Case Study

Balancing the Trade-Off Between Automated Finances and Need for Control

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 40% of American workers make a living as freelance workers, part- time workers, or self- employed independent contractors. These workers face many difficulties that the average W-2 worker does not.

A number of things change when you start filing taxes as a 1099-worker, including that you have to file taxes quarterly and personally save a portion of your income for taxes.

To help solve this problem, we partnered with Payable to help more 1099-workers enroll in tax savings “wallets.” Payable helps tens of thousands of contractors get paid faster and more efficiently by making invoicing, work-tracking, and onboarding simple.

Behavioral Diagnosis and Key Insights

We recruited 330 Amazon Mechanical Turk workers who file as 1099-workers to take a survey about a hypothetical automatic tax savings product. In the survey, we asked people to rank in order a variety of concerns about such a product. We then had them rate their level of concern about each option.

Our survey suggested that 1099 workers are concerned about three major features of an automatic tax savings wallet: lack of immediate access to their money, concern about not having enough money left in their account after a transfer is made, and trust in the institution to get everything right.

The survey indicated that there was a mismatch between what behavioral science would suggest is the most effective method to get users to save, and what users actually want in a savings wallet.

A one-time setup of an automatic tax savings mechanism (replicating something similar to what W-2 workers currently have) would be preferable due to its ease of use.

automatic tax savings product

However, our survey indicated that what users wanted was a high level of control over when money was transferred and uninterrupted access to their money.

Therefore, we hypothesized that highlighting the features of a tax savings wallet that emphasize both “control and access” would lead to more sign-ups than highlighting features that make tax savings “automatic and easy.”


To test this idea, we ran a simple two-condition email experiment with Payable. Our experiment benefited from Payable’s incredibly high email open rates of around 84% (Perhaps unsurprisingly, independent contractors open emails that contain information about their paycheck). We sent our emails to 7,190 active Payable users.

All of the emails were identical except for one line which highlighted the features of the tax savings wallet. In half of the emails, we highlighted automation and ease of use by describing the wallet as able to “automatically save the right amount.” The other half of the emails described the tax savings wallet in term of accessibility and control. It told users they could “approve transfers, and withdraw anytime.”

email experiment with Payable


The results from our field experiment suggest that people may express concern about issues of control and access, but when it comes to actually signing up, they prefer ease and automaticity.

The emails that focused on ease and automation significantly outperformed the access and control emails. Of the people who opened the email, 15.7% of Payable users in the automation email indicated they were interested in signing up either right now or in two months.

Of the users who saw the access and control condition, 12.7% indicated that they were interested now or in the following two months. This effect was largely driven by those who click “start now” – with 12.6% of users who opened the automation email indicating they wanted to “start now” vs. 10.6% in the access and control emails, a 19.8% increase.

This result suggests that 1099 contractors may not be very different from W-2 workers. Everyone appreciates making tax preparation easier and more automatic.

Automated Finances results of experiment | Budget management


Shortly after our experiment was rolled out, Payable was acquired. The rollout of Payable’s tax savings wallet is now under consideration by the acquirer.