HOUSTON — Teaching financial literacy to kids? There's an app for that and it's one of the three finalists for this year's CO-OP THINK Prize.

Developed by Brett Wooden, SVP of marketing and IT at Cy-Fair FCU here, "Where's My Allowance?" is a way to "gamify" financial education that appeals to digital-age children.

Now in its fourth year, the CO-OP THINK Prize is part of CO-OP Financial Services' annual THINK Conference. Entrants submit ideas for innovations suitable for the CU community, which are then whittled down to three finalists. Those three ideas are voted on, with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize funded by MasterCard. The winner will be announced during this year's THINK Conference, which runs from May 19-23 in New Orleans.

Wooden explained that there are two components to "Where's My Allowance?," the first of which is a trio of electronic books.

"The story becomes that [the child is] going to open a savings account and she doesn't understand where the money is going," said Wooden. "She starts to envision that the branch is turning into a jungle; the teller becomes a crocodile, a Venus fly trap appears, et cetera. They're interactive books, and on the bottom you can tap stickies, coloring books, e-mail things to your parents. It gets them engaged in what a credit union is, what it means to open a savings account, and it gives them a little fun."

For kids that want something different than a jungle theme, Wooden said Antarctic and ocean themes are also options.

"Those books tie into the main 'Where's My Allowance?' app that will aggregate the child's savings at the financial institution into a virtual animal," he continued. When children first open the app, they select an environment and an animal — a shark, for example, said Wooden. "That then aggregates to their savings account; whenever they hold a finger on the shark's belly, it opens up and shows how much they have in the account."

Link To Amazon
There's also a benefit for credit unions beyond just financial education. Wooden said the app and the account can be linked to Amazon, allowing for a kickback to the CU if a purchase is made.

"So if a child is saving for a Barbie Dream House, when they hit the amount saved for the Barbie Dream House it sends push notifications to mom and dad and says she has saved enough. Amazon pays a kickback if you buy directly through the app itself." Wooden did not know the amount of the kickback, but said it was a percentage based on the total cost of the item.

Wooden's idea also includes basic financial education tools that unlock virtual rewards by teaching kids about money and saving, such as a grocery store game that helps them learn to count money.

"It teaches kids to save money, but also it ultimately helps parents teach the kid," he said. "It brings the money to life for them, but with virtual rewards that also gives the instant gratification that most kids want."

The app would take about $25,000 to finalize, according to Wooden, much of which would be covered by the money from the THINK Prize, should he win. The only costs he anticipated for credit unions using the app were if they wanted to integrate their own mascot within the programming, along with the costs of aggregating the user's account balance and other data into the app.

Wooden didn't speculate on his odds of winning, but said, "Win or lose, I'm going to launch it."

"I think now is the right time," said Wooden, adding that one of his CU's strongest SEGs is Texas's largest school district, which he said has gotten excited about the idea of gamifying financial education.

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