finance

Ethnography, Economics and the Limits of Evidence

by ERIN B. TAYLOR, Canela Consulting & Holland FinTech Evidence produced within quantitative disciplines like economics and finance carries an aura of gospel. The numbers, models, and forecasts we see in economic reports and market analyses in the news and reports seem certain, authoritative, and unarguable. Built on large data sets that are analyzed with widely accepted theories and tools, economic and financial evidence have become hugely influential in governance and business—so much so that more qualitative approaches have been sidelined. Even political economy, the original economics, has been pushed away in favor of what’s now called ‘evidence-based decision-making’. The presumption is that numerical data is the only solid information, and that the analytical tools used in economic and market analysis are reliable. Of course, as we know now, this faith in economic evidence can be dangerous. As markets crashed around the world during the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, confidence in all kinds of quantitative...

Doing Good is Hard: Ethics, Activism, and Social Impact Design as Seen from the Grassroots Perspective

JEFFREY GREGER San Jose State University This paper shares the experiences of two teams of design professionals working on parallel grassroots social impact design projects to address poverty and financial precarity in Silicon Valley and London. This paper explores challenges facing these teams as they channel a sense of moral outrage into the research and development of alternitives to high-risk financial services like payday loans. It charts the open, inclusive design process of these teams as they engage community partners and recognize the financial expertise of people getting by on tight incomes. The paper concludes with a discussion of how working slowly and openly through transdisciplinary communities of practice—like the two groups described here, or EPIC itself—can help keep alive conversations around power and activism in the practice of design and ethnographic research. These conversations are essential if social impact design is to reach its transformative potential while avoiding many of the pitfalls that have...

Consumer Finance in a Mobile Age: Methods for Researching Changing User Behaviour

ERIN B. TAYLOR Canela Consulting and Holland FinTech Consumer finance markets are being transformed by the increasing mobility of people, products, technology, and information. This presents challenges for understanding changing consumer behaviour and building adaptable business models. Researchers are rising to meet these challenges by adapting their frameworks and methods to take account of mobility's effects. I present three cases of method adaptation to consumer finance research (financial diaries, object-centred interviews, social network analysis) and discuss their contributions. The complexity and personalisation of consumer finance requires us to not only be more creative with how we approach research, but also more robust in questioning our assumptions, framing appropriate questions, and designing research that draws frameworks and methods from multiple disciplines....

Outside the Bubble: How a Coastal Technology Company Built Empathy for Its Small Business Owner Customers in America’s Heartland

KATHERINE LEE Square, Inc. This case examines an effort by San Francisco-based Square to gain a better understanding of its customers who reside outside of major metropolitan areas. The first part of the case provides detail on research: a mobile ethnography study of small business owners conducted over a two-week period at the end of 2016 followed by in-person interviews of a select group of participants. The second half offers a discussion of the research findings, including the attributes and perspectives shared by small business owners. The research and analysis suggest that the sense of community in small towns colors every facet of small business, from the deep connections that proprietors feel with their customers, other business owners, and their community as a whole. The commercial and social aspects of businesses in small towns can't be separated. Often, businesses act as a force that helps keep the community viable. Moreover, the needs of small business owners in the heartland differs from their counterparts in larger...

How to Talk about Money: Ethnographic Approaches to Financial Life

by ERIN B. TAYLOR , Canela Consulting On 1 June, 2012, I arrived at the British Museum to attend the opening of its newly renovated Citi Money Gallery. This was an exciting moment for me: inside was a display of money-related objects and images from Haiti that I collected with Heather Horst and Espelencia Baptiste for a research project. I couldn’t wait to see how our coins, phones, cards, and underwear with secret pockets for hiding cash would look inside this venerated institution. It was a huge success. People were spending far more time in the new gallery, lingering over the displays. Why, all of a sudden, was money so much more gripping? The answer, said curator Katie Eagleton, was the social aspect. Whereas traditional money galleries usually focus on coins, promissory notes, and other traditional forms of money, the new gallery includes a range of displays that focus on the social history and current practices of money. Not just for coin-collecting enthusiasts, the money gallery had something of interest for everybody. By...

Mini-MBA for Applied Social Scientists

In this course, you’ll learn the fundamentals of business finance, organization, and strategy, then practice using these tools to extend the scope and strategic impact of your own work. Instructor: CAROLYN HOU Enrollment: 20 Schedule: 7 live online sessions + reading assignments, June 10–July 22, 2018. Full Schedule Registration: $500, EPIC Membership required—see terms. REGISTRATION…

Meaningful Innovation: Ethnographic Potential in the Startup and Venture Capital Spheres

JULIA KATHERINE HAINES University of California, Irvine The aim of this paper is to explore the potential for ethnographic approaches in technology startups and the venture capital firms that support and control them. The current practices and model of innovation aim for “disruptive innovation,” but most efforts fall short, prioritizing mass diffusion and not focusing on where true disruptive innovation lies—creating a change in meaning. I argue that an ethnographic approach can lead to innovation of meanings, bridging the gap between radical innovation and diffusion, and creating disruptive innovation. I discuss some ways ethnography can help product innovation in the startup sphere. But, more importantly, I discuss how ethnography holds great potential for reshaping the VC field, by driving meaning into the VC I then highlight alternative viewpoints that move beyond the “realist” perspective. Keywords: Innovation, Technology, New Product Development, Finance...

Finance, Precarity, and the Dismantling of Organizations: New Challenges for the Anthropology of Corporations

KAREN HO Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities KEYNOTE ADDRESS Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research centers on understanding and analyzing the culture of finance and financial institutions, its impact on corporate America as well as on broader norms of work, employment, and insecurity. Her widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street—based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions—punctures many of the assumptions about how markets work” (Times Literary Supplement). Read more about Karen, her research on Wall Street and the culture of risk, and what anthropology contributes to our understanding of finance....

Tutorial: MBA Basics – How to Think Like a Business

Tutorial Instructors: CAROLYN HOU ReD Associates EMIL STIGSGAARD FUGLSANG ReD Associates Download PDF SUMMARY This tutorial will provide you with a foundational understanding of how businesses operate from financial, organizational, and strategic standpoints. However, rather than providing you with only a list of terminologies or a toolbox of frameworks, the goal of this course is to help participants gain an intuition around how to think like a business – especially when coming from a social science background and practice. The course is designed for social scientists, designers, academics, corporate innovation teams, and other non-MBA professionals looking to enter the corporate world or make a bigger impact in their organizations. Throughout the course, participants will learn how to feed this knowledge back into their own work and ethnographic approaches, particularly around framing a project and turning insights into credible and impactful recommendations. Using Whole Foods as a case study, this course will cover:...

Of Cool Light and Balance Sheets: The Social Scientist as the CFO’s Best Friend

by ALEX JINICH, Gemic A person’s wellbeing is in great measure a product of a pleasant environment, and as a society we are placing progressively more value in creating such environments in the form of comfortable offices, welcoming homes, and inspiring shops. It is remarkable, for example, the degree to which the luxurious Dubai airport, where I am now, has been carefully designed to make you feel at ease as you leisurely cruise through it as though through a warmly illuminated exhibit hall. To a large degree, however, the precise features that make such an environment valuable are nuanced intangibles. In other words, environments are always experienced as unified wholes, and the value they create for us is greater than the sum of its parts. In the airport, the warm and gentle lighting is as much a part of the overall experience as are the carefully curated glossy brands and the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen that sell them. The harmony and general atmosphere creates value above and beyond the sum of the values of the individual...

Ethnographer on Wall Street: Karen Ho / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and author of the widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions. Join Karen at EPIC2016! What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value. Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological...

Radical Insights: Towards a Critical Hermeneutic

KARL MENDONCA University of California Santa Cruz In this paper, I will use an ethnographic research project to develop a set of foundational personas to work through the process of formulating insights that challenged the core epistemological assumptions of our stakeholders. Drawing on a rich body of discourse within postcolonial theory, I will highlight the concept of critical hermeneutics that emphasizes thinking about the conditions under which knowledge is produced over the “facticity” of the research artifacts, shifting the focus from “how objective is the information” to “what assumptions are driving research.” Put simply, critical hermeneutics can be seen as a method that uses reflexivity to explain how meaning is not absolute or empirical, but rather emerges from active interpretation that is informed by context. With this theoretical framework in mind, I will describe the methods used to include our stakeholders in the process of engaging with research data and ultimately derive the epistemological cores of the...

Using Business Anthropology for Strategic Cost Reduction

by ANDREAS WESTER HANSEN, Senior Manager, ReD Associates In recent years, business anthropologists have come to play a role as top-level advisors to large corporations. In particular, anthropologists have helped corporations shift their gaze from an inside-out perspective to an outside-in perspective on their companies (Madsbjerg and Rasmussen, 2014a). Business anthropologist (Baba, M. 2006) who have challenged the conventional inside-out approach to corporate decision-making, have often been active in helping companies pursue ‘blue ocean strategies’ (Kim and Mauborgne 2015, Kim and Maugborne 2005), ‘disruptive innovations’ (Christensen, 1997) or more generally to pursue ‘differentiation’ as opposed to ‘cost leadership’ strategies (Porter, 1985). Other times, business anthropologists have studied and helped companies make sense of their organizational cultures (Schein 2004) or focused on the globalizing nature of the contemporary organization (Jordan, 2013). Cost reduction is still considered outside of domain of...

Rethinking Financial Literacy with Design Anthropology

by MARIJKE RIJSBERMAN (FAIR Money; Coursera) Marietta is 61 years old. She takes care of her adult son (unemployed) and her daughter-in-law (disabled), both of whom live with her in a simple 3-bedroom house on the wrong side of the freeway. Her rent is sky-high, because in Silicon Valley rents are crazy on both sides of the freeway. Marietta also contributes to her mother’s care. She is trying to keep up payments and insurance on three cars, one of which is currently non-operational, and she has title loans on the other two. And she has a set of payday loans outstanding. Small-dollar subprime loans like the ones Marietta has are marketed only to those who have few choices. Payday loans are meant to tide you over until your next paycheck, so they run at most for a period of two weeks. In California, you can borrow up to $300, but a fee of $45 is immediately withheld, so you end up with $255 in hand. You owe the full $300 in two weeks or less. If you can’t pay it back in full, you “roll it over.” That is, you get a new...

Transforming a Financial Institution: The Value of UX Professionals

ERIN O’LOUGHLIN, GINA LUCIA TAHA and MICHELE VISCIOLA Application of a user-centered approach rooted in ethnographic methodologies facilitates a major European bank’s transition to a business strategy based on understanding people’s needs, behaviors, values and motivations. Three UX case studies conducted over three years illustrate our educator, moderator, partner framework for collaborating with large enterprises in flux....