Currency trading. Forex. FX. You’ve always wanted to try it, but it’s uncharted territory, an unknown world filled with unknown risks…

Users in Japan, at least, now have a solution: In a first for Japan’s banking industry, Rakuten Bank launched its new FX Virtual Trade app, a game-like service that allows users to simulate trading based on real-time market movements and conditions. The best part? You don’t need to invest a thing.

An emphasis on education

The app places a primary focus on familiarizing users with the interface and processes involved in real trading. “The trading screen is made to look identical to Rakuten Bank’s real trading app iSPEED FX,” says Fujiki Saito of the Product Planning Department of Rakuten Bank, who took the lead on the project since the idea first came up the previous summer.

One of the app’s main functions, Saito says, is its study mode. “We built a ‘study function’ into the app, which beginners can use to learn through quizzes,” he explains. “By completing these quizzes and making trades, you can level up … After reaching a certain level, users are invited to apply for a real account and give actual FX trading a try.”

Gamifying currency trading

Screen capture from Rakuten Bank's new FX Virtual Trade app, which lets users try their hand at investing.

Rakuten Bank’s new FX Virtual Trade app allows users to simulate trading based on real-time movements and conditions.

While the app’s primary objective is to boost users’ confidence through an authentic trading experience, it also employs gamification as a way to welcome beginners onboard.

“There are quite a lot of game-like elements in the app,” Saito says. “We actually created a ranking function, displaying the usernames of the top 30 traders for each month based on the profits they have made.”

A small financial incentive is also in play: “The top 20 traders at the end of each month can log in to Rakuten Bank and get a cash reward of up to 1,500 yen (about US$14),” he explains, adding with a smile: “The end of the month is always chaotic as users scramble to get into the rankings at the last minute.”

Taking down the barriers to trading

“There are a lot of people out there who are interested in currency trading but still feel a bit scared, who feel like it’s too risky,” says Saito. “By giving them the opportunity to get confident with currency trading through this game (which is identical to the real thing) and giving them an understanding of the risks, it makes it easier for them to try out trading for real.”

Saito says that downloads of the app, which doesn’t require an email address or any personal information, have exceeded his expectations in the initial months, despite not having conducted any marketing outside of the Rakuten Bank platform. “Some users, who are probably more like pro-traders, are logging in hundreds of times a month.”

“Some of the top users are (virtually) earning some 1,700,000 yen (US$16,000) a month – if this were real, they would actually be earning this much,” says Saito, comparing the small 1,500 yen cash bonus to something more akin to a consolation prize. “These are the people we want to see gain confidence and give the real thing a go.”