Make Information Actionable!

Consumers need actionable information regarding investments and housing.

July 23, 2012

My car battery needed a jump start during a business trip this week. And the frustration continues.

Although I’m now motoring along, it’s without benefit of a stereo. The jump start apparently challenged an anti-theft device which needs to be reset. The display angrily shouts “CODE” in continual alert.

I need several pieces of data to accomplish my end goal of tune-reinstatement: vehicle identification number, my zip code, and the stereo’s unique serial number.

I can readily access all of this data except for the serial number, which is either on a card given to me at time of purchase (lost), on file with the dealership (waiting for a call back), or indicated on the rear of the stereo itself which would require a pricey rip out of the device.

Until I locate this bit of data, I cannot accomplish my mission. I don’t know if it will come with a cost.

I drive along in sad silence. I am trapped, immobilized, and singing to myself without actionable information.

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is research librarian at CUNA

What situations leave you hamstrung? Have you considered that a piece of data might open deaf ears? What crucial pieces of knowledge might enable activity?

Investment sentiment

Consumers need actionable information with regard to investments. See “Public Perplexed About Annuities” by Boston College. “Sales of annuities are slow, because more retirees simply don’t know how to assess their value,” and, “Most people avoid annuities—they stick with the status quo because they don’t understand how they work.”

Ironically, “Many of the nation’s top retirement experts agree that annuities are the best solution for retirees struggling with the best way to invest and spend a lifetime of savings.”

Another look at investments is provided with Nielsen’s “Decoding Global Investment Attitudes.”  It reveals various strategies and realities for consumer behavior in the investment decision making process:

·         Investors most often rely on themselves when making decisions, not other information sources;

·         Women are more apt than men to depend on friends and family for personal finance advice; and

·         Men are 36% more active than women with investments.

Are these good ways for consumers to make important choices? Do you have crucial data at your disposal? Can you inspire reticent investors to take action?

See what another entity has explored with regard to personal financial service provision in “Free Financial Advice Goes Online”  as reported by Boston College. “This summer and fall, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is throwing out a lifeline. NAPFA selects members from its national roster of fee-only advisers to give free financial advice online.”

Can you throw out an actionable lifeline for your members?

Pensions are part of the decision making process for potential employees, as indicated by the Urban Institute in “Young and Mobile? State Pensions May Not Be an Appealing Match.” 

Reports here show that with pervasive change in traditional pension plans, “State pensions provide little incentive for young workers to join the state’s workforce, lock in middle-aged workers even if they are unproductive or unhappy, and push many older, seasoned workers into premature retirement.”

The bottom line? “Only those who stay for several decades but don’t work much beyond retirement age will come out ahead, and even they will largely have financed their own retirement benefits.”

One last interesting tidbit on the investment decision making process illustrates that many variables come into play when making these choices. It seems that dopamine, the brain’s “feel good chemical,” can actually have an alternative effect with regard to the role it plays in risk taking. This includes taking financial risk, according to Boston College

“What the new research found is that dopamine receptors in another region of the brain cause the opposite reaction. In the insula…dopamine receptors may act as the brain’s “cost avoider.” This plays out as people hold back from certain activities, including financial activities that they deem as too risky.”

Housing happenings

International Sales Continue to Climb in U.S. Market, Realtors Report.”  Noted: “Total residential international sales in the U.S. for the past year ending March 2012 equaled $82.5 billion, up from $66.4 billion in 2011.”

Growing sales are attributed to low price points and a weak dollar. This report is laden with statistics and provides an illuminating examination of what prompts international buyers to call America home.

Meanwhile, does housing affect family formation? In “Do Women Delay Family Formation in Expensive Housing Markets?”  We learn that “The effect of being in an expensive housing market is a delay of first births by three to four years… However, models suggest that while the housing market may play a role it is also clear that there is a complex structure to the decision.”

Lastly on housing, see Harvard’s “Critical Housing Finance Challenges for Policymakers: Defining a Research Agenda.” The report examines policy issues in depth on the topic of mortgage lending to underserved groups.

The focus “is to identify the research needed to understand key issues affecting the demand and supply of mortgage credit in the single-family markets going forward, with a particular emphasis on issues affecting the cost and availability of credit for lower-income and minority borrowers and communities.”

The paper provides an interesting analysis for consideration in serving this market.

In order to detect the information bits that can be actionable and solve our problems, we must first perform initial research to identify what exactly we need to know.

In my case, I started with confusion as the stereo display flashed “CODE.” What did this mean? Why did it happen?

I consulted the owner’s manual, an online auto chat room, a local repair shop, and a dealer to gather background information to identify the specific piece of the puzzle I need to solve my problem, and possible methodologies to do so.

I have yet to ascertain the stereo serial number, but with it I will have actionable information to solve my dilemma.

I look forward to hearing the music.

LORA BRAY is a research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.