Published in Training Magazine

Royal Bank of Canada: Digital Initiatives Gain from Gamified Microlearning

When the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) launched its digital products in 2015, it quickly realized it needed to prioritize “digital” if its new solutions were to succeed. At the time, 40 percent of RBC’s front-line employees neither understood nor used mobile banking, so they couldn’t effectively help their customers access these new offerings. This realization came only eight weeks before the bank launched its digital wallet initiative.

Rather than risk overwhelming employees with traditional learning approaches that were time-consuming, expensive, or non-engaging, RBC took a fast, fresh approach: gamified microlearning.

“We focused internally first, to help employees understand and use mobile banking features themselves, so they could become advocates to our customers,” says Bryan Herskovits, director of Digital Activation.

See, Do, Test

RBC partnered with Horizn, a MaRS Discovery District startup. “Horizn’s microlearning platform was used by large global technology companies, which gave us confidence,” Herskovits says.

The program developed by RBC and Horizn focuses on “seeing, doing, and testing,” he continues. First, users learn the value proposition behind a banking initiative (mobile wallets, for instance), often by watching a short video. Then they learn to complete the transaction in an emulator. Finally, employees are tested for retention. Each module presents content in a short, logical sequence for a specific transaction. Consequently, employees understand how the banking activity should unfold and can answer clients’ questions.

“The learning materials aren’t games, but we’ve gamified them so players earn points and badges,” Herskovits explains. Specifically, employees can earn points in the platform and can compete nationally to win individual and team prizes. Each learning module takes three to five minutes to complete and can be accessed on any Web-enabled device, even outside the bank’s firewall.

To track learning, reports can be generated from the national level all the way down to the branch manager level. This deep visibility helps managers increase focus on certain services and also coach individuals.

Fast Acceptance

Within six weeks, nearly 90 percent of users were earning badges. Employee use of mobile apps increased from a baseline of 60 percent to more than 80 percent, and within 30 days, half the employees were digitally fluent. RBC started the program with five courses. Now it has 80.

“We wanted employees to receive training rapidly,” Herskovits says. Therefore, the gamified learning materials are augmented with real people—digital navigators—to help employees learn the new options. “We thought we’d have about 1,200 digital navigators—roughly one per branch. We actually have approximately 7,000.”

Executive Support, Not Executive Direction

One of the key lessons is that with this fast-moving approach to digital activation, “you need executive support (but not executive direction) to cross silos and heighten interest,” Herskovits says. RBC’s materials were advanced by a cross-functional team from digital, product, retail banking, marketing, communications, learning, legal, compliance, operations, and information security.

Since the 2015 launch, Herskovits says more than 1 million courses have been taken, nearly a half million badges have been earned, and more than 10 million client demos have been done. RBC since has created a similar learning platform for its clients.

The digital activation initiative is successful. Since May 2015, RBC reports a 20 percent increase in mobile banking utilization. Perhaps just as beneficial, employees’ digital fluency (upward of 87 percent) is at an all-time high, and they actively advocate digital banking.