Blockworks, a world-leading Minecraft design collective, and Ally Financial believe it can and recently launched a massive new Minecraft world today to do so: Fintropolis at allyfintropolis.com. Consumers also believe it, as in its first three weeks of availability, the world has been downloaded over 1 million times!
Made from more than 20,416,204 blocks, Fintropolis is a new free world within the Minecraft marketplace also offering EDU versions as a resource for parents and educators to teach middle-school-aged kids money concepts. Fintropolis is one of only 22 free, educational worlds on the Minecraft Marketplace, which boasts 1,000+ paid worlds.
Fintropolis began as the brainchild of four Ally Financial interns, who came up with the idea as a solution to combat declining financial literacy rates.
The consumer version of Fintropolis weaves financial lessons into regular game-play, allowing players to passively learn as they navigate the world. Marking a first for a major financial institution within the Minecraft platform, the EDU version offers a broad educational resource for teachers to engage with students meeting them on common ground.
Financial literacy rates in the U.S. have been dropping since 2009. Less than one-third of adults ages 18-54 can answer basic questions related to personal finance, creating urgency for new approaches to early financial education. This critical issue became the focus of four interns hired through Ally’s 2019 Moguls in the Making, www.ally.com/moguls, student pitch competition: Erin Martin from Alabama A&M, Earl Perry and Keishon Smith from Florida A&M, and DeMari Tyner from North Carolina A&T. After research and field study, the four created the concept and design for Fintropolis, which Ally then brought to market.
“Students who don’t learn how to handle money and make smart financial choices will have a tougher time throughout their lives,” said Smith, who was hired by Ally after he graduated. “Ally challenged us to find a solution, so we dug in and did our homework. We quickly realized to get middle schoolers to pay attention and learn, we had to make it fun and hands-on. I played Minecraft throughout school and knew how much kids of all backgrounds loved it. When we tested our concept on students, I wasn’t surprised to see how quickly they took to it.”
Martin, Perry, Smith, and Tyner worked with Ally’s concept development lab, TM Studio, and video game developer, Blockworks, to create Fintropolis. As players explore the Fintropolis world, they learn about earning money, paying taxes, budgeting, building credit, and managing debt, as well as investing. They also are introduced to different careers and how early financial decisions can impact their futures. Minecraft: Education Edition also comes with lesson plans to connect the money concepts in Fintropolis to the classroom curriculum. Minecraft users can access Fintropolis for free.
“When Erin, Earl, Keishon, and DeMari presented their idea, we knew then and there we had to pursue it,” said Diane Morais, President, Consumer, and Commercial Banking at Ally Bank. “We have been experimenting with fun, interactive games as a powerful way to teach financial lessons and saw this as a possible cornerstone in that strategy. Now, Fintropolis has the potential to give millions of students the knowledge and confidence needed to make better money decisions, which can affect their lives in profound ways.”
Ally’s Executive Director of Customer Strategy and Innovation Emily Shallal added, “The entire journey to launch Fintropolis demonstrates how injecting diverse experiences and perspectives leads to innovative and impactful problem-solving. If we want to promote financial and social inclusion, it starts by bringing a wider spectrum of people to the creative table.”
From Detroit to Fintropolis
The four intern creators of Fintropolis first met in Detroit as competitors at the 2019 Moguls in the Making, a business pitch competition hosted by Ally, entertainer Big Sean’s The Sean Anderson Foundation, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The annual weekend-long competition helps young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs from HBCUs bring their ideas to life. Fifty HBCU students are selected from a pool of more than 500 applicants, grouped into collaborative teams, and mentored by coaches from Ally and other industry leaders. The goal: develop and pitch a business plan that furthers economic mobility and enhances financial and social inclusion.
Impressed by Martin, Perry, Smith, and Tyner’s creative thinking and presentation skills during the competition, Ally invited the four to join its TM Studio team as interns for the summer. Using a human-centered design methodology, the students conducted in-person and phone interviews with middle school teachers, parents, principals, and students. Their primary and secondary research confirmed their solutions had to be fun, and preferably game-based, to drive engagement. The result was Fintropolis.
“They came up with a boss solution,” Big Sean said. “Fintropolis is just one example of what HBCU students can do when given the resources and platform to support their dreams.”
The 2021 Moguls in the Making competition will take place on Sept. 16th – 19th, 2021. Students from ten HBCUs will compete for scholarships and Ally internships.
Bringing the lessons full-circle
In conjunction with the launch of Fintropolis, Martin, Perry, Smith, and Tyner are returning to their own middle schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Michigan to demonstrate the world in Minecraft they helped create and share lessons they learned along their journey from middle schooler to “Mogul” to financial education innovator. In addition to visiting with the students and teachers, the four each will present a $10,000 donation to their schools from Ally to support critical technology and curriculum needs.
Three of the interns – Tyner, Smith, and Perry – have been hired by Ally as full-time employees. Tyner works as a data analytics analyst while Smith is a technology operation associate analyst and Perry is a quality assurance analyst. Martin was a Marketing intern with Ally this summer after finishing her junior year.