Scientific Curiosity Fuels New Consumer Research Firm

by Chicago Agent

A new research institute is conducting studies on how distressed consumers make their choices.

Why do consumers make the choices they do? Why buy one jacket, but pass on another? Why invest in one bond, but not the latest Silicon Valley IPO? In the end, what governs reckless financial behavior, even at the expense of rationality and profitability?

Lehman Brothers may have collapsed more than three years ago, but time has done little to quell the analysis and literature that continues to answer those questions and the many others that sprang forth from that fateful Sept. 15 day.

The latest venture is a project funded by the financial firm Encore Capital Group called the Consumer Credit Research Institute, a research organization specifically launched to study the decision making and choices of distressed consumers.

Christopher Trepel, the managing director of the CCRI and Encore’s chief scientific officer, said in a press release that the goal of the CCRI is applying science to familiar questions of consumer behavior.

“The CCRI will take a scientific approach to understanding the ways in which consumers get into financial trouble, and may point to consistently better ways to break the chronic debt cycles that can lead to ongoing financial distress,” Trepel said. “We hope to advance thinking in the areas of public policy, financial education, and business operations.”

Using modern behavioral science methods, the CCRI will parter with universities, non-profit institutions, and policy agencies in its study of consumer financial behavior.

Those studies will be divided into three main areas: psychology and behavioral economics; microeconomics; and neurophysiology and neuroeconomics. On the CCRI website, the institute divides each category based on the prime questions it hopes to answer.

For instance, in regards to psychology and behavioral economics – a section no doubt inspired by the work of behavioral economics pioneers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – CCRI’s questions include: Should I spend my money on a fancy pair of shoes, or save it for a rainy day? Do I prefer to take risks, or play it safe? How and why do consumers make choices, and in what ways do they express those choices?

For microeconomics, questions include: In what order do consumers pay their mortgage, cable, and credit card bills? Which offers and discounts are most appealing to consumers? What is the relationship between collection activity, credit availability, and consumer welfare?

And lastly, for neurophysiology and neuroeconomics, sample questions are: What is the relationship between affect and cognition in financial decision-making? Are certain people more likely to be financially successful? Which parts of the brain are responsible for thinking about money, consumption, and value?

Such questions have inspired plenty of financial reporting since the crash (The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy has been particularly focused on the topic), but an institute devoted solely to providing answers is a novel addition, and we’ll look forward to the conclusions that CCRI develops.

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