Voya Colloquium explores Consumer Financial Decision Making

2023 Voya Guest Speakers
John Lynch, Rafael Becerril Arreola, Rebecca Hamilton, and Robert Lawless

The Marketing Department at the UConn School of Business hosted its 11th annual Voya Financial Colloquium on the topic of “Consumer Financial Decision Making.” The event, held on Oct 13th, 2023, brought together researchers from across the country to discuss how consumers respond to a changing financial landscape, the challenges they face in navigating financial systems and how their interactions within a broader social context influence their financial decisions.

“The study of consumer financial decision making explores how consumers accumulate and use financial resources over time and is a fast-growing area of research within the field of marketing,” said UConn Marketing professor Christina Kan in opening remarks.

Professor Kan, who organized the event, went on to discuss how financial decision making is also of interest to many other disciplines, noting “Our goal for this colloquium was to look at the topic of consumer financial decision making from a variety of different perspectives, and we’re delighted to have a panel of speakers from diverse backgrounds.”

The colloquium featured four distinguished speakers – Professors John Lynch, Rafael Becerril Arreola, Rebecca Hamilton, and Robert Lawless – each of whom approached the topic from different perspectives – including marketing and law – as well as different methodologies – including experimental, econometric, and ethnographic approaches.

The colloquium fostered an energetic discourse between speakers and participants, including marketing and law faculty and doctoral students from UConn, UMass and URI.

Below are profiles of the guest speakers and an abstract of their presentations:

John Lynch, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, delved into the complex relationship between financial knowledge, financial behavior, and financial well-being. Lynch highlighted two prevalent approaches to improving consumer financial well-being: financial education and behavioral interventions, often referred to as “nudging.” He introduced the concept of “just in time” financial education, positioning it between these two approaches.

Lynch used these concepts as a springboard for discussion on his recent research into a pressing issue – employees cashing out their 401(k) retirement savings when changing jobs. In a comprehensive study covering 162,360 terminating employees, Lynch and his coauthors found that over 40% of individuals leaked their 401(k) savings, cashing out at job separation, with employer contribution proportions influencing the likelihood of leakage. The findings underscored the unintended consequences of well-intentioned employer matches, revealing the delicate balance between supporting employees and inadvertently encouraging financial decisions that undermine long-term well-being.

Rafael Becerril Arreola, Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina, focused on the impact of product price rankings on consumer choice. His research addressed Veblen effects and counter-effects, investigating how product prices signal consumer wealth. Using a quasi-experimental approach, Becerril Arreola’s approach addresses potential identification threats. His analysis capitalized on a rich dataset on automobile rentals to demonstrate that consumer sensitivity to local rankings of selling-prices is highly heterogeneous, often negative, and comparable in magnitude to consumer sensitivity to rental fees. The study highlights the role that prices play in wealth signaling effects and suggests that conspicuous consumption may be more significant than previously estimated.

Rebecca Hamilton, the Michael G. and Robin Psaros Chair in Business Administration at Georgetown University, explored the challenges families face in responding to resource scarcity. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 30 diverse families, Hamilton developed a framework illustrating how multi-dimensional, concurrent and/or consecutive life events (such as job changes, house moves or child birth) create mismatches between available and required resources, triggering situational resource scarcity. The study identified various patterns of adjustments in consumption and resource investment over time, and how they are influenced by families’ chronic resource constraints and availability of support networks. Hamilton notes that that the flexibility afforded by multiple family members is constrained by collective goals, domains of control, tensions, and negotiations within families.

Robert Lawless, the Max L. Rowe Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, provided a thought-provoking presentation on the bankruptcy system and the experiences of individuals navigating financial distress. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, a long-running study of persons who file bankruptcy, Lawless highlighted the prevalence of personal bankruptcy in the U.S., noting that roughly one in ten Americans have filed bankruptcy at some point during their lives. His presentation focused on two themes. The first centered around the legal and economic consequences of filing bankruptcy and how legal services are marketed just like everything else. The second theme illustrated life in the “sweatbox,” shedding light on the financial precarity and distress that individuals endure in the years leading up to bankruptcy filing.