Arbitration with Uninformed Consumers

by Mark Egan, Gregor Matvos, and Amit Seru

Overview — Using data on securities disputes, this study of information advantages in consumer arbitration finds that industry-friendly arbitrators are 40 percent more likely than consumer-friendly arbitrators to be selected to take on arbitration cases. Limiting respondents’ and claimants’ inputs over the selection process could improve outcomes for consumers.

Author Abstract

We examine whether firms have an informational advantage in selecting arbitrators in consumer arbitration as well as the impact of the arbitrator selection process on outcomes. We collect data containing roughly 9,000 arbitration cases in securities arbitration. Securities disputes present a good laboratory: the selection mechanism is similar to other major arbitration forums; arbitration is mandatory for all disputes, eliminating selection concerns; and the parties choose arbitrators from a randomly generated list. We first document that some arbitrators are systematically industry friendly while others are consumer friendly. Firms appear to utilize this information in the arbitrator selection process. Despite a randomly generated list of potential arbitrators, industry friendly arbitrators are 40% more likely to be selected than their consumer friendly counterparts. Better informed firms and consumers choose more favorable arbitrators. We develop and calibrate a model of arbitrator selection in which, like the current process, both the informed firms and uninformed consumers have control over the selection process. Arbitrators compete against each other for the attention of claimants and respondents. The model allows us to interpret our empirical facts in equilibrium and to quantify the effects of changes to the current arbitrator selection process on consumer outcomes. Competition between arbitrators exacerbates the informational advantage of firms in equilibrium resulting in all arbitrators slanting towards being industry friendly. Evidence suggests that limiting the respondents’ and claimants’ inputs over the arbitrator selection process could significantly improve outcomes for consumers.

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