The purpose of this literature review paper is to define consumer finance, describe the scope of consumer finance and discuss its future research directions.
In this paper, consumer finance is used as a synonym of household finance. Consumers refer to individuals and families. After defining the term “consumer finance,” we conducted a critical review of consumer finance as an interdisciplinary research field in terms of money managing, insuring, borrowing and saving/investing. Future research directions are also discussed.
This paper discusses similarities and differences among several terms such as consumer finance, household finance, personal finance, family finance and behavioral finance. The paper also reviewed key studies on consumer financial behavior around four key financial functions, namely, money management, insurance, loan and saving/investment and several nontraditional topics such as fintech and financial capability/literacy. The paper also introduced several datasets of consumer finance commonly used in the United States and China.
This paper clarified several similar terms related to consumer finance and sorted out the diverse literature of consumer finance in multiple disciplines such as economics, finance and consumer science, which provide a foundation for generating more fruitful research in consumer finance in the future.
This overview paper uses consumer finance as a synonym of household finance. This paper proposes a broad definition of consumer finance. In terms of contents, consumer finance is similar to household finance, but it covers more nontraditional financial topics. Household finance is commonly used by researchers in economics and finance. Consumer finance is usually used by researchers in business and consumer science.
This paper also presents the scope of consumer finance. Based on the framework outlined by Tufano (2009), we divide consumer finance research topics to four categories, namely, consumer money managing behavior, insuring behavior, borrowing behavior and saving/investing behavior. In addition, several relevant topics are also discussed such as relevant datasets in consumer finance, fintech and consumer finance, financial literacy and financial capability and other topics in consumer finance.
Limitations of consumer finance research include the lack of theories, limited research on certain topics and lack of diverse research methods. Even though theories in saving/investing are well developed and even widely recognized, such as authors of several prominent investment theories received Nobel prizes, we still need theories on certain topics such as how to explain consumer borrowing behavior, insuring behavior and payment choice behavior. Second, compared to rich literature in investing behavior research, we need more research in other aspects of consumer finance, such as consumer use of money management, insure and loan products. Finally, most studies in consumer finance have used survey data. More start to use data from experiments and administrative sources. Studies using data from Internet and other big data sources are still limited, and appropriate analytic approaches are needed to examine these unique data.
Based on this critical review of the literature in consumer finance, we hope more research can be inspired and conducted in following directions: (1) More theoretical research can be conducted to better understand consumer money management, insuring and borrowing behavior and their associations with consumer well-being. (2) More empirical research can be conducted to link consumer investing behavior with financial well-being. For example, under what circumstances consumers should or should not participate in risky financial markets and do institutional backgrounds matter. Also, new issues faced by consumers need to be studied, for example, how to develop new mechanisms for encouraging investment advisors and robo-advisors to provide high-quality decumulation services to their customers because neither of the two prevailing compensation approaches – assets under management and commissions – provides sufficient incentive at present, and consumers are poorly equipped to evaluate the quality of decumulation services on their own (Baker and Dellaert, 2019). (3) More research can be conducted to examine the relationship between fintech and various consumer financial topics as fintech has changed the overall ecological environment of consumer finance in many ways. Many terms may be redefined to address new issues that resulted from the development of fintech. Both bright and dark sides of fintech on welfare need to be researched to provide comprehensive information for government and business policymakers and individual consumers. (4) More research can be conducted on how to increase consumer financial knowledge and encourage them to perform desirable behaviors to achieve financial well-being. (5) More interdisciplinary research can be conducted to examine associations between consumer financial topics and other noneconomic topics such as human development, family relations, cultural comparisons and demographic trends. (6) More new analytic approaches appropriate for big data such as data collected from Internet and other sources at large scales can be used. For example, studies using textual analyses for consumer finance research topics can be encouraged (Huang et al., 2020).
Consumer finance is an emerging field that has many exciting and important research topics. More researchers from various disciplines, especially those in finance, can explore this field and produce more interesting results to benefit consumers, industries and economies worldwide.