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Banking on Game-based Learning

As one of Turkey’s largest and fastest-growing banks, Istanbul-based Yapi Kredi Bank is constantly challenged to meet new employee time-to-competency goals and maintain proficiency for 17,000 employees at 900 branches throughout Turkey. Inexperienced employees need to learn its products and services thoroughly, while veteran workers must routinely refresh their product knowledge and sales skills. To do this the bank created an interactive game-based learning program that closely simulates the work environment and employees’ daily challenges.

The company’s learning and development concerns peaked during 2009-10 when it opened 170 new branches and hired more than 1,200 workers. Many of them were Generation Y employees inexperienced in banking and the workplace in general.

Yapi Kredi Banking Academy, the bank’s 3-year-old corporate university, prepared for this influx with a training program that would appeal to young, tech-savvy employees and veterans alike.
“A primary focus for the company was to explore alternative delivery methods as we address time concerns, efficacy and cost,” said Saynur Onen, vice president of Yapi Kredi Banking Academy.

Named YKB City, the resulting learning game was opened to users in two phases. The first started in 2009 and was accessible for two months. It included multiple-choice questions and training documents from the learning center. The second phase, which consisted of scenarios, multiple-choice questions and the learning center, was activated in 2010 and also remained open for two months. During this period, more than 4,260 employees participated in the game’s two phases. They answered 1,000 different multiple-choice questions and engaged in 30 different scenarios. The platform can be reactivated whenever necessary. The bank intends to re-open the platform later this year to help train recent hires.

If there were no time and cost constraints, all new employees would be subject to three-day classroom training to learn product features and cross-selling techniques. By implementing gaming-based learning, the academy was able to avoid pricey classroom delivery.

Setting Multiple Goals
To increase appeal to the bank’s young employees and replicate real work experiences, the academy designed the YKB City simulation as a competition within a virtual cityscape similar to that of city-building simulation video game “SimCity.” In the portal, each participant is assigned a house at YKB City.

YKB City’s learning content reflects five important employee competencies: product and service knowledge, process and workflow application, techniques and the importance of cross-selling, proactive identification of customer needs, and how to correctly access necessary documents. In the game participants’ knowledge levels and attitudes are tested on these aspects with multiple-choice questions and interactive real-life scenarios.

The voluntary learning activity is meant to be played during leisure time on the website created for the game. Employees also can play from their workplaces at allotted times. Playing at their own pace, they answer questions on specific subjects and earn points for correct answers.
Employees become eligible for prizes such as laptops, mobile phones, music, books, language courses and personal development courses by outperforming fellow competitors, but they must take remedial training when knowledge gaps appear. Employees also can interact with others, though not necessarily in real time. All actions are saved so players begin where they left off.

A second priority of YKB City is to engage participants in interactive, real-life scenarios. To achieve this, the game encompasses a complex set of rules that stimulate learners with a variety of interruptions and outcomes. Within each scenario, all of a learner’s actions are taken into account as questions respond to the individual’s answers in subject and degree of difficulty. The constantly changing content means learners can play the same scenario multiple times and still learn something.

The scoring system encourages players to excel in product and service feature knowledge to succeed. Rather than simply encourage players to excel because the course says so, the scoring meters serve as an external motivator that runs throughout the training.

Emphasizing Cross-Selling
Scenarios mirror the bank’s strategic learning targets, which are selected by the academy and senior management. For example, many are designed to demonstrate how employees can maximize selling opportunities to reach their individual business targets.

“The scenarios teach employees to understand their customers’ needs and conduct more cross-selling,” said Zafer Eren, retail banking sales department executive vice president for Yapi Kredi Bank. “Users encounter different situations with different customer types with these real-life scenarios, which were adapted from actual experiences.”

In a typical scenario, a branch-based representative seeks to understand a customer’s needs and relate them to the bank’s products. The individual’s task entails taking necessary administrative actions followed by another meeting with the customer to obtain signatures. Cross-selling opportunities are emphasized.

Another scenario encompasses sales techniques, customer relations and product information. In this situation, a customer approaches a bank relationship manager and inquires about a mortgage product. The manager must respond with the correct answers and sales-oriented questions within a specific time. If a mistake is made, the customer becomes angry. If the customer leaves, the participant loses the point. The scenario helps employees understand customers’ needs, the proper documents required for specific transactions and the system within the branches.

“Along with the instruction scenarios, YKB City contains another popular feature, a built-in social environment that enables participants to create their own pages, share information and communicate with colleagues at other branches,” Onen said.

YKB City was developed by the academy in partnership with a Turkish training and gaming product vendor. The vendor created the platform, design and images, while the academy customized the platform to suit its needs. The game’s design includes four principal components:

• Orientation: Participants are introduced to the course and interactive methods employed.
• Learning center: All learning activity originates from the banking academy building, including e-learning courses, checklists for applications and a library.
• Activity center: All games developed to assess employee knowledge level on Yapi Kredi products and services are contained here.
• Scenarios: Interactive, real-life scenarios assess knowledge on the bank’s applications, products and services.

At the conclusion of phase two, the top 10 successful employees and top three branches were determined. The company announced the winners and presented them with awards. Short films about the achievements were recorded and broadcast on the bank’s portal.

Enjoyable to play and convenient to use, YKB City has become a popular resource for employees to readily consult learning content by visiting the game’s virtual library.

Level one feedback indicates participants remain engaged throughout the game and eager to complete it, unlike the bank’s typical e-learning courseware. Comments also indicate the representatives are willing to master cross-selling techniques and other important program goals.

Cross-selling performance has improved steadily since the game was introduced, especially among retail customers and micro small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). The retail cross-sell ratio — the number of products per customer — increased by 19 percent between 2009 and June 30, 2011, while the micro SME ratio soared by 29 percent during the same period.

As a cost-saving training tool, the data also indicates YKB City’s benefit. By delivering the training during off-duty hours via e-learning, Yapi Kredi saved three days — 89,460 man hours — that would otherwise have been devoted to classroom training with the same content. Comparing the cost of the game with that of three-day classroom training, the academy realized a savings equal to 5 percent of its annual budget.

Other follow-up measurements, focused on performance in specific job-related topics and skills reflected in the game, identified additional developmental needs. Development activities were then conducted on the least successful topics, including pre- and post-training assessments on a given subject. Average pre- and post-test scores climbed from 63.5 to 82.5.

The impact on job results also was significant. The “incomplete job ratio” for the topic “retail credits” dropped from 53 percent to 18 percent, while the average job waiting time decreased by 25 percent.

The academy also tallied customer evaluations of employee performance before and after the game and subsequent developmental activities. Scores rose in all product and service categories.

“Mixing the simulation with other training activities was a unique solution for Yapi Kredi Banking Academy to address numerous information and development needs of our branch employees,” said Yuksel Rizeli, information technologies and operations assistant general manager for Yapi Kredi Bank. “This method is successful from a variety of standpoints, especially investment and time efficiency. It has been an important initiative in attaining the competency of employees to meet our bank’s customer service goals.”

Paul Harris is a freelance writer who specializes in workforce training issues. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.