How gamified education can help increase financial service usage in Myanmar Learnings from Wave Money Challenge Fund Investment

What you will find in this case study:

  • Leveraging on partnerships with like-minded organizations can help drive adoption of a new app.
  • Monitoring the app’s reach to other audiences is an opportunity to drive financial inclusion for both the target audience and beyond.
  • Continuously upgrading the app will help to retain users’ interest.
I have been playing the Shwe Toe game for about six months, usually around four times per week!

Moe Moe is a second-year university student who also works part-time as a customer care support officer. During her free pockets of time, she and her friends enjoy playing mobile games like Shwe Toe. She used to only play “mobile legend”, but she now spends some of that time on this game – since this is a short game that takes her under 20 minutes to complete, she finds it an easy and convenient activity.

Through Shwe Toe, she learnt more about the different types of saving accounts and how to differentiate types of spending. Since playing the game, she has also become an active user of Wave Pay (ie. Wave Money’s mobile wallet) and became curious about other financial tools, particularly insurance schemes.

The game has provided me with useful financial knowledge, especially since I’m saving up for my parents’ healthcare expenses and my own education.

Without understanding basic financial concepts, people cannot make informed decisions related to their finances. For Moe Moe, her newfound financial knowledge has empowered her to better manage her own finances and work towards her savings goals. Youths like her would generally prefer to spend their free time playing games rather than reading up on financial concepts, but an interactive game can be the solution to deliver this knowledge in an engaging manner. With the investment support from the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN programme, Wave Money designed the first financial literacy app in Myanmar, Shwe Toe, to help women learn financial concepts through an interactive game.

About Wave Money

Wave Money is the first and leading mobile financial services provider operating with over 60,000 agents across 295 of the 330 townships nationwide. Wave Money is a joint venture between Telenor and Yoma Bank and provides easy, fast and reliable mobile financial services through a nationwide agent network. Wave Money introduced a unique way of transferring money, bringing millions of people in Myanmar access to formal financial services. Customers can transfer money safely through their mobile phones or over-the-counter from their neighborhood Wave Shop agent.

Wave Money applied for a matching grant from UNCDF under the ‘Fostering Innovative Business Models for Women’s Financial Inclusion’ Challenge Fund window in April 2016 to fund the Shwe Toe financial literacy gaming app. After a competitive selection process the project was approved by SHIFT ASEAN’s Investment Committee in July 2016 and was initiated in December 2016 with a committed investment of US$ 214,000 from Wave Money matched with a US$ 295,000 grant from UNCDF.

Shwe Toe has reached over 10,000 users to date and through the process of implementation, Wave Money found effective ways to reach women through partnerships. Interestingly, it also discovered its high usage among audiences other than women.

Overview of Financial Literacy in Myanmar

Improving financial literacy has been demonstrated to positively influence access and uptake of formal financial services by women. There is a need for demand-side strategies to complement supply-side financial products. However, only 52 percent of the population and 47 percent of women in Myanmar are financially literate.

Yet, smartphone penetration in Myanmar has climbed to about 80 percent in 2018, putting it ahead of countries like Germany (78.8 percent) and the United States (77 percent). This presents a potential platform that can help drive educational efforts. More generally, mobile phone ownership has increased significantly, though a gender gap persists – fewer women (74 percent) own a mobile phone as compared to men (87 percent), and this gap widens further to 39 percent in mobile internet usage.

Among those who do not own a mobile phone, the top two reasons cited are “not knowing how to use a mobile” and that “mobile is not relevant for me”. These reasons are more commonly cited by women, thus highlighting the need for a gender-sensitive approach in promoting financial literacy through digital platforms.

Overview of Shwe Toe, Wave Money’s financial education mobile gaming application

To increase financial literacy of women in Myanmar, Wave Money aims to leverage the growth of smartphones and data usage. With support of UNCDF's Challenge Fund, the Shwe Toe mobile game application was launched in June 2018 to teach consumers about savings, interest and insurance.

Ultimately, the goal is to help women become confident enough to engage with formal banking systems and navigate financial products they may have shied away from in the past. The challenge fund allowed Wave Money to address the absence of financial literacy education within the digital space and become the pioneers in this domain.

Description of the Shwe Toe game, which means ‘Grow Gold’ in local Myanmar language – A young girl is gifted a calf by her grandmother. Through the levels of the game, financial concepts are taught as the young girl expands her dairy farming operations, starts and successfully manages a business and eventually purchases a home.

This new application can be easily downloaded from the Google Play Store, via Facebook, or sent from phone to phone, ensuring broader market traction of its financial literacy contents. Wave Money hoped to target women in their thirties who have the power to make financial decisions within the household. These women, according to their targeting, should also come from lower income households earning between MMK 100,000 (US$ 69) to MMK 200,000 (US$ 138) per month.

To promote Shwe Toe, Wave Money initially planned to market it through a top-down approach, such as via trainings at garment factories. However, they found that a bottom-up approach involving reaching out to women community leaders to spread the word to their own local communities to be a more effective method. They have partnered with various organizations like Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), the Australian Chamber of Commerce, and GSMA for opportunities to share about the product at events targeting women community leaders. They have discovered that below-the-line activations are the primary driver of Shwe Toe app installations.

Their digital marketing campaign is mostly done through Facebook, since it is one of the most widely used application in Myanmar. Besides allowing for direct download of the Shwe Toe app from Facebook, they also use Facebook as a platform to advertise and answer users’ queries.

From its launch, Shwe Toe has reached out to over 10,000 users. While the number of new downloads per quarter has gradually decreased, the percentage of people who start and complete the entire game has increased. This has translated into usage of Wave Pay (ie. Wave Money’s mobile wallet) for some Shwe Toe players. At the end of 2019, 191 Shwe Toe users downloaded and transacted on the Wave Pay app within the same quarter of downloading the game.

Despite targeted attempts to reach out to women, there are marginally more men playing the Shwe Toe game which can partly be explained by the existing gender gap in mobile phone ownership and internet usage.

Shwe Toe Implementation Learnings

Through an engaging and accessible platform, Shwe Toe has helped users learn more about different financial concepts like savings and expenditure, which has translated into increased familiarity and usage of formal financial services for some. In the long run, it aims to empower women with the skills and confidence to take a more active role in making economic decisions.

By leveraging on partnerships with other organizations, Wave Money could also effectively promote the app to women community leaders, such as female farmers through MEDA. Despite the targeted marketing efforts, there are more male users playing the game. This could be attributed to the already mentioned gender gaps within mobile ownership and mobile internet usage, which would in turn need to be tackled by gender-sensitive efforts to improve digital literacy and change perceptions towards technology. Data collected also revealed a significant portion of young users, including the children of Wave Money’s agents. Wave Money is therefore considering expanding their target audience beyond middle-aged women. They can also consider how the extensive reach of the app can make financial literacy education a household affair, where younger members of the family can help the women enhance their financial knowledge.

Another observation is that most users do not usually play the game more than once. This poses a challenge since they want users to keep applying the financial knowledge taught in the game. As such, Wave Money hopes to upgrade the game to encourage continuous engagement of the user. For example, to introduce new features (e.g. function to record expenses) and tie it to a lesson that already exists within the game (e.g. differentiating types of expenses).

Some key learnings are as follows:

  • Leveraging on partnerships with like-minded organizations can help drive adoption of a new app.
  • Monitoring the app’s reach to other audiences is an opportunity to drive financial inclusion for both the target audience and beyond.
  • Continuously upgrading the app will help to retain users’ interest.

To gather more feedback on the user experience and usage of Shwe Toe, Wave Money is conducting in-person surveys with clients they meet at promotional events. UNCDF will continue to document their learnings to facilitate wider knowledge sharing.

COVID-19 Update

The adoption of digital payments has increased significantly as societies implement strict public health measures and minimize cash handling to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Myanmar, Wave Money is teaming up with the government, humanitarian agencies and private sector, to digitally deliver aid to individuals and communities hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This would serve as a good entry point into digital financial services for disadvantaged communities who have traditionally been left out of formal financial services. To leverage on this opportunity to encourage sustained and active usage, financial literacy efforts must also be accelerated to educate users on how and why to use such digital platforms. UNCDF continues to work with our partners in Myanmar and the ASEAN region to advance digital financial inclusion through a combination of supply- and demand-side interventions.

About the United Nations Capital Development Fund

The UN Capital Development Fund makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs).

UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development.

UNCDF’s financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyze participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local development finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralization, innovative municipal finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, de-risking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilization.

UNCDF’s Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN programme is supported by the Australian Government.


The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of UNCDF, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations or its Member States.