At Common Cents Lab, a financial research lab at Duke University supported by MetLife Foundation, we believe behavioral science can help improve financial well-being. For the past two years, we’ve been applying our insights and an experimental mindset to work with fintech companies, credit unions and nonprofits in order to test this assumption.

Twenty-six experiments in, we thought it was time to assess our progress and share what we’ve learned with the industry. Below are four strategies we have used in the field and examples of our work to tactically show how they manifest in market. Our hope is that these four strategies can help other companies leverage human nature to make it easier for low- to moderate-income households improve financial decision-making and their own well-being.

Remove the environmental barriers surrounding financial decision-making

Typical poverty alleviation strategies aim to boost a person’s decision-making bandwidth so that they are always in a better position to surmount financial hurdles as they arise. However, even when operating at top available bandwidth, managing variable income and expenses is tough, and the pressure falls upon the person to do complex mathematical balancing acts. Instead, successful providers will make this equation dramatically simpler.

By shifting this decision-making burden from the consumer to the company, it becomes a win-win for everyone involved. The company gets to enhance their value proposition by offering helpful products and features, and the consumer’s life becomes dramatically easier when financial decisions are taken off their shoulders.  

 Our work from the field:

  • Self-Help Credit Union’s new retirement savings product automatically deducts money from new members’ paychecks. It’s what’s called a “transparent default,” or a default that opts people in automatically but immediately gives them the option to close it.
  • Homebase, a scheduling app for small businesses, is introducing features that help employers provide more advanced schedule notice and create more consistent, reliable schedules. This shifts the burden off the employee and onto the employer, providing greater visibility to the employee and helping them maximize attendance and earnings.
  • The Latino Community Credit Union built a savings product attached to a loan product. This means their members only submit payment once but are simultaneously paying down debt and building a safety net. By coupling these actions, they can decrease complexity and increase financial well being.

In all three cases, these companies are removing the environmental inhibitors and making it easy for people to improve their financial prospects.

Read more about the other 3 behavior strategies at