of work and involves plenty of thought.

That leads me to conclude that FlexScore may not catch on with consumers in a big way, but it may become a popular tool for advisers to use when conversing with clients. Indeed, Mr. Gordo told me that he's in talks with a number of advisory firms nationwide, from small companies to large independent broker-dealers, who are considering adopting the professional version of the game.

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