Exploring New Ways How Financial Service Organizations Can Improve the Financial Well-Being of Vulnerable Consumers

Statement of the Problem and its Importance

Financial services influence every consumer’s life (Anderson et al. 2013), and they are inextricably linked to consumer well-being; on the one hand, they can help overcome major societal problems, such as poverty and financial hardship (e.g., savings and loans, financial counseling, financial education). Conversely, financial services also can “marginalize, judge, and stigmatize citizens and communities” (Anderson, Ostrom, and Bitner 2010) (e.g., loan defaults, payday loans, predatory lending). Typically, financial services have both positive and negative aspects – sometimes for different groups of people. In short, financial services can be a source for both consumer well-being and ill-being.

This track focuses on two realities related to financial services (Sherraden 2013):

  • Many consumers, in light of increasing financial instability and income inequality, lack the knowledge and the skills that are needed to make optimal decisions in an ever-more complex financial environment.
  • A growing percentage of society lacks access to financial services (products) that could provide a gateway toward improved financial well-being (e.g., objective financial stability, reduced financial stress).

Against this broader background, this track conducts research on how financial service organizations can better, more proactively, and more systematically address both aforementioned problems: (1) improve the financial knowledge of customers (e.g., through specific programs that are designed to improve consumer’s financial literacy), and (2) increase access to financial products especially for vulnerable, under-served consumers (e.g., by offering service solutions that are designed to provide vulnerable consumers with viable alternatives to predatory lending and to develop their overall credit worthiness).

Goals of the Session

This track’s team collaborates with a financial services institution. Our overarching goal is to examine the extent to which certain organizational services, products, and programs effectively influence consumers’ financial decision making and financial well-being. Key questions include the following: What are the psycho-social barriers that hinder (vulnerable) consumers from obtaining financial services? How and why do the organization’s services, products, and programs improve consumer decision making and well-being? Which circumstances might further leverage such a positive effect? Vice versa, are there circumstances under which the programs have no effect (or even harm well-being)? What are the mid-term and long-term impacts of such outcomes on consumers, their families, and their communities? In this context, what are the determinants of consumer well-being, including aspects such as access to financial services, consumer capabilities, respect and dignity, and potentially unintended consequences of financial well-being programs.

To achieve these research goals, the scholars in this track are working with some senior managers of the collaborating organization. Working up to the session, the research team plans to collect initial (primary) data. Furthermore, the team is in the process of obtaining some archival data from the organizational database (to be matched with the primary data). If possible, the team plans to conduct some preliminary analyses of available data before the TCR conference; in addition, the conference session itself provides an opportunity to analyze some data.

During the TCR session, the goal is also to further refine the current project, and to create the building blocks of a broader stream of research using the available datasets. Accordingly, prior to the conference, each co-author will focus on enriching different aspects of our conceptual framework, based on their expertise.

The planned outcome from the TCR session will be a detailed outline for our first manuscript from this project and its corresponding dataset.

Organization of Pre, During, and Post Conference Activities

Pre-Conference Organizing Plans

The team will be working (increasingly) closely with senior managers in the collaborating organization. Here are planned tasks:

  • Document review (August-November 2016): The team learns about the organization’s various ‘financial well-being efforts / programs’ in greater detail (e.g., reviewing corresponding background documents, customer materials, etc.).
  • Literature review (July 2016-January 2017): The team reviews existing literature on consumer and financial well-being research within marketing (e.g., transformative consumer research) and outside of marketing (e.g., finance, economics, public policy, social work).
  • Submission of IRB application (August-September 2016): Submission of initial materials (after initial approval, we prepare for a potential revision of IRB-related materials, as the specific research questions emerge; we will then submit modified materials to the IRB, to get approval of the revised materials).
  • Informal interviews (October-November 2016): Team members plan to conduct informal interviews with managers/executives of the partnering organization, as well as with frontline service employees, and with some customers/consumers. Specifically, we are planning to conduct informal interviews with some of the organization’s employees, who are engaged in the various programs (e.g., loan officers). We also aim to (informally) interview some of the consumers for whom the focal programs are designed and/or consumers who have participated in these programs in the past. Our goal is to gain insights from these interviews that are helpful to identify more specific research questions, and to design materials/ procedures (e.g., surveys).
  • Data collection (tentative schedule January–May 2017): The team plans to launch an initial wave of data collection in the Spring of 2017, followed by a second wave in the late summer of 2017 (i.e., after the TCR conference).

During the TCR Conference

  • The team plans to have survey/field experiment data from Wave 1 and we envision reviewing the corresponding results in combination with the secondary data provided by the collaborating organization.
  • In light of the results / insights generated from the primary and secondary data, we will also design Wave 2 of the data collection.
  • The outcome we hope to achieve at the TCR conference is to finalize a detailed outline for the first manuscript resulting from this project.

After the TCR Conference

  • The team plans to compose a submission-ready draft of a manuscript within 10 – 12 weeks.


Martin Mende

Florida State University

Maura L. Scott

Florida State University