Please check out the recent publications by OOW members Laura Doering, and Kristen McNeill. 2020. “Elaborating on the Abstract: Group Meaning-Making in a Colombian Microsavings Program.” American Sociological Review. Online First.
Access to formal financial products like savings accounts constitutes a hallmark feature of economic development, but individuals do not uniformly embrace these products. In explaining such financial preferences, scholars have focused on institutional, cultural, and material factors, but they have paid less attention to organizations and small groups. In this article, we argue that these factors are crucial to understanding financial preferences. We investigate a government-sponsored microsavings program in Colombia and find that participants became less interested in banking services over the course of the program, even as they gained access to appropriate accounts and their savings increased. Turning to qualitative data to understand this curious finding, we show that organizational efforts to disseminate abstract information about banking triggered a process of “elaboration” among group members, leading many to develop financial preferences at odds with those promoted by the government. This study integrates insights from economic sociology, organizational theory, and microsociology to advance theories of financial preference. In doing so, we reveal how organizational efforts to compress information, followed by group efforts to personalize and expand upon the information, can shape preferences and potentially undermine organizational goals.