Just Launched: Financial coaching app infused with behavioral science principles

Financial counseling is one intervention that has consistently shown positive results in changing behavior across financial, medical, and health fields. The only problem? Because of the high touch model, it’s tough to scale and accessible only to people who have funds to pay.

Our team at Common Cents worked with employee financial wellness company Retiremap to build an 8 week financial health platform that keeps the human advisor but uses technology to automate the coaching. By doing this, we aim to provide the benefits of financial counseling at a larger scale.  After building and testing live prototypes, we are rolling out the program with a number of employers and advisors, including the award-winning retirement plan advisory firm Channel Financial. Over the next year we’ll kick off a controlled trial to measure its impact.

In order to build this product, Retiremap and Common Cents had to understand and then operationalize the key drivers of financial counseling programs. Accountability, Confidence and One-Time Decisions are the three main product principles that we narrowed on to drive the development.

 


Accountability

To overcome the “intention-action” gap, we often need an external push. Accountability through deadlines or check-ins are just two examples of external motivators.

We’ve seen the power of deadlines time and again in our own experiments: one doubled the response rate to an email by including a reply deadline, and another increased the number of applications for a low interest rate loan by 24% simply by including a deadline.

For example, Minneapolis North High School effectively applies the accountability principle. Students are required to meet with a designated adviser: a classroom teacher who essentially doubles as an academic coach. This 36-minute period of accountability is cited by teachers and administrators to be a main driver in improved graduation rate. Minneapolis Public Schools increased their graduation rate by 39 percentage points over the last two years.

How do we apply this in Retiremap?  
There are two phone sessions with your advisor at the start and at the end of the program. But we needed to keep people motivated during the 8 weeks to complete the financial challenges and make some real changes to their savings, debt, and spending habits. To set ourselves up for success, the platform incorporates deadlines, active commitments, forced choice, calendar appointments, and implementation intentions to help increase the odds that people won’t lose motivation.

Below are some sample screen captures highlighting the accountability concept. 


Confidence

In a clever study,  researchers Hadar, Sood, and Fox examined the role confidence plays in our financial decision-making for retirement savings. The study’s researchers broke participants into two groups and provided each with different materials. One group was given basic descriptions of low- and high-risk investment funds, while the second – a more advanced description with complex terminology.

The participants were then asked how likely they would be to invest in each fund. Those given more technical and advanced descriptions were less likely to invest, regardless of whether the fund was low or high risk.

Participants’ confidence in their understanding of the funds played more of a role in their investment decisions than the actual risk profile of the funds.

How do we apply this in Retiremap?  
In the RetireMap Platform, there are many times that we remind users that they are more than capable and ready to take control of their financial future.

Below are some sample screen captures highlighting the confidence concept. 


One Time Behaviors vs Habits

Habits are hard to break. Habits are hard to form. When at all possible the Retiremap platform emphasizes “one-time” behaviors that people can do to improve their financial life.

For example, we help people design their bank account structure to match their long term goals. In a three-year randomized experiment, researchers found that parents provided with college savings accounts showed higher social and cognitive performance. The hypothesis is that parents given college savings accounts changed how they thought about their child’s future.

This intervention was not about educating parents about their child or about their finances. Instead, this intervention was designed to help parents create a “college-bound” savings account by default. In this way, researchers made it easy for parents to opt into a child savings account.

By providing a separate account, the researchers helped create a college-bound identity for the children in their parents’ minds.

How do we apply this in Retiremap?  
RetireMap uses this same strategy to help employees save on everything from short-term savings to 529 plans to retirement accounts. This One- Time Behavior of setting up an account and the automatic transfer takes much less mental energy than monthly budgeting to figure out how much you can spend and how much you have saved up.

 


It’s just the beginning.

Common Cents partnered with Retiremap to develop a scalable and effective robo-advisor as a way to increase savings and financial wellness for those who need it most. We think the result is a platform that removes the complexity from financial decision making and delivers positive, personalized coaching one step at a time. As the journey continues we will report on its impact in the field.

To learn more about the Retiremap System, visit http://retiremaphq.com/

 

 

 

  1.  Lerman et al., 1995; Marcus et al., 1998; Proper et al., 2003; Rimer and Kreuter, 2006
  2. The ABCs of Financial Education: Experimental Evidence on Attitudes, Behavior, and Cognitive Biases Fenella Carpena, Shawn Cole, Jeremy Shapiro, and Bilal Zia