Research Focus Statement for Verbal Protocol Analysis of Individuals Accessing Their Banking and Credit Accounts

This is an assignment I completed writing on 2017-10-03 for the class, EDF 7475: Qualitative Research in Education taught by David Boote, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida. During the remainder of the semester I will be further developing this proposal and think this is one I will actually conduct in some form.

EDF 7475 Research Focus Statement
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

My proposed study is primarily a verbal protocol analysis of how people interact with their bank and credit accounts from their mobile devices and/or home computers. The focus of my research will be on American adults who have web-accessible banking and/or credit accounts. The main purpose is to discover and explore how they interact with the web or mobile interfaces of their accounts when reviewing account activity, imagining future account activity, paying bills, and making transfers. This will be conducted via protocol analysis, a qualitative “think-aloud” methodology (Ericsson, 2006) that I will leverage to identify and document their thought processes as they engage or pretend to engage in these tasks. A second purpose is to elucidate the strategies individuals use for managing their day-to-day finances, including provoking them to reflect on recent spending. This will be situated within the literature on financial behaviors among low- and middle-income Americans.

I intend to use maximal variation sampling to focus, in particular, on at least one individual who is lackluster at managing his/her finances, one who is accomplished, and perhaps one who is average. Because participants will be sitting down with me to access their actual personal accounts, I anticipate the protocol analysis will have to be augmented with prompts to imagine conditions or scenarios that are not presently occurring for them (e.g., “imagine you just received your paycheck,” “imagine you are considering making a $500 purchase,” etc.). Further, they may be asked to verbally reflect on their recent financial behaviors, to reveal their financial strategies, or lack thereof.

Research Questions

My main research question is: What are individuals’ thought processes related to accessing, reviewing, anticipating, and initiating activity on their bank and credit accounts? Potentially, this will be augmented with the following sub-questions, although the data collected may not address all of them. All of these sub-questions are intended as advance organizers to guide my qualitative data collection and analysis with my purpose and main research question in mind.

1. How do they plan around periodic bills and income sources?
1a. Are their approaches different for fixed versus unpredictable amounts?
2. How do they avoid or cope with overdraft fees and other bank fees?
3. Do they approach debit and unsecured-credit spending differently?
3a. Do they use one payment method religiously, or a mix depending on the situation (e.g., cash, debit, credit, checks)?
4. How and why do they access account activity and periodic statements?
5. How do they account for nonperiodic debits that do not yet appear in posted or pending account activity (e.g., written checks not yet cashed, fuel purchases that place only a $1.00 hold and take several days to post)? This may differ for debit versus credit users.
6. For bills, do they prefer automatic or manually scheduled payments, and why?
7. What do they find frustrating about their financial institution(s) and banking interface(s)?
8. Do they treat some income differently than others (e.g., windfall bias)?
9. Do they segregate liquid monies into multiple deposit accounts and/or different types of deposit accounts (e.g., checking, savings, money market), and why?
9a. How do they handle moving money between accounts?
10. Are they satisfied with their spending decisions?


This study will contribute to research on financial literacy and behaviors, particularly with respect to consumer inattention (e.g., Grubb, 2015), payment methods and spending behavior (e.g., Soman, 2001), and checking overdraft fees (e.g., Stango & Zinman, 2009, 2014). There have been hundreds of attempts at financial education interventions, predicated on a wealth of survey data showing a lack of financial literacy in the United States, Europe, and beyond (Lusardi & Mitchell, 2014). Critically, educators and policymakers presume educational programs are efficacious, when in fact, they appear to yield negligible long-term effects. For a rigorous meta-analysis, see Frenandes, Lynch, and Netemeyer (2014), which found only 0.1% explanatory power across 201 studies.

The proposed verbal protocol analysis will qualitatively explore how individuals interact with and think about their bank and credit accounts. This approach is fundamentally different from typical questionnaire-based research, such as the Jump$tart Coalition’s Survey of Personal Financial Literacy Among Students or the FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s National Financial Capability Study. Consequently, it may be of both methodological and practice-oriented significant. Moreover, using maximal variation sampling will show how different types of people interact with bank accounts and other financial products—potentially, key differences between financial experts and novices may be revealed that could be leveraged to improve financial education and credit counseling practices.

Preliminary Source List

Campbell, J. Y. (2006). Household finance. The Journal of Finance, 61, 1553–1604.

Carlin, B. I., & Robinson, D. T. (2012). What does financial literacy training teach us? Journal of Economic Education, 43, 235–247.

Ericsson, K. A. (2006). Chapter 13: Protocol analysis and expert thought: Concurrent verbalizations of thinking during experts’ performance on representative tasks. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P. J. Feltovich, & R. R. Hoffman, (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 223–242).

Fernandes, D., Lynch, J. G., Jr., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2014). Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science, 60, 1861–1883.

Grubb, M. D. (2015). Consumer inattention and bill-shock regulation. Review of Economic Studies, 82, 219–257.

Hershey, D. A., Walsh, D. A., Read, S. J., & Chulef, A. S. (1990). The effects of expertise on financial problem solving: Evidence for goal-directed, problem-solving scripts. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 46, 77–101.

Hilgert, M. A., Hogarth, J. M., & Beverly, S. G. (2003). Household financial management: The connection between knowledge and behavior. Federal Reserve Bulletin, 89, 309–322.

Karger, H. (2015). Curbing the financial exploitation of the poor: Financial literacy and social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 51, 425–438.

Lee, J., Marlowe, J. (2003). How consumers choose a financial institution: Decision-making criteria and heuristics. International Journal of Bank Marketing, 22, 2, 53–71.

Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. S. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: Theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52, 5–44.

Morgan, D. P., Strain, M. R., & Seblani, I. (2012). How payday credit access affects overdrafts and other outcomes. Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, 44, 519–531.

Nye, P., & Hillyard, C. (2013). Personal financial behavior: The influence of quantitative literacy and material values. Numeracy, 6(1), 1–24.

Soman, D. (2001). Effects of payment mechanism on spending behavior: The role of rehearsal and immediacy of payments. Journal of Consumer Research, 27, 460–474.

Stango, V., & Zinman, J. (2009). What do consumers really pay on their checking and credit card accounts? Explicit, implicit, and avoidable costs. The American Economic Review, 99, 424–429.

Stango, V., & Zinman, J. (2014). Limited and varying consumer attention: Evidence from shocks to the salience of bank overdraft fees. The Review of Financial Studies, 27, 990–1030.

Note: On 10/04/2017 I changed “critical case” to “maximal variation” sampling.

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