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Research Overview




My research focuses on the psychology behind important financial decisions (for example, how individuals judge financial advisers and make difficult investment decisions in retirement plans). In addition, I investigate the role of financial literacy in these choices.  To study these issues, I use a variety of methodologies (field studies, laboratory experiments, online discrete choice experiments, analyses of large administrative datasets and surveys).


While my early research focused primarily on consumers in the U.S., During the past decade, I expanded my research internationally. 


To get a quick feel for my research, click on the pictures below to find short easy-to-read summaries of my projects, press articles, videos and government publications citing my work.



Large laboratory experiment

This document provides an easy to read description of a large scale laboratory experiment we conducted to study factors influencing an investors decision between an annuity and a lump sum. This research was published in the American Economic Review in 2008.


Ideation profile

This is a story about the annuity experiment featured in W&M's Ideation publication.

CFA Magazine feature

“The Pool and the Stream,” by Susan Trammell, CFA Magazine, March-April 2008. This article describes our annuity experiment.

Senate Testimony This is a video of my testimony to the US Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee and a link to the resulting report.


Trust and Financial Advisers: An Online Incentivized Discrete Choice Experiment

This is a short 5 minute video interview I recorded when we first started our joint research project focusing on how trust is developed over time between a consumer and a financial adviser. This is a blog about the final results written for the WSJ.


Savings, goal setting and time 

This Center for Retirement Research Issue Brief describes a work-in-progress examining how to better encourage younger workers to save for retirement by changing the goal length and the phrasing of the advertisement.   


Study using survey and administrative data

“Blindsided,” by Susan Trammell,  CFA Magazine, September-October 2008. This article describes a co-authored study. We analyze a unique dataset that combines survey data with administrative data. We uncover different reasons why individuals participate in 401(k) plans with opt in and opt out regimes. The paper discussed has been published in the Journal of Pension Economics and Finance.




-Scroll left and right with arrows.  Click boxes to read news articles-

2018 Management Science Paper on Financial Advisers

Watch this for a quick summary of this paper. We have a new paper that extends this research by investigating "Who is Willing to Pay for Bad Advice."


Study demonstrating inertia in 401(k) plan using large administrative dataset

Summary of “Portfolio Choice and Trading in a Large 401(k) Plan,” (with Pierluigi Balduzzi and Annika Sunden) by James W. Vitalone, in CFA Digest, November 2003, Vol. 33, No.4: 65-66.

Study examining company stock holdings and the conditional 1/n heuristic using a large administrative dataset

Summary of “Do Behavioral Biases Vary Across Individuals?: Evidence from Individual Level 401(k) Data,” by William H. Sackley, CFA in CFA Digest, May 2007, Vol. 37, No. 2: 92.


May 15, 2017,01:54pm EDT

Building A Better Retirement Nest Egg: Lessons From A Middle School Science Experiment

This piece was originally posted on May 15, 2017, on the Pension Research Council’s curated Forbes blog. To view the original posting, click here.

Click here to learn more about "White-Labels, Brands, and Trust: How Mutual Fund Labels Affect Retirement Portfolios"


Retirement plan menus have been changing as sponsors adopt new generic, or “white-label,” funds. This study explores how plan participants react to white-label and branded investment options – specifically, how brand trust alters participants’ investment allocations. The researchers also examine the impact of brand trust on expected returns and risk perceptions. The findings have important implications for both fund providers and plan sponsors.

Key Insights

  • Participants allocate significantly more to trusted brands when choosing between otherwise equivalent investment options.

  • Options showing the names of highly trusted employers are more attractive to plan participants than equivalent white-label options.

  • Participants expect higher risk-adjusted returns and lower risk from options that display the name of a highly trusted brand or highly trusted employer.



Research Exploring Australia's Retirement System 



Interview for PIMCO DC Dialogue, July/August 2012

In this interview I discuss Australia's Superannuation system. This interview was conducted when I was on sabbatical in Australia.



This paper extends the Financial Literacy around the World (FLAT World) Project to Australia 

FLAT World is a global research initiative designed to investigate financial literacy levels in different countries. Go to the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center website to learn more.


Center for Retirement Research Issue Brief, April 2013

This issue brief provides a summary of Australia's retirement system.



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