Startup Long Game Bets on Making Saving Fun With, You Guessed It, Games

Most Americans lack $500 in savings to confront unexpected expenses. Why?

To a great extent, it’s because saving isn’t fun — spending is fun. Furthermore, just over half of Americans gamble on the lottery each year. A new startup called Long Game aims to unite these two depressing facts into one cheerful whole — a savings app exploiting your reptilian reward centers and penchant for gambling for good, not evil.

Savings apps are having something of a moment. A rash of savings and personal financial management startups have launched in recent years to try and get Americans to put some cash aside, with one of the most successful being Digit, which looks at a user’s personal cash flow to determine how much to stash away.

Long Game, based in San Francisco and launched in late November, takes a different tack, and one that investors have signaled they approve of. The startup announced a $6.6 million seed investment today, led by the Collaborative Fund and Thrive Capital. Long Game takes gamification to a new level. Savers are rewarded with coins, which are used to play games in the app. The games themselves usually resemble casino favorites or scratch-off lottery tickets, and can reward users with coins, or actual cash.

“The majority of Americans are not in control of their financial situation and are not saving for the future,” said Holden. “As a result, people are stressed and live with financial anxiety and vulnerability. We built Long Game to empower people to feel proud and hopeful about their personal finances and to make smart money decisions fun and rewarding.”

Holden is taking the project of teachings Americans to save seriously. She built a ten-person team that includes, among the usual engineers, developers, and designers, a behavioral economist. The app’s 70,000 users save around $60 a week and play 28 games per week — numbers mobile banking providers would envy.

Funds are held with Luray, Va.-based Blue Ridge Bank. The startup earns some interest on funds held, has a rudimentary referral program, and is developing social features involving its games (but not competitions over who has saved how much, which is not something millennials or anyone wants to talk about, especially when Zuckerberg is listening.)

Lottery and casino games can certainly be addictive, and CEO Lindsay Holden hopes it makes saving addictive too. “Variable rewards are a crazy mechanism,” she told Bank Innovation last week.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism, which makes him quite old. He can be reached at pryan@royalmedia.com.

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