English

Reminders can increase savings deposits at almost no cost to providers

Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial product and service opportunities for U.S. providers. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health.

Providing access to savings accounts is an important step in bringing financial services to the poor, but access alone does not guarantee people will save. Many people struggle to develop good savings habits because they put off saving until a future time, or face so many seemingly urgent needs today that it is difficult to save for tomorrow, or they simply forget to save. Reminders that bring savings goals to the “top of mind” are a low-cost way to address these barriers and help clients reach their savings goals.

This brief is part of IPA’s Nudges for Financial Health series, which is available as a combined booklet here. The other briefs in the series can be downloaded individually: The Power of Doing Nothing, Count on Commitment.

Program area:
Type:
Brief
Date:
February 13, 2017
English

How defaults can improve customer savings behavior

Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial product and service opportunities for U.S. providers. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health.

Automatic (“opt-out”) enrollment is a simple product design modification in which consumers are informed they will be automatically enrolled in a product or service unless they choose to opt out. Setting the default to “opt-out” instead of “opt-in” has been shown to significantly increase uptake of certain savings products and lead to behavior change through automation, for example by increasing participation in retirement and savings plans. It is important that financial services providers use these tools with care, fully and conspicuously inform their customers about the product or service into which they will be enrolled, and give customers full freedom to make a different choice or opt out at any time.

This brief is part of IPA’s Nudges for Financial Health series, which is available as a combined booklet here. The other briefs in the series can be downloaded individually: Top of Mind, Count on Commitment.

Program area:
Type:
Brief
Date:
February 13, 2017
English

Helping clients stick to their goals and increase their savings balances with commitments

Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial product and service opportunities for U.S. providers. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health.

Commitment devices are voluntary, binding arrangements that people make to reach specific goals that may otherwise be difficult to achieve. When built into savings products, commitment devices can help address behavioral and social obstacles to saving by providing a mechanism that forces people to save according to their self-set plans. These devices vary in terms of commitment activity, consequence for failing to fulfill the commitment, and control over how savings are spent. “Hard” commitments feature financial penalties for failure, whereas with “soft” commitments, the penalty is primarily psychological, as in letting down oneself or one’s community.

This brief is part of IPA’s Nudges for Financial Health series, which is available as a combined booklet here. The other briefs in the series can be downloaded individually: The Power of Doing Nothing, Top of Mind.

Program area:
Type:
Brief
Date:
February 13, 2017
Download

Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial service and product design opportunities both for providers in the U.S. and in other countries. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health.

This booklet combines a series of briefs, which are also available to download as individual briefs: Count on Commitment, The Power of Doing Nothing, Top of Mind.

Count on Commitment
Commitment devices are voluntary, binding arrangements that people make to reach specific goals that may otherwise be difficult to achieve. When built into savings products, commitment devices can help address behavioral and social obstacles to saving by providing a mechanism that forces people to save according to their self-set plans. These devices vary in terms of commitment activity, consequence for failing to fulfill the commitment, and control over how savings are spent. “Hard” commitments feature financial penalties for failure, whereas with “soft” commitments, the penalty is primarily psychological, as in letting down oneself or one’s community.

The Power of Doing Nothing
Automatic (“opt-out”) enrollment is a simple product design modification in which consumers are informed they will be automatically enrolled in a product or service unless they choose to opt out. Setting the default to “opt-out” instead of “opt-in” has been shown to significantly increase uptake of certain savings products and lead to behavior change through automation, for example by increasing participation in retirement and savings plans. It is important that financial services providers use these tools with care, fully and conspicuously inform their customers about the product or service into which they will be enrolled, and give customers full freedom to make a different choice or opt out at any time.

Top of Mind
Providing access to savings accounts is an important step in bringing financial services to the poor, but access alone does not guarantee people will save. Many people struggle to develop good savings habits because they put off saving until a future time, or face so many seemingly urgent needs today that it is difficult to save for tomorrow, or they simply forget to save. Reminders that bring savings goals to the “top of mind” are a low-cost way to address these barriers and help clients reach their savings goals.

 

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Type:
Brief
Date:
February 13, 2017
Letter

Financial education is widely used by governments, financial service providers, and non-governmental organizations as a tool to help people navigate the financial system and make better financial choices. Financial education programs are built on the assumption that education will lead to knowledge, and that knowledge will lead to better choices and improved financial health. Recent evidence suggests that assumption is flawed, but also shows promise for some new, alternative approaches to financial education.

A robust body of evidence shows that on average conventional approaches to financial education have not been successful in either imparting lasting knowledge or in changing people’s financial behavior. While these findings may seem discouraging at first glance, the conventional approach to financial education is not the only approach, and several new methods have been rigorously tested in recent years and yielded positive results. This brief explores the emerging evidence on these new approaches and considers where purveyors of financial education, researchers, and policymakers should go from here.

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Type:
Brief
Date:
January 27, 2017
English

Targeted interventions that sustainably improve the lives of the poor will be a critical component in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The poorest households tend to be physically and socially isolated and face disadvantages across multiple dimensions, which makes moving out of extreme poverty challenging and costly. This paper compares the cost-effectiveness of three strands of anti-poverty social protection interventions by reviewing 30 livelihood development programs, 11 lump-sum unconditional cash transfers, and seven graduation programs. All the selected graduation initiatives focused on the extreme poor, while the livelihood development and cash transfer programs targeted a broader set of beneficiaries. Impacts on annual household consumption (or on income when consumption data were not available) per dollar spent were used to benchmark cost-effectiveness across programs. Among all 48 programs reviewed, lump-sum cash transfers were found to have the highest benefit-cost ratio, though there are very few lump-sum cash transfer programs that serve the extreme poor or measure long-term impacts. Livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor had much lower benefit-cost ratios. Graduation programs are more cost-effective than the livelihood programs that targeted the extreme poor and measured long-term impacts (i.e., at least one year after end of interventions). More evidence is needed, especially on long-term impacts of lump-sum cash transfers to the extreme poor, to make better comparisons among the three types of programs for sustainable reduction of extreme poverty.

Type:
Report
Date:
December 13, 2016
English

The welfare impact of expanding access to bank accounts depends on whether accounts crowd out pre-existing financial relationships, or whether private gains from accounts are shared within social networks. In this experiment, we provided free bank accounts to a random subset of 885 households. Across households, we document positive spillovers: treatment households become less reliant on grown children and siblings living outside their village, and become more supportive of neighbors and friends within their village. Within households, we randomized which spouse was offered an account and find no evidence of negative spillovers.

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Type:
Working Paper
Date:
November 10, 2016
English

We experimentally test the impact of expanding access to basic bank accounts in Uganda, Malawi, and Chile. Over two years, 17 percent, 10 percent, and 3 percent of treatment individuals made five or more deposits, respectively. Average monthly deposits for them were at the 79th, 91st, and 96th percentiles of baseline savings. Survey data show no clearly discernible intention–to–treat effects on savings or any downstream outcomes. This suggests that policies merely focused on expanding access to basic accounts are unlikely to improve welfare noticeably since impacts, even if present, are likely small and diverse.

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Type:
Working Paper
Date:
October 31, 2016
English

Antipoverty programs in developing countries are often difficult to implement; in particular, many governments lack the capacity to deliver payments securely to targeted beneficiaries. We evaluate the impact of biometrically authenticated payments infrastructure (“Smartcards”) on beneficiaries of employment (NREGS) and pension (SSP) programs in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, using a large-scale experiment that randomized the rollout of Smartcards over 157 subdistricts and 19 million people. We find that, while incompletely implemented, the new system delivered a faster, more predictable, and less corrupt NREGS payments process without adversely affecting program access. For each of these outcomes, treatment group distributions first-order stochastically dominated those of the control group. The investment was cost-effective, as time savings to NREGS beneficiaries alone were equal to the cost of the intervention, and there was also a significant reduction in the “leakage” of funds between the government and beneficiaries in both NREGS and SSP programs. Beneficiaries overwhelmingly preferred the new system for both programs. Overall, our results suggest that investing in secure payments infrastructure can significantly enhance “state capacity” to implement welfare programs in developing countries.

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Published Paper
Date:
October 31, 2016

Public employment programs play a major role in the anti-poverty strategy of many developing countries, but their impact on poverty reduction could be attenuated or amplified by changes they induce in private labor market wages and employment. We estimate these general equilibrium effects using a large-scale experiment that randomized the roll-out of a technological reform, which significantly improved the implementation of India's public employment scheme, across 157 sub-districts of 60,000 people each. We find that this reform increased the earnings of low-income households by 12.7%, and reduced an income-based measure of poverty by 17.2% despite no increase in fiscal outlays on the program. These income gains were overwhelmingly driven by higher private-sector earnings (90%) as opposed to earnings directly from the program (10%). We find that improving implementation of the public employment scheme led to a 6.2% increase in private market wages for rural unskilled labor, a similar increase in reservation wages, and a 7.1% reduction in days without work. We find no evidence of changes in private employment, migration, or land use. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for general equilibrium effects in evaluating programs, and also illustrate the feasibility of using large-scale experiments to study such effects.

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Type:
Working Paper
Date:
October 25, 2016
English

We implemented a randomized controlled trial among transnational households in the Philippines estimating impacts on financial behaviors of a financial education treatment, a financial access treatment, and the combination of the two. We test whether there are complementarities between financial education and financial access interventions, and also provide insight into the nature of constraints operating in financial services markets. We find no evidence of complementarities between the financial education and financial access treatments. In addition, while we find no evidence of constraints in access to formal credit and savings products, our results do suggest that access constraints exist in the formal insurance market. Impacts on other financial behaviors are suggestive of the importance of information constraints in financial decision-making. These results provide guidance to designers of financial interventions in similar populations.

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Type:
Working Paper
Date:
September 22, 2016
English

Asymmetric information can be costly in insurance markets and can even hinder market development, as is the case for most agricultural insurance markets. I study information asymmetries in crop insurance in the Philippines using a randomized field experiment. Using a combination of preference elicitation, a two-level randomized allocation of insurance and detailed data collection, I test for and find evidence of adverse selection, moral hazard and their interaction – that is, selection on anticipated moral hazard behavior. I conclude that information asymmetry problems are substantial in this context and that variations on this experimental design may be useful in future work for identifying interactions between choice and treatment effects.

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Type:
Working Paper
Date:
September 07, 2016
Spanish

Una capacitación financiera simplificada basada en reglas prácticas mejoró las prácticas de negocios y los resultados económicos de microempresarios en República Dominicana, mientras que una capacitación técnica basada en principios contables tradicionales no produjo impactos significativos.

Type:
Brief
Date:
August 30, 2016
English

We worked with two microlenders to test impacts of randomly assigned reminders for loan repayments in the “text messaging capital of the world”. We do not find strong evidence that loss versus gain framing or messaging timing matter. Messages only robustly improve repayment when they include the loan officer’s name. This effect holds for clients serviced by the loan officer previously but not for first-time borrowers. Taken together, the results highlight the potential and limits of communications technology for mitigating moral hazard, and suggest that personal obligation/reciprocity between borrowers and bank employees can be harnessed to help overcome market failures.

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Working Paper
Date:
August 01, 2016
English

An audit study was conducted in Ghana, Mexico and Peru to understand the quality of financial information and products offered to low-income customers. Trained auditors visited multiple financial institutions, seeking credit and savings products. Consistent with Gabaix and Laibson (2006), staff only provides information about the cost when asked, disclosing less than a third of the total cost voluntarily. In fact, the cost disclosed voluntarily is uncorrelated with the expensiveness of the product. In addition, clients are rarely offered the cheapest product, most likely because staff is incentivized to offer more expensive and thus more profitable products to the institution. This suggests that clients are not provided enough information to be able to compare among products, and that disclosure and transparency policies may be ineffective because they undermine the commercial interest of financial institutions.

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Type:
Working Paper
Date:
July 19, 2016

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