Monday, March 31, 2014

Changing Low-Earner Behavior With Low-Information Incentives

A bunch of finance apps innovators shared their tips for changing behavior at last week's Meetup.  I attended because I'm always on the hunt for new control mechanisms that the ruling class can implement.  The open-source fin-tech community is always a big help.

One entrepreneur mentioned Startuponomics, a behavioral economics event that informs some of the business models percolating through fin-tech.  Irrational Labs puts on that show.  I don't pay to attend pricey events so they'd better invite me to speak.  Startups learn things like the importance of word choices in prompting debtors to honor their promises to pay, and this apparently drives improved debt repayment rates.

"Persuasive design" is a subset of persuasive technology that drives humans to make appropriate financial decisions.  It is the natural evolution of Edward Bernays' ad techniques into an all-encompassing environment for driving human behavior.  Action-oriented verbiage, emotionally warm color tones, and gamification that rewards prompt repayment with expanded borrowing limits are all persuasive tools.

I actually think it would be beneficial to use video and animation that talks down to low-information consumers.  Low-IQ people respond well to emotional appeals and celebrity endorsements in focus groups.  The imagery should be as condescending as possible to be effective.  Animated walk-through visual tours of a financial service encourage adoption because the vast majority of humans want to be told what to do in life.  Behavioral finance works well on stupid people.  The poor really should respond well to cartoon animal mascots telling them how to save, invest, and borrow.

A couple of the startups mentioned their reliance on electronic bill payments, and how vendors caught them off guard by accepting only paper checks.  Anyone who only deals in paper checks is way behind the times.  I pay as many bills as possible electronically.  Shame on those sloths who are unwilling to deposit checks in a timely manner.  Their poor cash management practices will be a death knell in a hyperinflationary economy.

My descriptions above reflect more than just a Jonathan Swift-like modest proposal to drive financial technology.  I truly believe that the lowest social classes want and need benevolent guidance from elites.  Fin-tech startups really do want to empower the poor to make better financial choices.  Bringing them inside the capitalist system from the fringes makes everyone better off.  Society becomes more stable, the poor become responsible customers, and the rich remain in power.  The best revolutions are the ones that leave elites entrenched while everyone else is better off.  Behavioral finance will change lives.

Nota bene:  I redacted one paragraph from this article on April 1, 2014.  I decided upon reflection that it was over the top and just plain unnecessary.  I go pretty far out there sometimes, but when I go too far I know when to pull back.