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Interview with Tracey West

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 Dr. Tracey West.

Tracey is a financial literacy and financial education expert with 11 years research experience investigating consumer knowledge and behaviours with a focus on inclusion issues of vulnerable groups such as older people, young people and women. She currently teaches Behavioural Finance and Wealth Management at Griffith University, Australia.


Who or what got you into behavioural science?

I fell into teaching behavioural finance at my university. I heard that someone was needed to revamp the existing course materials and I put my hand up for it. I’ve taught it for 6 years now in the postgraduate and undergraduate business programs. I really love it. For many students, it’s their first introduction to behavioural science; the biases, neuroscience, and in my context the various factors that contribute to making financial decisions difficult. For people interested in a career in financial advice or being a financial analyst, understanding their own biases and then thinking about a client or other analysts is a tool to achieving good client relationships and more informed decision-making. Since being involved in teaching behavioural finance I have also taught behavioural economics and been a mentor for our student teams in the annual Nudgeathon competition.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?

I led the development of the behavioural science major in the Bachelor of Business at Griffith University a few years ago. This was a major initiative that involved surveying industry to assess skills and knowledge needs so that we assured that our curriculum would meet industry’s needs. It is an interdisciplinary degree involving courses from marketing, psychology and economics. In this major, students get a variety of behaviour change tools as well as the statistical skills to undertake experiments and interpret data. I’m proud that we are producing graduates that understand the importance of diversity in decision making and an evidence-based approach to implementing initiatives. I’m sure they will be nudging for good. There are more opportunities for behavioural science education, in our MBA program, for example. I would like to see academic leaders upskill in behavioural science approaches to decision-making. Personally, my mission is to help students achieve their purpose, and to help them develop tools to do so.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

It’s hard to imagine not being involved in behavioural science education. Sometimes I think about doing something creative, like making jewellery. If I my path changes course, I’m sure I’ll be doing something that utilises behavioural science principles.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

Good question. I think about how I communicate, putting myself in someone else’s shoes and looking at the choice architecture. When I feel uncomfortable because someone isn’t agreeing with me I can be aware in the moment that a different point of view is to be valued, which de-escalates the tension. I am also aware that I am an emotional decision-maker, so instead of beating myself up about how I reacted, I accept it as an important part of my disposition and ride it out. In short, I’m more accepting of who I am and why being myself is perfectly fine.

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

Industry partners tell me that knowledge of experimental design, statistics and coding, being a team player and being comfortable with acknowledging what they don’t know are important attributes of the graduates they employ. Being able to see the perspective of others is something that is really important to the profession, as people are complex and emotional intelligence is needed. I advise graduates to be humble, open-minded and act with integrity and ethics at all times.

How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

There may be more AI/big data that behavioural scientists can draw on to inform their analysis. There may be more public acceptance of utilising personal data to help people, for example, manage their finances and automate tasks. But there will always be a need for people to do the behavioural science work over machines. I expect the existence of behavioural insights units in governments and organisations will continue to grow and become more normal.

What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?

In addition to a formal qualification, I think it’s important to have research experience to open the door. This means an honours or masters project, or a Phd. While that journey is progressing, grow connections on social media platforms like LinkedIn and read newsletters to keep up to date of key tools and when and how they can be effective.

Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?

I love Tim Harford, the economist journalist, that produces the Cautionary Tales podcast!

What are the greatest challenges being faced by behavioural science, right now?

I imagine the greatest challenge may be choosing between projects because of resource limitations? It may also be knowing the limits within which behavioural science can be effective. There are circumstances where blunt tools like regulation are needed.

What is your biggest frustration with the field as it stands? Many lay people may perceive behavioural science/insights to be a quick fix, but it isn’t a magic wand. Many of the worlds important problems are complex and require multifaceted solutions.


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

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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