Improving financial health in Chile

Making Saving for a More Secure Future Salient


  • A savings “cushion” helps small business owners withstand expenses or financial emergencies
  • Many have savings accounts and intend to save, but struggle to grow their balances
  • We designed a program with a Chilean bank that automated savings, increasing balances by 34%

The Challenge

Small business owners can experience great fluctuations in their finances—including drops in income when business is slow and unexpected expenses. Having a savings “cushion” can help them manage these challenges. However, as we found in Chile, many small business owners lack the savings they need to withstand these fluctuations. While many have a savings account and the intention to save more, they struggle to grow the balance through small regular deposits.

Our Approach

We worked with CajaVecina, a correspondent bank of BancoEstado in Chile, to support its network of operadores. Operadores are small shops owners who sell goods and services and use point-of-sale (POS) devices to offer basic financial services to Chileans across the country, particularly in communities where traditional bank branches are unavailable. They receive a monthly commission from the bank for operating the devices. With funding from MetLife Foundation, ideas42 and CajaVecina collaborated to develop a savings program that enables small business owners to automatically transfer part of their monthly commission for operating the POS devices into their BancoEstado savings account—reaping a continuously growing savings balance from one decision to save.

To encourage enrollment in the auto-savings program, we designed a three-month communications campaign to invite operadores to sign up. These communications included behavioral elements such as generating a sense of exclusivity by informing operadores that this program was especially designed for them, prompting them to think of concrete savings goals, and establishing a social norm by informing them that many other operadores had already signed up.


We piloted this program over three months with a sample of 5,000 operadores, half of which were randomly chosen to receive the communications campaign. Pilot results are promising: 28% of operadores reached joined the program and are now saving an average of $36 per month, an amount that represents 34% of the average savings balance before enrollment. Operadores who participated are saving about 25 cents of every commission dollar received.

By the end of the third month of the communications campaign, operadores who were invited to enroll, on average, had savings balances $29 higher than those who weren’t invited to the program—a 25% difference. And when comparing only operadores who actually enrolled (rather than all who were invited) with those from the control group, we found the average savings balance of the former group to be 2.4 times higher for this same month. Moreover, follow-up results show that average savings balance for enrolled operadores continued increasing during the following months, and five months later was 34% higher than the control group.


CajaVecina has begun rolling out the automatic savings program to its entire network of operadores. When scaled to the 15,000 CajaVecina operadores who hold a BancoEstado savings account, this program could generate a combined savings increase among clients of $435,000 per month.

An important feature of this behaviorally informed savings mechanism is that it is financially sustainable and offers benefits to both clients and financial institutions, which is a strong indicator of whether a socially minded program can be scaled to reach more people. Other financial providers can consider investing in and implementing a similar automatic savings program and communications campaign to help make saving simpler for their clients.

Read the project brief for more detail about this savings program.

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Reach out to us at or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.