U.S. Bank hires Dr. Julie O’Brien, formerly of WW, as head of behavioral science

January 04, 2022

Her charge is simple: Help U.S. Bank customers achieve their goals, whether financial or otherwise.

What does weight loss have in common with financial success?

According to Dr. Julie O’Brien, the head of behavioral science and coaching at U.S. Bank, a lot.

“At the core, they share the same basic challenge: How do we help people avoid temptations every single day for the rest of their lives? Many things we want in the abstract, like saving money or being healthy, are hard or don’t feel good right now, and many things that feel good right now are not good for us in the long run.”

Prior to joining U.S. Bank, O’Brien served as director of applied behavioral science at WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and as a principal behavioral scientist at Duke University. She has a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Maryland and has spent her career focused on designing and testing behavioral interventions to close the gap between people’s actions and intentions in areas such as voter turnout, energy usage and weight loss.

O’Brien has long thought about the behavioral science challenges of personal finance. For one example, the reward for saving money is invisible – it means not buying something you may want. For another, with money being a taboo topic for many people, the social norms that can reinforce habits often don’t apply.

Behavioral science is about helping people close the gap between what they want and what they are able to achieve, which aligns with the mission at U.S. Bank to power potential.

“It isn’t about the money, it’s about the life that money can enable,” said Steve Fogle, head of personalization at U.S. Bank. “When we help customers achieve meaningful outcomes in their life, all the way to achieving better habits, we earn the right to play a more central role in their life. With Julie’s leadership we will reimagine our entire ecosystem, incorporating behavioral science into how we build connected human and digital experiences to drive outcomes in a way no bank has done before.”

In this new position, O’Brien is charged with helping the bank take a science-based approach to helping customers achieve their goals – regardless of whether the goals are personal, career aspirational or financial. She leads a team of scientists working across the company to incorporate behavioral science insights into customer experiences, including the personalized insights delivered digitally through our top-rated mobile app. She is also using the same data-driven techniques to evolve how our bankers and coaches add more value to the lives of our customers both in person and via digital experiences.

“Money is at the center of life, but it’s not fun to think about and it’s hard to manage well,” said O’Brien, who is based in Durham, N.C. “The behaviors that help you in the long run are hard day-to-day. We have to make this easier for our customers.”

So what is the secret to money and weight loss? It isn’t willpower.

“It’s much more nuanced and complicated,” O’Brien said. “The best solutions are not about self-control or resisting temptation, but are about engineering your environment, designing situational strategies, and leveraging social relationships. There are powerful, evidence-based ways to change human behavior – and I couldn’t be more excited to apply them at U.S. Bank and help change the way an entire industry thinks about its relationship to customers.”