You're sitting in the quiet bank boardroom sifting through mounds of financial documents. You hear the hum of the air conditioner, yet you still feel the sweat trickling down your neck. Something fishy is going on, but you aren't sure just what. You look through a few more documents and then decide to have a chat with...whom? The cashier? The compliance officer? The president?
This situation is straight out of VBank, a PC audit simulation commissioned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The purpose was to gather best practices from senior auditors who had been through the savings and loans debacle of the 1970s and '80s and turn that knowledge into a training tool for less-experienced FDIC field staff. Auditors "learned a lot about prioritizing in that period," says Joe Biglin, cofounder of game creator Breakaway Ltd. "VBank is based on correct audit procedure. It was designed to capture what they were doing and give an opportunity to see if there were a better way to proceed. Maybe FDIC procedure was different than what best practice might be."
In VBank, you can uncover more than 1,500 real bank documents through the course of this virtual bank audit. Your job, as a trainee, is to identify the right people to interview. "You uncover access to more information through meetings with people in the bank. At the end, you've hopefully uncovered the information to indict a senior-level official," Breakaway spokesman Josh Johns explains.
Today, there's increasing corporate interest in using gaming technology to create a new kind of training program with virtual worlds and 3-D technology and put trainees in a realistic setting. In a serious game, there are "many real things happening—real pressures," Johns says. "One of the big overarching ideas behind this training is that you're going to learn through your mistakes, but there are no consequences. You just restart."
This is particularly important as banks continue to merge and attempt to integrate multiple branches into new brands. "The cost of failure in financial institutions is so great, you want to be able to allow people to fail where financial risk to the bank is zero," says Richard Kristof, CEO of Power U, which created an immersive world platform that allows people to build their own immersive training products. "Heart rate, eye movement, brain activities [in a simulation] are similar to what people going through this experience."
Unlike most e-learning, whose only interactive options typically are point and click, gaming technology "allows you to create anything you want," Biglin says. But you might not want to call it a game when talking to the banking industry. "Instead, we call it an 'immersive learning environment,'" says Kristof.
While Biglin, himself a former training director for a large bank holding company, says, "Banking might be a laggard—they spend an awful lot of money on training tellers and other people on how to count money," some banks nevertheless are taking the simulation plunge.
Accenture created a "revenue accelerator" program for personal bankers at one of the top 10 banks in the U.S. As you open the application, you see six customer faces with names and their reasons for visiting the bank that day. The learner clicks on a customer "photo," and the dialog begins. Tom Kraack, an Accenture senior executive based in Minneapolis, says, "Typically there's an audio: 'I'm Jane Doe, and I want to close my account.'" Then reasonable responses appear for the trainee to choose from. Dials on the bottom of the screen measure how well the banker responded, and the customer's replies change depending on the banker's answers. "When you get to the end, either the customer closes the account and is mad at you, or, in fact, you discover there is a reason he or she is closing the account, you make an adjustment, and the customer leaves satisfied with the relationship."
When you finish the interaction, you can click on the coach's icon and receive reactions and counsel, Kraack adds.
In another simulation Accenture created for a credit card business, "an experimental group got the simulations, and a control group did not," Kraack says. "We generated an 8 percent increase—the equivalent of $112 million—in the experimental group's collections experience, capability, and actual performance."
PNC University, part of $143 billion PNC Financial, uses sims in its "Solving Problems with Ease and Confidence" communication skills course designed by Enspire Learning. "The course's simulations engage employees in practice conversations, providing virtual customer reactions," says Robin Connolly, SVP of PNC University. "More than 3,000 employees have completed the course since its launch in 2007."
In the quarter following implementation, customer satisfaction surveys showed a 6.25 percent increase on the item "was helpful in solving problems," Connolly says. The sim was modified for use in acquired-bank conversions, and another simulation for more difficult problem resolutions launched in August 2008.
With simulations, "you can expose a person to many different scenarios and vary what happens quickly in a much shorter amount of time on the job," notes Tiffany Barnes, assistant professor of computer science, University of North Carolina-Charlotte. With a simulation, you can do it in "20 hours with software versus four years on the job. You can try to ramp up someone's performance level."