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The Inclusive Economy

What Appeals to Parents About Children’s Savings Accounts? Findings from a Survey of Low-Income Parents

By Shira Markoff and Pamela Chan on 05/15/2017 @ 03:00 PM

Tags: Children's Savings Accounts, Data and Research

Through more than a decade of practice, we’ve seen how Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) inspire parents to save for their children’s post-secondary education and raise their expectations for their children’s futures. To enhance the field’s understanding of parent perceptions of CSAs further, CFED conducted survey research with low-income parents of young children to assess whether a $100 incentive increases the appeal of CSAs. The survey results indicate that respondents found CSAs attractive with or without a $100 savings incentive; this suggests that we need additional exploration of different incentive options and marketing messages to see how they affect the appeal of CSAs. Below we describe the research findings and implications for further research.


The survey tested three different versions of incentives for a hypothetical CSA program:

  • In version 1, the program provided a $100 initial deposit upon account opening
  • In version 2, the program matched family deposits dollar for dollar up to the first $100
  • In version 3, no incentives were provided (this was a control, as technically it does not meet the definition of a CSA program)

Over 700 low-income parents of children ages zero to 11—who were recruited by a market research company—participated in the online survey. Each respondent was shown a concept board—a short flyer with a basic description of the program and its features—for one of the three program versions described above. Respondents were then asked several questions including:

  • Would they seek more information about the program?
  • How much do they like or dislike the program?


Overall, across all three versions of the program that were tested, the survey showed that low-income parents generally like the idea of a CSA program. Around 60% of respondents said they “like” or “love” the program, and over 50% of respondents said that they “probably will” or “definitely will” seek more information about the program.

Interestingly, parents’ reactions in the survey were about the same for the version with a $100 initial deposit, a $100 match, and even the model that offered no incentives. This suggests that, at least at the $100 level, savings incentives, whether distributed as an initial deposit or as a match, may not be the main appeal of CSAs. (It is important to note that this only applies to the $100 incentive tested; it is possible that a higher incentive amount could have a different effect.)

To gain clues about what is appealing about CSAs for parents, the survey asked respondents to share what they liked and didn’t liked about the program in open-ended questions. Across all three versions, respondents mentioned saving for their child’s future and education most. As one parent wrote, “It is beneficial to so many people that are trying to provide a better future for their children.” Many parents also cited the incentives as a feature they liked, but not always as often.


These results indicate that focusing on the impact on children’s futures may be a very effective way to message CSAs to parents. Focusing on a $100 incentive could help but may not be essential to drawing parental interest in the program. While these results are interesting, we should be cautious about drawing too many conclusions from this survey. Respondents’ had limited exposure to the programs; they just saw a brief program description on the flyers and had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions or engage in dialogue. Also, we didn’t test programs with higher incentive amounts or other types of incentives, such as benchmark incentives.

We have very little research on the impact of varying incentive structures and amounts in the CSA field, making it difficult to compare and contextualize these results. What we can say from this research is that the field still has a lot to learn about the best ways to design incentives, and further research is necessary to help us maximize the appeal and effectiveness of CSA programs.


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