Shawn A. Cole

11 Results

 

The Value of Advice: Evidence from Mobile Phone-Based Agricultural Extension

This paper evaluates a new service that provides mobile-phone based agricultural consulting to poor farmers in India. For decades, the Government of India, like most governments in the developing world, has operated a system of agricultural extension, intended to spread information on new agricultural practices and technologies through a large work force of public extension agents. Evidence of the efficacy of these extension services, however, is limited. This paper describes a randomized field experiment examining the potential for an alternate route to improving agricultural management. Specifically, the authors evaluate Avaaj Otalo (AO), a mobile phone-based technology that allows farmers to call a hotline, ask questions, and receive responses from agricultural scientists and local extension workers. Findings show that AO had a range of important, positive effects on farmer behavior. This paper may be the first rigorous evaluation of mobile phone-based extension and, more generally, the first evaluation of a demand-driven extension service delivered by any means. Read More

Liability Structure in Small-Scale Finance: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Microfinance has exploded in popularity and coverage in recent years, particularly in meeting the large unmet demand for finance. But what is the optimal loan contract structure? This paper examines the relative merits of joint and individual liability contracts by analyzing the effect of contract structure on a group of borrowers who are willing to borrow with either individual or group liability. Findings show that group liability structure significantly improves repayment rates. Overall, these results provide the first credible evidence that group liability contracts improve upon individual liability, particularly in ensuring repayment and increasing savings discipline among clients. Read More

Incentivizing Calculated Risk-Taking: Evidence from an Experiment with Commercial Bank Loan Officers

Recent research presents convincing evidence that incentives rewarding loan origination may cause severe agency problems and increase credit risk, either by inducing lax screening standards or by tempting loan officers to game approval cutoffs even when such cutoffs are based on hard information. Yet to date there has been no evidence on whether performance-based compensation can remedy these problems. In this paper, the authors analyze the underwriting process of small-business loans in an emerging market, using a series of experiments with experienced loan officers from commercial banks. Comparing three commonly implemented classes of incentive schemes, they find a strong and economically significant impact of monetary incentives on screening effort, risk-assessment, and the profitability of originated loans. The experiments in this paper represent the first step of an ambitious agenda to fully understand the loan underwriting process. Read More

When Good Incentives Lead to Bad Decisions

New research by Associate Professor Shawn A. Cole, Martin Kanz, and Leora Klapper explores how various compensation incentives affect lending decisions among bank loan officers. They find that incentives have the power to change not only how we make decisions, but how we perceive reality. Open for comment; 10 Comments posted.

Barriers to Household Risk Management: Evidence from India

Insurance markets are growing rapidly in developing countries. Despite the promise of these markets, however, adoption to date has been relatively slow. Yet households often remain exposed to movements in local weather; regional house prices; prices of commodities like rice, heating oil, and gasoline; and local, regional, and national income fluctuations. In many cases, financial contracts simply do not exist to hedge these exposures, and when contracts do exist their use is not widespread. Why don't financial markets develop to help households hedge these risks? Why don't more households participate when formal markets are available? HBS professor Shawn Cole and coauthors attempt to shed light on these questions by studying participation in rural India in a rainfall risk-management product that provides a payoff based on monsoon rainfall. The results suggest that it may take a significant amount of time—and substantial marketing efforts—to increase adoption of risk-management tools at the household level. Read More

Money or Knowledge? What Drives Demand for Financial Services in Emerging Markets?

Why is there apparently limited demand for financial services in emerging markets? On the one hand, low-income individuals may not want formal services when informal savings, credit, and insurance markets function reasonably well, and the benefits of formal financial market participation may not exceed the costs. On the other hand, limited financial literacy could be the barrier: If people are not familiar or comfortable with products, they will not demand them. These two views carry significantly different implications for the development of financial markets around the world, and would suggest quite different policy decisions by governments and international organizations seeking to promote "financial deepening." HBS professor Shawn Cole and coauthors found that financial literacy education has no effect on the probability of opening a bank savings account for the full population, although it does significantly increase the probability among those with low initial levels of financial literacy and low levels of education. In contrast, modest financial subsidies significantly increase the share of households that open a bank savings account within the subsequent two months. Read More

Smart Money: The Effect of Education, Cognitive Ability, and Financial Literacy on Financial Market Participation

(Previously titled "If You Are So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? The Effects of Education, Financial Literacy and Cognitive Ability on Financial Market Participation.") Individuals face an increasingly complex menu of financial product choices. The shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans, and the growing importance of private retirement accounts, require individuals to choose the amount they save, as well as the mix of assets in which they invest. Yet, participation in financial markets is far from universal in the United States. Moreover, researchers have only a limited understanding of what factors cause participation. Cole and Shastry use a very large dataset new to the literature in order to study the important determinants of financial market participation. They find that higher levels of education and cognitive ability cause increased participation—however, financial literacy education does not. Read More

Do Voters Appreciate Responsive Governments? Evidence from Indian Disaster Relief

In a functioning democracy, politicians' ability to win reelection declines when they perform poorly. This idea fits well with models of political accountability. Recent evidence suggests, however, that voters may punish politicians even for events outside their control. This behavior may violate standard models of democratic accountability, and has been advanced as evidence of voter irrationality. This paper uses detailed weather, electoral, and relief data to identify the relationship between government responsiveness to an emergency and electoral decisions. Specifically, the authors look at the decisions that Indian voters made in provincial elections, using the intensity of the monsoon rains as an exogenous shock to welfare. They find that voters, on average, punish incumbent politicians for being in office during weather events beyond their control. However, the degree of voter punishment is reduced somewhat when the government responds more vigorously to the crisis. Read More

Fixing Market Failures or Fixing Elections? Agricultural Credit in India

There are strong theoretical reasons to believe that politicians manipulate resources under their control to achieve electoral success. Yet, compelling examples of this manipulation are heretofore rarely documented in scholarly literature. Cole's paper presents evidence that government-owned banks in India serve the electoral interests of politicians. It also analyzes how resources are strategically distributed. Read More

Financial Development, Bank Ownership, and Growth. Or, Does Quantity Imply Quality?

Government ownership of banks, a common phenomenon, is among the most important policy tools used to influence financial development. But what is the actual effect of such ownership on the financial development of a country? This paper uses a policy experiment in India to evaluate the effect of government ownership of banks on development. Read More

Where Does it Go? Spending by the Financially Constrained

Despite widespread interest by academics, businesspeople, and policymakers, much is unknown about the financial behavior of low-income individuals, particularly those who rarely or ever use banks. Do credit constrained consumers spend money more quickly than less constrained consumers? Do they spend the money in different manners (card-based merchant transactions versus cash ATM withdrawals)? Do credit constrained consumers have different spending patterns than the less constrained—do they buy different goods and services? This working paper provides preliminary data on spending patterns by over 1.5 million refund recipients, all of whom used either a loan or a settlement product to receive refund money faster than the IRS processes would have otherwise allowed. The results should inform the view of policymakers, financial service professionals, scholars, and consumer advocates. Read More