The Power of Default Choices: Psychology, Influence, and Bank of America

Beverly Bambury/ May 20, 2013/ Marketing, Psychology/ 0 comments

This is another originally posted on This is a favourite of mine, combining some of my consumer interests and media literacy interests.

Update: It looks like reports like the one I discuss below have led to another solution. Some cursory info here:

I was browsing my beloved Consumerist the other day when I came across this piece: Bank Of America Provided Cheat Sheet To ‘Independent’Foreclosure Reviewers. (It references the original investigative work of ProPublica into the matter, which can be read here: ProPublica discovered that Bank of America (BoA) was providing default, filled-in answers for the review process of the Independent Foreclosure Review agents working on behalf of the U.S. government. Bank of America and its hired, independent investigators at Promontory denied any wrongdoing and will not review prior decisions, saying that the investigators always had the power to override default answers. I believe that this decision on their part is not only incorrect, but unethical, and I also believe that BoA knew precisely what they were doing and intended to use this default choice method to influence the investigators.
First, the fact that there was work done by BoA on behalf of the auditors in the first place meant BoA was spending its own people’s hours, thus its own resources on the issue. Businesses do not typically expend those kinds of resources if they don’t expect a significant return on investment. Second, the widely-known nature of default choices and the way they affect decision-making is too commonly known for this to have been anything but unethical and possibly illegal shenanigans which defiled the integrity of independent review (which was probably already compromised by the fact BoA paid Promontory, and that they were not hired by an independent party – but that is another blog’s purview!). 
So while both of those things are damning, it’s number two I find most damning of all, perhaps since I approach this from a marketing/communications perspective. The power of default choices is frequently discussed in communications circles, business circles, human resources circles, and even health circles. Numerous papers, journal articles, and general interest articles have been written on the topic, as well as books – books shelved in the business section of book stores. I would go so far as to say that it’s impossible that someone at Bank of America was not aware that filling in defaults was likely to have changed the outcome of the investigation.
Further reading on default choices follows. These were all easily found just using search terms like “default choices” or “the power of default” without the quotes.  
The Effect of Default Options on Retirement Savings:
As always, I hope you’ll share your thoughts. I bet you’d be more likely to do so if a pop-up comment box showed up right… about… now.

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