Behavioral web design to increase savings for low-income young people

Place: Washington, DC
Partners: Center for Economic Development (CFED), Bank on DC and Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) of Washington, DC
Status: Complete

Behavioral Challenge

How can we help young people commit to save part of their summer pay  check each month?


Bank on DC wanted to create a “new norm” of being young and banked. By teaming up with the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), Bank on DC offered the opportunity to open bank accounts to nearly 9,000 young DC residents. 

For almost 40% of the youth, SYEP represents their first paycheck. Bank on DC viewed this as the perfect time to get young people banked.

The challenge was that in previous years, SYEP participants received their summer earnings on a prepaid card, which meant that youth were effectively defaulted out of a banking relationship. 

Our goal was to redesign the online process for SYEP participants in order to: 1) encourage people to receivetheir pay via direct deposit into a bank account, and 2) commit to automatically saving a portion of their pay each month.


Our redesign was designed to: (1) eliminate the perception that pre-paid cards were the default payment option, (2) simplify the process of signing up for an account, and (3) present a lottery for saving.

We know that linking savings to a cash prize can be a very effective way of increasing savings for lowincome people. People enjoy playing for prizes – in part because we overestimate our chances of winning – so linking a cash prize to saving (“the more you save, the more likely you are to win”) can be very effective. 

Bank on DC created its own prize-linked savings program: the two credit unions that partnered with Bank on DC offered students the chance to win a $1,000 prize.

Every SYEP participant was sent an email offering direct deposit and automatic transfers into a savings account and told of the savings lottery. Once students clicked on the email they were directed to a series of screens designed to encourage them to open a checking and savings account.

 After choosing to direct deposit their earnings into a new account, SYEP participants saw the following prompt:

You have the opportunity to win $1,000 if you save some of your summer earnings. Therefore we encourage you to sign up to automatically put away money each week into your savings account! The more you save, the more interest you will earn and the better your chances of winning $1,000!

1. How much would you like to save every pay period?

Please note you will be able to easily access money in your savings account at any time via an ATM or branch. In addition, you can choose to save more or less at any time by calling your financial institution,


  • $40 saved per 2 week pay period ($160 plus interest by the end of SYEP)
  • $25 saved per 2 week pay period ($100 plus interest by the end of SYEP)
  • $10 saved per 2 week pay period ($40 plus interest by the end of SYEP)
  • A different amount: ___________________


9,000 youths aged 18-21 were emailed the option to open up a bank account or activate direct deposit. Of those, 22% responded to the email by clicking on the link and viewing the SYEP website that presented the different payment and savings options. Over 1,300youth signed up for direct deposit.

We found that of those who responded to the email (a skewed sample since these are the people most interested in banking), a majority signed up for direct deposit, and an overwhelming majority opted into an automatic savings account.


In addition, we found that the most popular savings option was the highest saving option (chart below), which was also the first option presented.



Applying Behavioral Research to Asset-Building Initiatives