On the list of emotional minefields, money is right up there with sex and politics

Something To Hold On To

I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of money. On the list of emotional minefields, money is right up there with sex and politics, and there are all kinds of baffling taboos and odd behaviors.

It can be very interesting to look at some of these behaviors and think about what we might learn from them:

To a large number of people, money isn’t real until it’s, well, money.

When I worked at a credit union, there were always lots of members who popped in with their paychecks on Fridays, cashed the entire check, and then counted out piles of cash for each of their bills, loans, and each child’s savings account. (While the line behind them grew. And fumed. And shuffled.) They would then hand the loan payment and savings piles back to the teller, sometimes buy several money orders for their bills, and then pocket the remainder.

They simply aren’t comfortable with abstractions like direct deposit, account balance printouts, and available funds. A line of text on a computer screen or something that looks just like a grocery store receipt leaves them dissatisfied somehow. These were not uneducated, ignorant, or poor people, either. There were plenty of professors, managers, and doctors in the queue.

A well-chosen physical token can create a lot of value.

Maybe this mindset makes sense to you, and maybe it doesn’t, but many people attach a lot of significance to physical tokens of financial status. During a campaign to boost certificate deposits, we experimentally printed up a couple hundred fancy-looking Certificates on expensive-feeling parchment paper, complete with fancy gold foil stamping. They really weren’t very expensive — you can buy inexpensive foil-stamped certificates that will run through a laser printer.

Some members really didn’t care — to them it was just another piece of paper to keep track of. But many, especially older members, were surprised and overjoyed to actually get an attractive physical token of their deposit, something with a lot more oomph than a soulless yellow carbonless form or a scrap of thermo-printed paper.

Good design makes a difference.

Our redesigned gold credit card had the same great rate and features as always, but a lot of members specifically mentioned that they didn’t sign up for the old card because it was ugly, and they signed up for the new card because it looked so nice.

We also issued mortgage applicants a nice, brightly colored expanding folder with lots of room for all the paperwork and documents surrounding buying a home and moving. It was also printed with a moving checklist, and had a secure velcro flap to keep everything inside.

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