Testing the Effectiveness of Consumer Financial Disclosure: Experimental Evidence from Savings Accounts

Paul D. Adams, Stefan Hunt, Christopher Palmer, Redis Zaliauskas

NBER Working Paper No. 25718
Issued in March 2019
NBER Program(s):Program on the Economics of Aging, Corporate Finance Program, Industrial Organization Program, Law and Economics Program, Monetary Economics Program, Public Economics Program

Disclosure—the practice of providing information to support decision making—has been widely mandated in public policy but is routinely ignored by consumers and subject to obfuscation by firms. Yet most evidence on the effectiveness of consumer financial disclosure stems from lab experiments where subjects do not have competing demands on their attention or from analysis of borrowing decisions where optimality is hard to characterize. In this paper, we provide field evidence from randomized-controlled trials with 124,000 savings account holders at five UK depositories. Treated consumers received varying degrees of salient information about alternative products, including one with their current provider that strictly dominated their current savings product. Motivated by work on search frictions, switching costs, and inattention, our experimental variation is designed to allow us to examine the importance of each in inhibiting effective disclosure. Despite the switching process taking 15 minutes on average and the moderate size of average potential gains (£123 in the first year), attention to disclosure is low, significantly limiting its potential effectiveness, motivating explicit disclosure-design rules, and demonstrating the nature of deposit stickiness.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25718

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