Exploring Consumer Financial Vulnerability as a Critical Turning Point in Consumer Well-Being

Statement of the Problem

Most Americans (52%) rate their financial situation as either “poor” or “fair” (Gallup 2014). An estimated 71% of U.S. households do not have sufficient savings for an unplanned emergency (Pew Research 2016), and saving is made even more difficult with the rise of income volatility (Aspen Institute 2016). Consumers are living on the edge, hoping to survive another day or month financially (CFSI U.S. Financial Diaries; CFED 2016 Assets and Opportunities Scorecard). Thus, much attention is given to financial well-being (CFPB 2015), financial health (CFSI 2015), and financial security (Aspen Institute) of U.S. households. However, less attention is being paid to the state of financial vulnerability or actions which might help households avoid it. Financial vulnerability is the point in financial health or well-being at which the consumer shifts from a hopeful financial outlook to a more hopeless one.

A more holistic approach is needed to understand how financial knowledge, skills, and behavior lead a U.S. household to a point of financial vulnerability as well as how personal traits (e.g., self-control) and social context (e.g., upbringing, social network) influence these drivers. With this approach, we can examine how current and potential programs (e.g., financial education, reminders, etc.) might address key levers to help households avoid a vulnerable financial situation. We propose exploring financial vulnerability at the intersection of the person and situation, as an ultimate outcome of a consumer’s mindset (socialized in their upbringing and current context) interacting with task demands (e.g., budgeting, saving, spending) (Oyserman 2015).

Marketing and Policy Implications

Consumer financial vulnerability is an outcome of individual, historical, social, political, and economic factors. To date, products and policies targeting each of these factors have had limited success since they fail to account for other factors that contribute to these vulnerabilities. Finding holistic solutions would entail innovative financial products, adaptive policies, and creative community programs with systematic evaluations of their effectiveness.

Goal of the Session:

The goal of this session is to offer an intersectional approach to study financial vulnerability. It is our intent to bring researchers together with a diverse set of skills and expertise to further explore the sources of financial vulnerability in light of ensuring economic equality for every individual. The main objective is to identify and address research questions that are likely to have practical and meaningful policy implications that also provide insight into ways marketing managers can help bridge these gaps.

Our intent is to facilitate structured discussions that will afford important and impactful extensions to extant literature regarding financial vulnerability. Research questions to explore during our interactive dialogue include:

  • How does financial vulnerability relate to concepts of financial well-being, financial health, financial security, and financial distress?
  • What is the relationship between financial vulnerability and consumer financial well-being?
  • Are there critical stages leading up to a household becoming financially vulnerable? How might we identify and address these stages?
  • Are there certain characteristics or experiences that make a household more or less susceptible to becoming financially vulnerable?
  • How do/can households recover from a period of financial vulnerability? What does one’s experience of financial vulnerability mean for the probability of future experiences?
  • What are the implications of financial vulnerability in relation to consumer well-being- especially among populations such as females, minorities, and the young?
  • How is financial vulnerability related to increased susceptibility (e.g., deceptive marketing practices)?
  • What is the effect of financial education, product, program and other initiatives on improving financial capability as a means of avoiding financial vulnerability?

Tentative Conference Structure


Selected participants will represent a variety of backgrounds to bring a comprehensive understanding to the topic. Each group member is expected to play an active participatory role prior to, during, and at the conclusion of the conference. Drawing from literature reviewed prior to the conference, preliminary discussions, and the interactive group discussion during the conference, group members will be inspired to collaborate and think creatively to identify research projects with the ultimate goal of a peer reviewed publication.

  1. Approximately seven to ten academic researchers with a demonstrated interest or prior work in financial literacy and/or consumer vulnerability will be selected to participate. Participants will be selected to provide diversity in methodologies, paradigms as well as different levels of experience.
  1. Track chairs will establish a Facebook group page to facilitate the sharing of ideas and articles prior to the start of the conference.
  1. The track chairs ask the session participants to read the following articles prior to the conference.
    • Anderloni, Luisa, Emanuele Bacchiocchi, and Daniela Vandone. “Household financial vulnerability: An empirical analysis.” Research in Economics3 (2012): 284-296.
    • Giesler, Markus, and Ela Veresiu. “Creating the responsible consumer: Moralistic governance regimes and consumer subjectivity.”Journal of Consumer Research 41, no. 3 (2014): 840-857.
    • Lusardi, Annamaria, and Peter Tufano.Debt literacy, financial experiences, and overindebtedness. No. w14808. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009.
    • Nenkov, Gergana Y., J. Jeffrey Inman, and John Hulland. “Considering the future: The conceptualization and measurement of elaboration on potential outcomes.”Journal of Consumer Research 35, no. 1 (2008): 126-141.
    • Fernandes, Daniel, John G. Lynch Hr., and Richard G. Netemeyer. “Financial Literacy, Financial Education, and Downstream Financial Behaviors” Management Science, 60(8) (2014), 1861-1883.
    • Lin, Yijia, and Martin F. Grace. “Household life cycle protection: Life insurance holdings, financial vulnerability, and portfolio implications.” Journal of Risk and Insurance1 (2007): 141-173.
    • Kahn, Joan R., and Leonard I. Pearlin. “Financial strain over the life course and health among older adults.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior1 (2006): 17-31.
    • Thorne, Deborah, Elizabeth Warren, and Teresa A. Sullivan. “Increasing Vulnerability of Older Americans: Evidence from the Bankruptcy Court, The.” Harvard Law & Policy Review 3 (2009): 87.
    • 2016. “The Steep Climb to Economic Opportunity for Vulnerable Families.” http://assetsandopportunity.org/assets/pdf/2016_Scorecard_Report.pdf
    • Aspen Institute. 2016. “Income Volatility – A Primer.” https://dorutodpt4twd.cloudfront.net/content/uploads/files/content/docs/pubs/EPIC%2BVolatility%2BPrimer%2B(May).pdf
    • 2015. “Financial Well-Being: The Goal of Financial Education.” http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201501_cfpb_report_financial-well-being.pdf
    • 2015. “Understanding and Improving Consumer Financial Health in America.” http://www.cfsinnovation.com/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=bea17b32-b3c8-4fbc-8d24-e55b8900dba6
  1. The track chairs also require each of the session participants to recommend 1 or 2 articles for additional reading. These readings can be academic or practitioner based.
  1. Several video conference calls will be scheduled in the weeks leading up to the conference to further narrow our topical focus prior to the conference.


Day 1

Morning Session

9:00-10:00 Academic participants gather for our first meeting to introduce themselves, interests, as well as to summarize our pre-conference discussions. The overall purpose of this session is to ensure participants are beginning from the same point of reference while bringing in a variety of individual perspectives to sustained discussion.

10:00-12:00 Nonacademic stakeholders will be invited to discuss the topic of financial vulnerability.

Working Lunch: Academic participants will summarize/synthesize/discuss what was learned during the morning session and ultimately identify the focus of our research project.

Afternoon Session

2:00 – 5:00:  The goal for this three-hour session is to finalize our research priorities; specifically we will clearly identify the research problem, draw from extant literature to develop our research questions, identify methods to explore the problem (e.g., explore possible data sources such as secondary data, online experiments, or survey research), and discuss potential interventions and applications the potential results will have for consumers.

Day 2

Morning session

9:00 – 12:00: Discussions from the afternoon session on Day 1 will continue. We will also incorporate feedback from the Day 1 presentations to help refine our research goals. The ultimate goal of this session is to sketch an outline of a tentative paper and specify roles and responsibilities for each participant based on individuals’ skills and research interests

Post Conference

A post-conference write-up will include

  1. A brief review of the existing literature on financial vulnerability,
  2. Challenges and issues related to consumer financial vulnerability not fully addressed in the  literature,
  3. Key research questions identified during the forum,
  4. A full description of potential studies identified during the dialogical session to tackle the research questions,
  5. A description of key responsibilities for each group member based on their interests and  skills, and
  6. A timeline for manuscript preparation for a special journal issue.

Before departing the conference, a weekly day and time slot will be determined to continue discussions related to completion of the project. The intention of this track is to submit a paper to the special issue at the Journal of Business Research.

Please contact the corresponding track chairs for questions about this track:

Genevieve O’Connor

Assistant Professor at Fordham University

Casey Newmeyer

Assistant Professor of Marketing, Western Reserve University

Nancy Wong,

Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison.