GAC Day 2: E*TRADE Baby Spoofs and "Active Choice"

Creative ideas to improve member participation — and their financial well-being — from the Filene Chair's Breakfast.


Although much of the Middle East is rising up to free itself from dictator rule, this morning’s presentation by Punam Anand Keller at the Filene Chair’s Breakfast at the GAC discussed the benefits of limiting choice.

Keller, a professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, had the unlucky assignment of following a hilarious Filene spoof on the E*TRADE baby commercials (recommendation to Filene: put the video on your “About Us” page!). She succeeded in rocking the house, however, with her discussion of “Active Choice” to help consumers make better financial decisions.

Here's a simple example: Rather than asking a single question, “Do you want to enroll in estatements?” make your members chose between two options:

  • Yes, I want to enroll in estatements.
  • No, I want to continue receiving paper statements.

Then, take it one step further. Keller emphasized how humans, by nature, will very often skip over a form's explanatory information and jump straight to the decision. Therefore, if you want members to really understand the benefits of a good decision, or the costs of a bad decision, you must embed the information in the choices themselves.

Here’s a more elaborate example:

  • Yes, I want to receive my monthly statements on the first day of the month via email while also doing my small part to save the environment.
  • No, I do not want to receive free eStatements and will instead pay a $5 monthly to continue to receive my paper statement via snail mail.

Here are two other examples, perhaps a bit over the top, based on ideas from this morning’s audience.

To increase participation in Board elections:

  • Yes, I will attend the annual volunteer election night and participate in determining the future direction of my credit union.
  • No, I do not want to vote in the Board election and forgo exercise my rights in accordance with belonging to a financial cooperative.

To increase product and service adoption during new member enrollment:

  • I would like to open a new checking account and find out how you can help me save money on my other financial relationships.
  • I would like to open just a new checking account and skip a two-question survey that will determine if the credit union’s other products or services can also save me money. (The two-question survey might include questions such as “Do you have loans elsewhere?” and “What rates are you currently paying?”)

I’d love to hear your ideas on other ways that credit unions could use this method to improve member participation. Post comments below or email me directly.


March 1, 2011


  • Alix,

    Thank you for the great write up about this event. Keller's research on the impact of changing the ways choices are presented is work that I hope credit unions do not take lightly. We have seen time and time again (pick up a copy of Thaler and Sunstein's "Nudge" for examples) that you can promote amazing improvements in human behavior by rethinking how we position the choices. the proud daddy of the E*Trade baby in question, it's my obligatory opinion that the video should be on every website in America! :)
    Matt Davis