The majority of Americans don't have enough money saved to cover even a $500 unexpected expense. But most also play the lottery—and of those that do, the average household spends $540 on tickets a year.
A new app called Long Game is designed to use people's desire to play the lotto to get them to save. As you start saving money in a Long Game account, you earn chances to play lottery-like games—spinning a wheel, flipping cards, and Omega millions, the startup's version of Powerball. Each week, you have a chance to win a million dollars. But unlike the lottery, you never lose your money. Every penny of your savings that goes into the free savings account stays there (FDIC-insured, and earning up to 10 times the interest rate of a traditional bank, as a bonus).
The concept of prize-linked savings isn't new—Britain first tried it in the 1600s, and the U.K.'s current Premium Bonds pay out a monthly £1 million jackpot. In the U.S., federally chartered banks couldn't legally offer similar accounts until the American Savings Promotion Act was passed in 2014. Some banks and credit unions have started to experiment with it. But the new app will be the first time it's been attempted in mobile. The founders think it will make prize-linked savings easier to access, and more compelling.
"Basically Long Game is just taking a very well known mechanism and making it widely available, and also a lot more fun," says serial entrepreneur Lindsay Holden, who cofounded the startup with Ashby Monk, who is also the executive and research director of the Stanford Global Projects Center. "Prize-linked savings has been generally just a raffle. But now with our app you can have it come out in any kind of game you'd want."
As more customers start to use the app, the startup plans to iterate on the design of the games to see what makes customers save the most. The app offers a number of rewards, including the weekly million-dollar drawings. The funding comes from banks—some of the money they spend acquiring new customers will be paid to Long Game, which pays those funds out in prizes.
Over time, they hope to help Americans start putting more of the $73 billion spent annually on the lottery into savings. Since the lotto is a habit—even addiction—for so many people, it will be a challenging behavioral shift.
"We'd love to convert people who are playing lotto into saving, but I think it's probably not like 'Now I'm never going to buy a lotto ticket, I'm just going to save money,'" says Holden. "But it is an alternative. It's something they start doing for fun and then realize, 'Oh, I'm a saver.' It does feel good."