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Interview with Beryl Chang



Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisations, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Beryl Y. Chang.


Beryl had served as an Economist/ Vice President and successfully managed the risk performance of large credit and investment portfolios during her tenure with the US Trust, NA (Bank of America), JPMorganChase, Co., and Citigroup, Inc. for over a decade. She had been a Credit Risk Consultant for international institutions and on the faculty of New York University. Her research interests include applied micro-macroeconomics, behavioural economics, international/financial economics, industrial organization, and risk management. She has taught courses in behavioral economics and finance at Columbia University, financial economics and corporate finance at New York University, international finance, micro/macroeconomics, and credit risk management at other universities in the New York City area. In addition to publications of books on issues of credit expansion, behavioral economics, and numerous journal articles, she has served as a referee and reviewer for multiple academic and professional journals, include topics on macroeconomic policies in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, and a contributing author of the Handbook of Research Methods in Behavioural Economics: An Interdisciplinary Approach.


 


Who or what got you into behavioural science? At the professional level and working at the banks as a young policy-maker and Economist in risk management, working closely with and balancing between bank’s business side and the modelling group in the development of Behavioral Scores for large credit portfolio in lending. Perhaps more profoundly and as an intensely curious child with the urge to know, I was deeply intrigued by subjects in psychology and philosophy and would fervently search for related books to learn how human minds and the world work, in both the East and the West. There were also family influences: a great aunt who studied psychology at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, as one of the very first wave of Chinese students to the US. However, with other family passions in Western Classical Music and my fascination of musical sounds in addition, I initially took a different path – with five rounds of rigorous auditions at the age of 14, I joined as the youngest violinist with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the best in the East at one time. Some years after, what had inspired me to pursue a doctorate in Economics was a lecture in Political Economics, which should to some extent be considered a part of behavioral economics. Coincidentally there is a neighboring university offered not only an evening PhD program that allowed a working schedule at the banks but also a program in IPED (Int’l Political Economic Development). Although there was no course in Behavioral Economics-Finance offered at the time, the term ‘behavior’ could be found on many pages in my thesis, which was turned into a book by a German publisher given its relevance to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC).



What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? One of my first behavioral economics-finance papers that I presented at a conference in Chicago having Prof. Vernon Smith (2002 Nobel in Economics) as the keynote speaker, just a few years after the 2008 GFC. Someone from the audience chatted with me and said he flew in for the conference mainly to know more about my paper. He was in tears as the portfolio he managed for his community had a huge loss. My paper was elected for the journal of the conference.

Now, as an economist leaning toward behavioral science (perhaps the other childhood passion is finally fulfilled!), it is perhaps even more fulfilling to hear from my late co-author Fabrizio Ghisellini of our last book ‘Behavioral Economics: Moving Forward’: “Thank you for your existence”! Growing up with applauses in the world of performing arts, this might be the most meaningful applause personally, given the co-author’s professional and academic experiences as a senior Director at the Italian Treasury and served as CIO and CFO for the city of Rome. We had never met, but the connections and understandings on many challenging issues in behavioral economics and finance were tremendous. The book received numerous enthusiastic feedback and reviews after its first publication in 2018:

  1. a journal review

  2. a commentary from Prof. Diane Coyle from University of Cambridge

  3. was named as one of the best books in behavioral science of all time in 2019 by Book Authority

  4. Best book of 2021

  5. The prestigious CHOICE AWARD in 2019.

As I have contributed to a chapter this year in the ‘Handbook of Research Methods in Behavioral Economics: An Interdisciplinary Approach’ edited by Prof. Morris Altman, the publisher Palgrave Macmillan had extended offer for the second edition of my last co-authored book on behavioral economics and finance.



 


If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? Before pursuing an academic career in economics-behavioral science, I had careers in music in New York (performed and toured with the New York City Symphony and the Opera Orchestra among others) and banking (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, USTrust at Bank of America). Simultaneously I continued to give chamber music concerts in New York City, competing venues with full-time musicians (practiced in lunch- and after-hours while working in the banks). Some words on music: formal trainings in Western Classical Music (a noted alumna of the Manhattan School of Music) is about how human emotions and expressions work, to understand and experience them. While music touches on the deepest of human psyches in relating and translating between the cosmos and earthly lives, there is also the technical part in materialization of a less perceivable art to the more obvious in tempered time and space. These skills, knowledge and techniques, tangible or not so tangible, are transferable to many other fields. While a decade long experience in banking contributed to sights on how the real world actually worked! On that note, what are other interests? Neuroscience-psychology-metaphysics with educational influences in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and theology. I have chosen Economics as a Behavioral-Social Science perhaps intuitively saw that it touches upon all of these areas, and perhaps beyond, to find the right answer in problem solving.



How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? In terms of making decisions, both intuitively and with deliberate thought to some extent given situation with both known and unknown constraints. Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, early exposures to music and rigorous training in the field helped in the development of and balancing / negotiating between intuitive and quantitative skills. While with all the quantitative knowledge acquired in graduate schools and work experience, I do avoid zero-risk and ‘Turkey’ illusions.



 

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

Development in interdisciplinary studies and transcend from the narrow, deterministic and gridlocked approaches in binary forms. Given the challenges in implementation in traditional sense, awareness to some extent is sufficient in behavioral change and improvement of all sides and in the policy design. 6. How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? Almost a century ago, as part of the quantum theory in physics, there were discoveries of key features such as the Entanglement, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and the Dark Matters or the Missing Masses that contain about 95% of our universe’ intelligence that revolutionized views based on Newtonian mechanics. The latter has substantially influenced and served as guiding light for fields such as Economics, Finance and perhaps even Cognitive Science. Behavioral science, which can be applied to multiple fields, needs to move beyond the past and outdated theories while has the potential to make significant contributions to problem solving in these fields with explanations and coherency of quantum theory yet to complete in the West.



What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? From own life experience, I could say that having a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary education and professional experience is not only a privilege but also would serve young behavioral scientists well in finding fulfillment in the pursuit of this fascinating profession along with more authentic answers to challenging puzzles looking to progress into the field in today’ multi-polar-cultural world already happening.



Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? In addition to Gerd Gigerenzer whom you already have, perhaps Morris Altman, George Loewenstein or those who are knowledgeable in quantum decision theories such as Jerome Busemeyer, among others.



 


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Beryl!


As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!


Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!

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