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 Rachel Altmann. Rachel is the CEO and co-founder of BeHive Consulting, one of the first Behavioural Science consultancies in the CEE region. Her passion lies in developing novel approaches that use behavioural insights to tackle essential business challenges, such as overcoming and building customer habits, shaping the perceived value of services and products, and building trust. This dedication to the field and her company have also earned her a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Before all this, Rachel studied Applied Economics at Corvinus University of Budapest and later pursued an MSc in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics.
How did you get into behavioural science? I was first introduced to behavioural science during my undergraduate degree. I was studying applied economics in Budapest, and I took a couple of courses on behavioural science related things like economic psychology, behavioural economics, and so on. I was instantly drawn to this field. Being introduced to behavioural science was just eye-opening. I was always interested in the human aspect and how we can better understand behaviour. I did my dissertation in behavioural science and then also did my master's at the London School of Economics in behavioural science.
BeHive started at the end of my undergraduate. My co-founder Anna Nyvelt and I, we both had a background in business and consulting, and we wanted to merge that with behavioural science. We actually got introduced by a professor as we didn't know each other before we took a class together. So from that point we started creating the core concept of BeHive and how we want to create this opportunity for ourselves and for others to work on behavioural science and applying behavioural science to real world challenges in the region and beyond.
So that's how it started!
What achievement are you proudest of so far? And what do you still want to achieve? I'm proudest of bringing BeHive and bringing behavioural science in general to the region. I'm not usually saying that we're focusing on central Europe, but it is very important for me and for our team that we give this opportunity from two sides:
We brought the opportunity to practitioners who want to apply behavioural science in this area, that don't necessarily have the opportunity to relocate or find a job in the UK or US or other areas where there are some behavioural science positions and companies.
But I'm also really proud of the other side, of the business side where we’re bringing behavioural science solutions to our clients. We're educating the market at the moment, and we're definitely in the phase where we're bringing behavioural science to Hungary and Europe in general, showing clients how they can innovate and how they can make better decisions, better products, better services, and put humans at the forefront.
In terms of what we still want to achieve… We are looking to expand. We already have projects in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and other countries across Europe, but we're looking to expand further in the sense that currently I would say 60% of our projects are still in Hungary and we want to have a stronger base across Europe. And we want to continue to find the right talent to make this happen, and build a strong international team and presence.
What makes a great behavioural scientist according to you? It depends on what their role is. Even in BeHive and across other companies and sectors, behavioural science can be very broad and can be very niche, and it can go from research to data science to consulting and so on. So I think the first thing is that it really depends on what their role is. But something that is generally important is research skills. This doesn't necessarily mean that everyone has to be conducting in-depth research, but understanding research insights and translating research insights and theories and frameworks into practical outputs. So I think that to different degrees, this is very important across all of these roles. As a result, communication skills are a big one too. Depending on whether you're a researcher, a consultant, a data scientist, or a designer, how you translate complex insights into digestible and clear information is an important skill.
I also think a multidisciplinary approach is very important; not looking at things from one angle, but being very open-minded and being curious from other areas as well. And then last, creativity: Having a creative and curious mindset I think is really important to bring novel, innovative and effective solutions across different challenges.
Which way would you recommend that they get started in the field? Talking to a lot of people has helped me and has helped people around me. Not only to see what's out there, but I think because when you start off in behavioural science, at least that's what I've seen for myself and others, it's hard to know where to go, because it seems very broad. It can be psychology, economics, neuroscience, design, data science. So I think finding your area is important and in order to find that you need to talk to people and you need to try out things.
And the other thing that I see become more and more important is improving data science and analysis skills. I don't mean that everyone needs to be a data scientist. I think understanding data and understanding what you need to find in data is really important.
What do you think you would've become if you hadn’t found behavioural science? If it wasn't consulting in behavioural science, I think I would have ended up on the product side, or maybe even working within the digital app space. For example, figuring out how we can integrate technology and healthcare together best.
What do you think the biggest challenges are for behavioural science, say in the next five to 10 years? One thing that I find a big challenge, and this is specifically for this region, is that we are still in a very early phase; we're still in the ‘educating our clients’ phase, and this means that people don't necessarily accept behavioural science as a discipline on its own; people often see it as a nice to have.
And a lot of people don't understand it. They struggle to explain the difference between behavioural science and UX design or UI or marketing. So people often think we’re UX designers or researchers, and they're not substitutes. These are complimentary directions that you need to have. So I think a big challenge is still establishing behavioural science as a discipline on its own without being questioned on why behavioural science is necessary.
Looking outside of our region, there are wider issues to consider, such as the replication crisis. There’s still a lot of research to be done; behavioural science is context specific, you can't just generalize things. Which is a problem if you also don't have the resources to do experiments for every single thing you need to know. We need to get ahead on knowing more, testing more.
What kind of frustrations do you have with behavioural science? My biggest frustration is still for people to call me a marketeer or a UX designer. It comes back to my frustration that you always need to have a 20 minute conversation when you meet someone on what you're really doing and explain it. You need to give case studies and examples. You need to prove your added value all the time
How do you think behavioural science is going to develop, say, in the next five to 10 years? I think it will have to develop around AI and data science and just the vast amount of information that's available to us and to end users. We're dealing with more data and we're dealing with more advanced technology.
I see behavioural science play a role, first of all with human AI interaction on how can we make AI interactions ‘human’ and how can we make people adopt and trust these services and tools and not fear AI technologies, but rather understanding their importance and how they can complement our work and our lives.
Second, I also think behavioural science can help end users; behavioural science is going to be even more important to help them make better decisions through helping them navigate through this vast amount of options and information.
And thirdly, personalization, hyper-personalization if you will. With the increasing amount of data and better information about customers and just about people's behaviours, their usage we can personalize interventions much better. There are obvious ethical and legal concerns here, where behavioural science can and should also play a role.
How do you apply behavioural science to your own life, if at all?
I do not generally apply it in a conscious way. I don't sit down to find out which techniques I can apply to (improve) my life. But I do think it's definitely in my mindset and in my way of working and in my way of living. Where I applied it is in habit building for sure. I also think goal setting and commitment devices have helped me a lot with actually setting the right goals and then obviously achieving those goals.
Who have you really been inspired by, or who do you find inspiring in the field?
You've already interviewed so many good behavioural scientists! But you haven’t talked to Stuart Mills, who was my dissertation supervisor and recently published a book on Behavioural Science and AI.
There’s also Natalie Spencer. She used to be at CommBank and is now at IAG. I’m really interested in how these chief behavioural officers are integrating behavioural science into companies. Similarly, Antoine Ferrera, who’s in pharma. I would be very interested to see their standpoint and their challenges and their perspective on where behavioural science is going.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Rachel!
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!