A TFI research project by Robert Dur, Dimitry Fleming, Marten van Garderen, and Max van Lent


Think Forward Initiative researchers, Robert Dur (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Dimitry Fleming (ING Netherlands), Marten van Garderen (ING Netherlands), and Max van Lent (Leiden University) conducted a field experiment to investigate the long- and short-term effects of a social norm nudge. They wanted to find out whether people with a low savings buffer would start saving more if they knew they saved less than others in their neighbourhood.

A disturbingly large fraction of the population is vulnerable and not well equipped to face financial shocks, due to their lack of adequate savings. For example, in the Netherlands, 1 out of 3 households has a buffer that is too low according to the Dutch Institute for Budgetary Research and Education. There have been several financial literacy programmes created to try and combat this societal issue. However, stimulating households to increase their savings has proved to be extremely difficult with many financial literacy programmes failing to have a significant effect.

Within this experiment, the researchers worked with a Dutch Bank (ING Netherlands) to compare the savings buffers of over 15,000 clients. The social norm nudge was targeted to households whose savings buffer was less than that of the median household in their neighbourhood. Through email communications, sent by ING Netherlands, the clients received an email stating “You have a lower buffer with us than most other ING clients in your neighbourhood.” The intent of the email was to encourage clients to change their savings behaviour and save more.

The results of the study found that those that received the email with the social norm nudge were more likely to click on (or click more often) on a link to their personal page where they could start or adjust an automatic savings plan.

However, while the nudge drove a strong intent to save, the study also found this social norm nudge to have neither a short-term or long-term effect on actual savings. Likewise, the researchers didn’t find any significant difference between the clients that received the nudge and those that didn’t on their frequency of automatic savings transactions.

The results of this study are striking, as there has been a large body of existing evidence that found social norm nudging to change people’s behaviour. The researchers conclude that while the social norm nudge experiment showed to strengthen people’s intentions to save, these intentions are not always followed up by substantive change in behaviour.

To read the full study click here.


Think Forward Initiative
The Think Forward Initiative (TFI) is based on the belief that our society is better off when people make sound financial decisions. That is why they have a mission to empower 100 million people to make better financial choices. The TFI Research Hub is focused on delivering cutting-edge, data-driven research in social and behavioural sciences to learn more about people’s financial decision-making.
Think Forward Initiative