Behavioural Economics is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, 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 Christian Hunt.
Christian is the Founder of Human Risk, a Behavioral Science Consulting and Training Firm specialising in the fields of Risk, Compliance, Conduct & Culture. Before founding his own company, Christian was the head of Behavioural Science at UBS. This role was specifically created for him after having pioneered the use of it as Head of Compliance & Operational Risk Control UBS Asset Management and UBS EMEA. Before all this, Christian was Chief Operating Officer of the Prudential Regulation Authority, a subsidiary of the Bank of England responsible for regulating Financial Services. Let's read his answers to the 7 questions!
Who or what got you into Behavioural Science? I’ve always been curious about what makes people “tick”. When I was younger, my parents used to very kindly indulge my natural curiosity and let me be what I’m sure was a very annoying child who always asked: “why?”. At University, I read Modern Languages, which involved studying French and German literature. With hindsight, the perfect grounding; literature is the study of people, through the medium of story-telling. So what I was really studying were tales of human decision-making. I wasn’t really aware of Behavioural Science as a field. I was just drawn towards buying books, attending lectures, going on courses and reading academic papers that helped me understand why people do what they do. My career has been in Financial Services, with a particular focus on Compliance and Risk Management. I don’t quite know how that happened! Though I know that one of the reasons I joined the Financial Services regulator was that I was curious about the 2008 Crisis came about; a prime example of how human decision-making is irrational! I then left the Bank of England, to join UBS, where I headed up a Global Compliance & Operational Risk function. It suddenly struck me that Compliance (which let’s face it, isn’t the most exciting job title in the world) was actually the business of influencing human decision-making. That’s because organisations can’t be compliant of their own accord, it’s the people within them that determine whether that’s the case. And the other half of my job, Operational Risk was the same thing; because the most significant cause of risk in most organisations is people. What I call Human Risk. My “lightbulb moment” came when I realised that if we were in the business of influencing human decision-making, then why were we using techniques that no-one else who was trying to do the same thing, would ever consider using?! So I began “Bringing Behavioural Science to Risk and Compliance”. It uses the Rhyme As Reason Effect, but also genuinely makes a lot of sense! What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? I think I’ve accomplished several small things, that all add up to putting me where I am now. In date order: The first was coming up with the concept of Human Risk (“the risk of people doing things they shouldn’t or not doing things they should”) and then realising I’d created a brand that would work internally at UBS as well as externally. The second was persuading my boss at UBS (thanks Jim!) to allow me to do a fulltime Behavioural Science role. It’s the first job I’ve ever had that was bespoke! The third was having the courage to take what I’d developed at UBS and set up my own company to carry that journey on, in a broader context. If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I guess if I hadn’t made the Behavioural Science link with my job I was doing, I’d still be a Compliance Officer! In a parallel universe, I’d be working as a radio presenter. There’s something about the medium that I find really engaging, and when I was growing up, it was something I always wanted to do. That partly explains why I’ve launched a Human Risk podcast and YouTube channel. I might see if that lets me make my childhood dream come true alongside my Behavioural Science career. How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? Like most people in this field, I’m far more observant about how others are trying to influence my decision-making than I ever was before. Equally, I know that if an intervention is well-designed, then I might not even notice it! I take a lot of pleasure in spotting that, with hindsight, my decision-making in a particular situation was heavily influenced. Unless it’s something, I disagree with, at which point I become irate! But I learn from both. I also think it is beneficial when it comes to managing stress and being more resilient, as it gives me a different perspective on why I might be feeling the way I am about a particular situation. With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? I think there’s a reason the phrase “Accidental Behavioural Scientist” exists. So many of us working in this field fell into it by chance. I’d encourage people that are interested in it, to be open-minded and explore what is, after all, an emerging science. There isn’t a fixed route in, and I suspect that everyone has their own unique story. Which means you can write your own. One thing I’ve found is that most people within the field are very approachable and happy to share ideas. Reach out to people who are doing something you’re interested in and pick their brains! If there’s one skill I think we all share, it’s curiosity; about why we do things and how we can find ways of influencing that process. How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I believe that Behavioural Science will become a skill that is far more widely deployed across organisations than it is now. To be effective in the Knowledge Economy, we’ll need to get the most out of people; that’s something that Behavioural Science can facilitate. I also suspect that in years to come they will look back on us and wonder why we didn’t deploy it sooner. We’re living in an age where we have unprecedented knowledge about what drives human decision-making and the data to support that understanding. Yet we’re still some way off using that knowledge to solve the obvious problems were facing. I’m really excited about what is yet to come. I think we’re really starting to discover exciting things about how we think. But we’ve got a long way to go. Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? What I really like about the field is that you can learn from academics who are doing ground-breaking research that is directly and immediately relevant for practitioners like me. Many of those whose work I draw from, probably wouldn’t call themselves Behavioural Scientists, but I consider them to be very much on our team! With that in mind, I’d love to hear from Dr Julia Shaw, Professor Niels Van Quaquebeke, Professor Anette Mikes and Professor Yuval Feldman; all of whose research has inspired me.
Thank you so much for these amazing answers Christian!
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!