DP11400 | Mobile-izing Savings with Automatic Contributions: Experimental Evidence on Present Bias and Default Effects in Afghanistan

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Through a field experiment in Afghanistan, we show that default enrollment in a defined contribution plan increases saving rates by 40 percentage points, and that present-biased preferences mainly drive this effect. Working with Afghanistan's primary mobile phone operator, we designed and deployed a new mobile phone-based automatic payroll deduction system. Each of 967 employees at the firm was randomly assigned a default contribution rate (either 0% or 5%) as well as a matching incentive rate (0%, 25%, or 50%). We find that employees initially assigned a default contribution rate of 5% are 40 percentage points more likely to contribute to the account 6 months later than individuals assigned to a default contribution rate of zero; to achieve this effect through financial incentives alone would require a 50% match from the employer. We also find evidence of habit formation: default enrollment increases the likelihood that employees continue to save after end of the trial, and increases employees' self-reported interest in saving and sense of financial security. To understand the mechanism behind these effects, we conducted several experimental interventions and measured employee time preferences. Ruling out several competing explanations, we find evidence that the default effect is driven largely by present-biased preferences that cause the employee to procrastinate in making a non-default election.