Financial literacy rates have been dropping in the U.S. since 2009. Less than 1/3 or adults ages 18 to 54 are able to answer basic questions related to personal finance, creating an urgency for new approaches to financial education.

The Team: Four Ally interns

The Mission: Design a financial education curriculum for middle schoolers at low-to-moderate income schools

The Outcome: The nationwide launch of Fintropolis, a new Minecraft world, created by Blockworks in collaboration with Ally that teaches young people financial concepts (available for both Minecraft and Minecraft: Education Edition)

The Journey

Our story begins with four Ally interns brought on board in the summer of 2019 following their participation in Ally’s first annual Moguls in the Making. Now entering its third year, Ally co-hosts this entrepreneurship competition for students at historically Black colleges (HBCUs) with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Sean Anderson Foundation.

In the program’s first year, we were able to welcome 16 Moguls as interns at Ally. One group of those students — Erin Martin from Alabama A&M, Earl Perry and Keishon Smith from Florida A&M, and DeMari Tyner from North Carolina A&T — were tasked to develop an education solution to help curb declining financial literacy rates.

Financial literacy rates have been dropping in the U.S. since 2009. Less than 1/3 or adults ages 18 to 54 are able to answer basic questions related to personal finance, creating an urgency for new approaches to financial education.

The team talked to teachers, parents and students, soaking in all the information they could. Tyner recalls, “We really tried to get ourselves into the minds of middle schoolers.” By seeing firsthand the full scope and impact of this resource gap, the Moguls could better identify a solution that would actually address the challenges.

The problem they set out to solve was deeply ingrained before they even began to brainstorm. Martin shares how clear it became that, “Even at home, people just aren’t aware of the importance of teaching finance.”

And Tyner recalls, “I know I didn’t really start getting serious about personal finance until college. Starting to introduce these essential life skills earlier could make a huge difference.”

Financial literacy rates have been dropping in the U.S. since 2009 Less than 1/3 or adults ages 18 to 54 are able to answer basic questions related to personal finance creating an urgency for new approaches to financial education.Source: National Study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation. 

Let’s Play

Early on, the team knew they wanted to do something with game-based learning.  Through group discussions, interviews and research, one video game emerged: Minecraft. The idea of incorporating financial literacy into this popular game was an instant hit with the students, parents, and teachers they spoke with — plus the team even had a resident coder (who also happened to have a lot of first-hand experience playing the game). “Since I was the most proficient in coding, I became the builder,” Smith shares and jokes that, “It was an honor to take my hundreds of hours of Minecraft play and use it for the greater good.”

The team spent 10 weeks, planning, developing, and prototyping their project, working through any challenges with the Ideation and Concept Creation team at Ally’s TM Studio. The final step? Pitching it to Ally leadership, including the CEO. The team knew they had a great idea, but they needed to make sure their presentation clearly shared their vision with the decision makers.

Even before the final presentation, it was pretty clear they had created something special when they started getting practice pitch requests. Perry remembers, “Word of mouth is powerful. I’m not sure who said what to whom, but we presented that demo about four times because more and more people were excited to hear about it.”

Then came the day of the pitch. “Within 90 seconds, the look on everyone’s faces in the room told us this wasn’t just an intern project,” Director of TM Studio at Ally, Kyle Kouchinsky, recalls.

These Moguls had certainly left their mark. With their internships wrapped up, Martin, Perry, Smith and Tyner returned to school in the fall of 2019. Since then, Perry, Smith, and Tyner have all joined the Ally team in full-time positions and Martin has returned for another internship. In the meantime, their Minecraft project took on a life of its own.

Welcome to Fintropolis

“Why wouldn’t we try to push this deeper with Minecraft and build it for real?” Ally CEO, Jeffery J. Brown remembers immediately thinking at the pitch. “Particularly now, when the world knows that financial literacy is so incredibly important to building economic mobility?”

So, we did. Collaborating with Blockworks,  Fintropolis quickly went from a concept dreamt and developed by four talented interns to an interactive world in Minecraft (now available on Minecraft and Minecraft: Education Edition).Visuals of Fintropolis world in Minecraft created by Blocksworks in partnership with Ally

As players explore the world of Fintropolis, they learn about earning money, paying taxes, budgeting, building credit and managing debt, as well as investing. They’re also introduced to different careers and how early financial decisions can impact their futures.

Journey On

The path from Moguls to Fintropolis has been as incredible as the finished product itself. These students not only created an innovative new tool to boost financial literacy, they paved the way for the Moguls in the Making program with Ally — creating new opportunities for HBCU students. In two years of competition, more than 20 Moguls have completed Ally’s internship program. In 2019, 500 students competed in Moguls in the Making and that number grew to 570 in 2020 with more planned for 2021.  We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Fintropolis is now available for free download both in Minecraft and Minecraft: Education Edition.