A focus on financial well-being

By Suzanne Bowness Posted: November 28, 2018 12:00 p.m.

Marketing professor Magdalena Cismaru assesses the influence of campaigns aimed at financial health.
Marketing professor Magdalena Cismaru assesses the influence of campaigns aimed at financial health. Photos by U of R Photography

University of Regina marketing professor Magdalena Cismaru is on a mission to study social marketing campaigns and healthy decision-making. Her research looks at how public campaigns do and do not reflect current expertise. Past areas of focus have included campaigns to curb drunk driving, to prevent texting and driving, and to combat depression. 

Now, as the University’s new Conexus Research Scholar in Financial Well-being, she’s collaborating with Conexus and has turned her analytical eye to financial well-being. 

Joel Graham
Joel Graham, financial
wellness manager for
Conexus, is pleased with his
company’s partnership with
the University of Regina.
Amanda Wuth at the
University of Regina

“Financial well-being is more complex than whether or not you have money. It’s a combination of objective and subjective measures because some people come out of the same financial situation feeling differently. Some might be okay being in a certain situation, while some might stress more than others,” says Cismaru. 

Given the harm that financial unwellness can cause—from stress to marital discord to depression—many organizations have taken up the charge to help educate the public about various financial literacy initiatives. 

For her study, Cismaru chose 14 campaigns from around the world and evaluated them on how well they help audiences along the transtheoretical model of behaviour change. This model sees change not as a binary process (change or don’t change), but as a cycle to move along, where the individual needs various messages at various points to keep going. 

Cismaru says some of the surprising ways where campaigns departed from expert advice included their focus on life events, such as the birth of a child or job loss, rather than factors like socioeconomics.

“Campaigns likely do this because people can easily relate to something like buying a car, whereas categorizing themselves as high risk for financial distress due to low income might make them feel bad about themselves,” explains Cismaru. 

She also notes that financial institutions often opt out of using scare tactics. 

“Scaring people, then providing them with specific recommendations and solutions to overcome that fear, is something that’s been used in social marketing forever. And it works,” she says.   “But designers of financial literacy campaigns choose a softer approach based on reward rather than punishment.” Perhaps a reason that they are wary to use scare tactics is that they can backfire, says Cismaru. 

Cismaru says she’s excited to share her findings with Conexus. As the largest credit union in Saskatchewan and sixth largest in Canada, Conexus conducts its own financial research, but was pleased to connect with the University and to benefit from Cismaru’s scholarly insights. 

“Our organizational purpose is to improve the financial well-being of our members and our communities,” explains Joel Graham, financial wellness manager for Conexus. 

Cismaru says that partnering has been beneficial for everyone involved in the project, including her graduate assistant Amanda Wuth.

Wuth, who has been involved in the project since the beginning, is working on her master’s degree in psychology. She says she valued the practical learning and even took steps to increase her own financial well-being.

“As a result of working with this topic, I met with financial advisors, started investing, and became more conservative with unnecessary spending,” Wuth says. 

Cismaru says that the opportunity to analyze a topic so central to the average person’s life, and to do it with a partner that can use the results in a practical way, is very satisfying. “This is a very, very timely subject. If financial wellness is improved, everyone benefits—the individual, the family, friends, the workplace, and society as a whole.”



To learn more about the University of Regina’s impactful research, please visit Discourse, the University’s research magazine.