Research & Books

Financial advisors can use tricks to manipulate major decisions by vulnerable clients – new research

A LARGE proportion of Australians are unable to tell the difference between good and bad financial advice and are unaware of techniques used by advisors to manipulate critical financial decisions, according to a major University of Sydney study.

In the wake of the study, University of Sydney Business School professor Susan Thorp has called for a tightening of regulations to protect what she calls “vulnerable” clients. 

Working with Prof. Thorp on the research project were Prof. Julie Agnew of the College of William and Mary, Virginia, USA; University of NSW’s (UNSW’s) Prof. Hazel Bateman; Dr Christine Eckert of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School; the Australian National University’s (ANU’s) Dr Fedor Iskhakov and Prof. Jordan Louviere of the University of South Australia.

Prof. Thorp said almost half of all Australians suffer from poor levels of financially literacy and many turn to financial advisors for help with decisions on such things as superannuation investments.

“Even before our research began, we were aware that many people who attend financial advisors view the advice that they are given as very good even when an objective evaluation of that advice found it not to be so,” Prof. Thorp said.

“Puzzled by this,” she said, the research team set out to “unpack the process by which this trust relationship between the advisor and the client was formed”.

The researchers produced videos of a number of advisors, some providing good and others providing bad financial advice. The videos were then shown to groups of people who were asked to identify which of the advisors they would trust.

“We found that people, on the whole, were able to tell the difference between good and bad advice on the topics that were relatively straightforward such as paying off credit card debts,” Prof. Thorp said. “But when it came to more complicated decisions, like superannuation investments, far fewer people were able to tell the difference between good and bad advice.”


The research found that trust in the advisors was easily manipulated.

“We were able to show that if an advisor gave good advice on an easy topic, that formed a good impression in the mind of the client, and they continued to trust that advisor, even when they gave them bad advice down the track,” Prof. Thorp said.

“It seems that this strategy is probably quite widely used and would be influencing people’s decision making.”

The research also measured the impact of showing clients an advisor’s qualifications.

“One of the things we were able to do in this experimental context was measure the impact of a certification and we found that displaying a qualification made people more willing to follow advice than they otherwise would be,” Prof. Thorp said.

She said clients were often unable to tell the difference between genuine and fake qualifications.

Prof. Thorp believes her research indicated a need for higher qualifications and standards for financial advisors. She has also called on the advisory industry and regulators such as ASIC to more rigorously enforce laws protecting consumers.

“A lot of people are aware of being modestly manipulated by an advisor,” Prof. Thorp concluded.

“What’s important here is that the skill gap between the client and the advisor can be large. The potential for misunderstanding or manipulation is quite high in this situation. In other words, clients are vulnerable so they need to be properly protected.”



Griffith Uni leads whistleblower research ‘vital for Australian business’

LEADERS of the world’s largest current research project into whistleblowing – conducted through three of Australia’s leading universities and based at Griffith University – have called for comprehensive, evidence-based law reform to maximise the benefits of whistleblowing for corporate governance and public integrity.

Yet researchers agree that the biggest challenge is not the framing of the legislation itself but the vital and difficult change of mindset required by some policymakers, organisations and the media. 

The Australian Research Council project Whistling While They Work 2: Improving managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private sector organisations, is facing up to a wall of resistance and apathy from business.

Project leader Professor A. J.Brown said there was broad consensus that new laws and standards were needed to support whistleblowing, but as yet little guidance on what form they should take.

“As a result, given the negativity that dominates much current debate over how to respond to problems of corporate culture, regulatory capacity and whistleblower mistreatment, we risk missing some of the greatest opportunities for solving these issues,” Prof. Brown said.

“Perhaps the single greatest opportunity is the high proportion of Australian companies who already know their own people can be the best and fastest way to find out about significant problems of wrongdoing or culture – but who, like all organisations worldwide, lack clear guidance on the tools and systems needed to properly encourage and protect whistleblowing in practice.

“The same is true of regulators – it is too easy to criticise corporate leaders, attack regulators and paint a picture of whistleblowers as overwhelmingly ignored and mistreated, when we know that in both government and business, there are positive efforts and lessons, not just negative ones.

“Given the extent of consensus on the need for new legal and governance standards, it’s time to turn our attention to what those standards need to contain, to best support internal, regulatory and public whistleblowing – rather than defeat ourselves by assuming that organisations and regulators can never get it right, or that all whistleblowers are destined to suffer, no matter what.”

The Whistling While They Work 2research project is focused on identifying current and potential best practice in organisational management of whistleblowing, based on comprehensive evidence drawn from the widest possible spectrum of Australian and New Zealand organisations.

The Australian-led project stands is the largest in the world to date, and is the first to attempt systematic comparison of organisational experience in maximising whistleblowing, in a consistent way across the public and private sectors, and between countries.

Led by researchers from Griffith University,Australian National University,University of Sydney and Victoria University of Wellington, the project is supported by 22 regulatory and professional organisations including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC),
CPA Australia,Governance Institute of Australia,Australian Institute of Company Directorsand Transparency International Australia,along with the Commonwealth Ombudsman and leading public integrity agencies in all states, including all state Ombudsmen.

In April and May, everyAustralian public sector agency and all of Australia’s 31,000 public unlisted and large proprietary companies have been formally approached by these partners and encouraged to participate in the project.

An equivalently broad approach to public and private sector organisations is also underway in New Zealand, where partners include the New Zealand State Services Commission and Ombudsman.

“This is the first time in history that integrity and regulatory authorities are known to have combined to approach every organisation in one country – let alone two – to get behind improved processes for effective disclosure and action against risks of public interest organisational wrongdoing, on such a comprehensive scale,” Prof. Brown said.

There have been two phases to the research – a threshold Survey of Organisational Processes and Procedures, which takes about 30 minutes to complete and is open to all organisations, until June 30; and a more comprehensive survey of staff, managers and systems in those organisations that elect to participate in depth, called Integrity@WERQ, setbetween August and November this year.

Individual responses from organisations are confidential to the university researchers, and participant responses in Integrity@WERQ are anonymous.

“However, aggregated results at jurisdictional, sectoral and organisational levels will provide unprecedented evidence of what is currently working, and why, or why not, in the encouragement and management of whistleblowing within organisations,” Prof Brown said.

“This is the evidence that organisations need to help them get it right, and law reformers need to know what standards should be set in new or reformed legislation, or elsewhere, including clearer and better resourced roles for independent regulators.

“For example, the research team has already resolved to place the results behind a proposal to write the replacement to the Australian Standard on Whistleblower Protection Programs (AS 8004), which was published in 2003 but is currently withdrawn.”

The determination behind the initiative was borne out by the attendees at the project’s launch, which included whistleblower Brian Hood, the former company secretary of Note Printing Australia; ASIC regional commissioner and head of the Office of the Whistleblower Warren Day; acting New South Wales Ombudsman John McMillan; and Governance Institute of Australia’s Judith Fox.



Reckon AI is coming? So is super-intelligence.

Technology research group Nakano’s chief analyst, Andrew Sheehy, is part of a movement to increase the business community’s understanding of what artificial intelligence (AI) is and what positives can come out of utilising AI in business. In this opinion article, he takes it a step further: superintelligence. >>  

GIVEN that the field of machine intelligence, or artificial intelligence (AI) is still clouded by controversy, then it might seem a little premature to say that ‘superintelligence’ is inevitable.

After all, many people would argue that we still do not know what human intelligence or artificial intelligence really are.

The approach I’m going to use here is to bypass completely the conventional arguments about machine intelligence and try to think about the subject in an unconventional way.

The starting point is an assumption that machine intelligence exists. The strength of the machine intelligence could be extremely weak and it could also be very limited but at this stage all we need to do is to accept that advanced AI systems like IBM Watson, or AplhaGo do indeed demonstrate at least some level of genuine intelligence.

But the moment we assume that AI systems like Watson and AlphGo exhibit some level of intelligence then we should immediately ask where that intelligence comes from?

An AI system can be divided into two parts: hardware and software.

The hardware is easiest to understand. Even the most complex computer system is untimely just a collection of semiconductors, circuit boards, passive components, plastics and metal.

It would be very hard to argue that the computer hardware itself possesses any intrinsic intelligence:

We could say that the hardware is intelligent in a way because it is the result of collective human intelligence – which was needed to conceive the design and figure out how to convert the input raw materials into the finished computer. And so if we added up all of the intelligences needed to produce the finished computer then the hardware could be said to embody that intelligence.

The problem with this is that the computer hardware, by itself, does not actually do anything, and nor can it do anything. If it cannot do anything by itself then it cannot exhibit any behaviour which we might deem ‘intelligent’.

In essence, the hardware is like a person the moment after death: intelligence was present, but it no longer is.

Hence, computer hardware as we presently understand it cannot possess intelligence.

The very most we can say about the hardware is that it is the physical environment where machine intelligence can reveal its presence.

The other part of the computer is of course the software.  But first, what exactly is ‘software’?

If this seems like a silly question then consider the following definitions:

  • Software is the part of the computer that is not physical.
  • Software refers to the programs and data used by a computer.
  • Software is encoded information and computer instructions.

But while all of these seem to be reasonable definitions, none clearly define what the software actually is.

Let’s think about this a bit more carefully.

Programmers spend their time creating software which looks like:

  function __construct($settings) {

    $this->host = $settings['host'];

    $this->db   = $settings['db'];

    $this->user = $settings['user'];

    $this->pass = $settings['pass'];

    $this->charset = $settings['charset'];



  function connect() {

    try {

      // connect to database

      $this->dsn = "mysql:host=$this->host;dbname=$this->db;charset=$this->charset";

      $opt = [



          PDO::ATTR_EMULATE_PREPARES   => false,


      $this->conn = new PDO($this->dsn, $this->user, $this->pass, $opt);

      $this->status = true;

    } catch (Exception $e) {

      print "Cannot connect to database, error was: ".$e->getMessage();





But if we think about this carefully then it becomes clear that these are simply two examples of the many ways in which the software can be represented in our physical reality.

Now I know what you’re thinking, which is that the actual software resides in the memory of the computer where it ultimately exists as a series of electronic charges, comprising electrons, that sit on the gates of millions of transistors.

But this isn’t right either.

What happens when we copy the ‘software’ from one computer to another and run the software on the second computer? At first it seems we now have two copies of the software, but do we really have two copies of the software, or merely two physical representations of the same software?

After all, given that the copy of the ‘software’ exists inside the memory of the second computer (which could be in a different country) then it must be represented by a different set of electrons.

Because none of the electrons that represented the original version of the software form part of the copy (the original electrons are still on the original computer) we can be sure that whatever the software really is, it has nothing to do with electrons.

There’s more...

Even when the software is executed on the original computer the electrons that represent a given instruction in the computer’s memory are not the same ones that are used to represent the software when that instruction is executed in the microprocessor.

Again, we see that the software is different to how it is represented.

So what, exactly, is software?

The answer is that software does not exist – at all:

Software is simply a human intellectual construct, just like mathematics.

Software can only be represented in our physical reality, say by projecting something on a computer screen, printing characters on a paper page, storing a set of electronic charges in a memory chip. Or even as oranges arranged in a particular way in a park.

This rather abstract finding is important for the following reason:

If software is just a human intellectual construct then this means that machine intelligence must be a derivative of human intelligence.

Machine intelligence is where human intellect is repurposed in a way that allows it to exist within a computer, rather than a biological brain.

By necessity, machine intelligence must be very different to human intelligence:

  • we are representing it using an imperfect intellectual construct (software)
  • we are enhancing certain aspects (by taking advantage of the computer’s ability to process large volumes of data)
  • we are ignoring certain aspects completely (like emotion etc.)
  • we are then constraining it further by it by realising it in the form of multiple, wholly independent intelligence domains (different AI systems operate within their own closed domains)
  • we are further restricting it by not providing any meaningful ability to interact with the surrounding environment

There is no way that machine intelligence is remotely like human intelligence in nature – even though it is derived from it, and – in a very restricted sense– can exhibit a degree of autonomous action or ‘free will’.

But, nevertheless, the nature of the intelligence we are creating in machines – while very different to ours – is absolutely as real as ours.

What is currently happening in the field of AI is that scientists and engineers are working with experts that have deep domain knowledge to aggregate, magnify and then commoditise their collective intelligence.

Because of the intellectual complexity of this task things are proceeding slowly on a domain-by-domain basis, but the end point is clear:

AI systems will eventually have been developed for all human intellectual domains.

We can easily imagine that these systems will be connected together into a network – rather like the internet – but where questions and answers will be relayed between the nodes, instead of data packets.

The resulting level of collective machine intelligence will be greater than the collective human intelligence that was required to build the network. This will be because the intellect of each ‘AI node’ will already be supra-human while network effects will mean that the collective intelligence of the whole network will be exponentially greater than the sum of the individual intelligences.

Even if some aspects of human intelligence – such as emotion, worry and irony, or even sentience as we understand it - remain absent from the ‘AI web’ then the resulting structure will still be extremely powerful, or ‘superintelligent’.

As soon as we realise that machine intelligence is simply a derivative, superior form of human intelligence then the inevitability of superintelligence is clear, even if the timescales and implications are not.



Oil and gas industry research boost

TWO new research initiatives are designed to assist Australian researchers to collaborate with the oil and gas industry to help strengthen Australia’s competitive advantages in the sector.

The ARC Research Hub for Offshore Floating Facilities and the ARC Training Centre for Liquefied Natural Gas Futures were recently launched at the University of Western Australia. 

The Hub and Centre have been provided with $4.9 million and $4.5m respectively in ARC funding under the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Transformation Research Programme.

ARC chief executive officer, Aidan Byrne, said the interrelated Hub and Centre, both based at the University of Western Australia, would drive stronger innovation in Australia’s energy sector.

Professor Byrne said industry-research partnerships would focus on strategic technologies specifically relating to floating offshore developments and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production.

“The ARC Research Hub for Offshore Floating Facilities will tackle critical engineering challenges for offshore oil and gas projects in remote deep water locations by creating improved designs and operating procedures, leveraging Australia’s competitive advantage in floating LNG facilities,” Prof Byrne said.

“Researchers at this Hub — working with leading global gas and oil industry organisations  Woodside, Shell, and partner organisations Lloyds Register and Bureau Veritas — will develop new technologies and analysis methods required for safe and efficient offshore projects, such as ocean forecasting, vessel motion and offloading analysis, riser and mooring longevity, and novel anchoring and subsea foundations,” Prof. Byrne said.

“The ARC Training Centre for Liquefied Natural Gas Futures — with support from industry partners Chevron, Shell, Woodside, Samsung, Daewoo, GE, Clough, Guodian, and VMG —will train the next generation of researchers in the industry, who will work closely with experts in a conducive industry setting, ensuring they have the right skill sets to make a difference in their field.”



Bond adventure: the amazing case of David Wallader

A BOOK on the intriguing and extraordinary 2008 US$1.5 billion ‘counterfeit’ trial and conviction of David Wallader – followed by his urgent  re-trial and quashing of all international fraud charges for ‘no conviction recorded’ – is now in production  by Australian publisher Screamer Media.

David Wallader’s story has all the hallmarks of an international espionage novel, or perhaps an Indiana Jones movie – trillions of dollars of 1934 US Treasury bonds, housed in elaborate once-only access plaster of Paris boxes, sealed under glass with Do Not Open warnings of poisonous gas within; and all hidden in deep underground caves to protect them from the Japanese invasion of 1942. 

Except, until now, the back story of the Australian Federal Police astonishingly accusing him of trying to ‘sell’ an alleged US$1.5 billion worth of ‘counterfeit’ US Treasury Bonds in his possession – which he had been asked to try to authenticate – to the Turkish Government has not been told.

Mr Wallader said, at first, he had laughed when he had heard the peculiar charges raised against him – but they proved no laughing matter as his life was sucked into a whirlpool of damning false accusations, flimsy evidence, clumsy defence and possible perjury of a person in the witness stand against him. This maelstrom led to his initial custodial conviction.

Even as he was being hauled off to Numinbah Prison Farm, he could not understand, or believe, the circumstances that had led to this cataclysmic downturn in the 62nd year of his life.

The former Westpac bank manager had branched out from that increasingly inhibited world, after progressing to the leading ranks of bank management, to join the agriculture industry in the late 1980s – and things were going well at his innovative Colinton Station property in Queensland by the early 2000s.

Perhaps because David Wallader had a wealth of banking experience – he had handled the coupon interest payments of Commonwealth bonds, so he knew what genuine bonds looked like and how they operated, plus he had written a thesis on trading securities and bonds – that a friend in the Philippines asked him to take a look at these intriguing ‘US Treasury bond’ caches. Mr Wallader was also sceptical, as he knew the Philippines’ reputation for creating intricate and elaborate counterfeits of currency.

But he nevertheless agreed when his friend, a Canadian dentist and business owner, made the request out of the blue while Mr Wallader was in the Philippines on holiday in 2001. Intrigued by photographs, Mr Wallader agreed to travel to Mindanao and was shown a broken security box filled with bonds, brought to him on the back of a pick-up truck. All the local people wanted, they said, was David Wallader’s opinion on the bonds’ authenticity.

If they were counterfeit, Mr Wallader discovered, the tell-tales were beyond his experience at the time.

The main cache was said to be still buried in the untouched glass-sealed cases deep underground somewhere on the island of Mindanao. The locals claimed these ‘bonds’ were part of a trove that was a wartime guarantee for the Philippines’ support of US forces against the Japanese, set to mature in 1964.

“Before David explained to me the nuances of one of his current businesses, IFO, which funds infrastructure through a unique Europe-based trading platform, he insisted on showing me evidence of this horrendous period of his life – and especially, of course, his Crown pardon,” Business Acumen editor and author of the new book, Mike Sullivan said.

“I was astonished – it really did sound like an Indiana Jones script: unearthed ‘treasure’, David’s quest to have the bonds verified, which eventually led him to a currency expert in Turkey, then the out-of-the-blue raid on David’s home in Queensland by Federal Police.

“David was clearly worried that I might write him off as some type of nutter, but it had quite the opposite effect as I viewed his compelling evidence,” Mr Sullivan said.

“In fact, I think it made me take his innovative infrastructure financial platform more seriously as I realised how savvy, honest and methodical this man really was – and how he had been brought almost to the point of suicide by the trials and his temporary jailing. A lesser man would have succumbed to this vast arsenal of malicious legal power against him.”

How and why did this happen to David Wallader? In hindsight, and with the benefit of archived evidence that has only recently come available, the answer may be found in the tense geo-political and international financial tumult of 2007: the Iraq War neighbouring Turkey and the onset of Sub-Prime Mortgage crisis dragging the US into its ‘Great Recession’.

Finding answers to these questions is what this book is all about, according to its editors.

“It cannot be ignored that there was a war going on in Iraq at the time – a war in which the US needed Turkey’s assistance – and Turkey was heavily in debt to the US,” Mr Sullivan said. “A scenario in which – brought to Mr Wallader by a financial business executive in Turkey – that country’s government could possibly obtain such bonds for millions of dollars. That is, assuming they turned out to be authenticated, Turkey might trade them back to the US for trillions. Such a scenario would have been very, very uncomfortable at the time.

“Perhaps as significant, David Wallader found himself on the precipice of another unexpected event, the sub-prime meltdown of the US financial sector. Remember, this was 2007 … and the Great Recession and its near destruction of Wall Street was germinating. The last thing the US would have wanted at that stage was the appearance of trillions of dollars of mature US Treasury bonds.”

Whatever the geo-political factors at play, this awful period in David Wallader’s life makes fascinating reading. The very District Court judge who convicted him, Charles Brabazon QC, realised on the night after the trial and Mr Wallader’s custodial sentencing, that he had made “a grave error in law”.

That night, the judge began the application to set that judgement aside and, eventually, set Mr Wallader free and overturn his conviction.

David Wallader has the stamped Crown judgement paper to prove it.

Significantly, the appeal trial came just 28 days after sentencing – a rare rapid timeframe indeed.

“Oh, and he still has that handful of ‘US Treasury bonds’ that he took to Turkey to have assessed as fake or genuine,” author Mike Sullivan said. “I’ve seen them and we have very clear photographs of them within this book …

“Except now they have ham-fisted black ink stamps placed all over them, I’d assume by the Federal Police, which proclaim THIS IS A FICTITIOUS DOCUMENT.

“Why would Australian Federal Police do such a thing? The re-trial and appeal was won on the grounds that these ‘bonds’ could not be proven as counterfeit beyond reasonable doubt – and the prosecution could not produce a genuine example for comparison.

“If anything, those stamps raise more questions, particularly as they seem much more like a graffiti than an official announcement, compared with the quality of the paper, the rich inks and watermarking of the ‘bonds’.

“The biggest question of all is why he was accused of trying to sell those ‘bonds’ to the Turkish Government, when Mr Wallader said there was no such offer on his part – he had taken them to Turkey to see if a regional expert in bonds and currencies he knew could authenticate them,” Mr Sullivan said.

“An extremely dark episode in David Wallader’s life – one which still unfortunately impacts his business reputation, thanks to the anomalies of Google searches and one-sided press coverage of the time – makes for fascinating reading today. This is why we have taken the decision to present David’s story in a well-illustrated blow-by-blow account.”

Wallader’s Word is Whose Bond? is the working title of the book, planned for publication in 2017 by Screamer Media, publisher of Business Acumen magazine.


Wealth inequality changes luxury travel finds MyTravelResearch

INCREASING inequality in wealth is one of the factors changing the nature of luxury travel, according to co-founder and luxury travel expert, Carolyn Childs.

Ms Childs told a seminar at the recent Luxexperience exhibition in Sydney that social and political forces such as the Occupy Movement and government austerity cuts were driving many wealthy people to spend more privately.

She said a counterpoint was that the same forces had also encouraged the rise in socially responsible luxury travel activities. 

“The trend to private consumption away from public scrutiny can be seen in the increase in purchases of mega yachts and private islands,” Ms Childs said. “Technological change and its impact on workplace communications has also triggered a counter demand among the rich to de-tech completely while on holiday.”

Ms Childs told the audience of 500 high-end travel buyers, sellers and advisors at the Luxperience Thought Leaders seminar that the international Occupy movement – which grew out of the Occupy Wall Street event – like the French and Russian Revolutions before it, had changed the psyche, moral reference points and consumption patterns of well-off people.

“We now see the rise of responsible resorts such as El Nido in the Philippines where high end travellers are both pampered and give back to the community,” Ms Childs said.

“Luxury travel is now increasingly defined by a rising commitment to people, planet and self-improvement as much as indulgence, pampering and conspicuous consumption.”

Ms Childs told the audience that wealth disparity has been on the rise since around 1980, with the richest 1-10 percent in North America, Europe and Australia now owning over 70 percent of society’s wealth.

Ms Childs observed that the rise in the nouveau riche, particularly in China, India and the G7 economies, has seen luxury consumers around the world splinter into personality types such as philanthropist, dynast, lotus eater, hedonist, pioneer, jet setter, enrichment seeker and replenisher.

Ms Childs said the luxury travel sector had also seen the rise of “aspirational consumers who will splash the cash” depending on three factors: the occasion, such as a honeymoon or anniversary; the experience, such as a trip to Antarctica; and the traveller’s ability to trade up or down – for example, enjoying a three-star holiday but taking a helicopter ride to a spectacular dinner on the last day.

One key aspect of modern luxury travel came embarrassingly to the fore in Australia with the events surrounding the unauthorised importation of two dogs by Hollywood movie star Johnny Depp staying on the Gold Coast while filming the latest instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ms Childs said luxury travellers now relied on elite travel agents, or advisors, that she called “magicians”.

“These Gandalfs and Merlins are completely service-minded, very creative control freaks who try to anticipate the psychological and physical needs of their clients,” Ms Childs said.

“They have to deliver magic. They dread saying ‘no’ to a customer who is only used to hearing ‘yes’.

“When it goes wrong the results can be high profile,” she said, citing Mr Depp’s terriers Pistol and Boo, who faced being put down when the actor brought them into Australia in defiance of quarantine regulations.

In December, Ms Childs will publish an in-depth study of trends and changes in the luxury travel economy in partnership with Luxperience



Consumer confidence on rise?

EXTRA >> RESEARCH from an unusual source ‘close to the coalface’ of consumer spending is predicting steady growth in Australian consumer confidence – and therefore retail spending – leading up to Christmas 2015.

The founder of Cashrewards, the Australian cashback website, with more than 700 retailers on its shopping platform, Andrew Clarke, said about 58 percent of consumers expected to spend more in 2015 over last year and shoppers in the 18-24 years age bracket were still driving the majority of online sales. 

“The outlook for retailers through until the end of 2015 is looking very positive,” Mr Clarke said. “Spending has always been a barometer of consumer confidence in the economy, and low interest rates may be a contributing factor towards the positive sentiment about spending.”

He said the 58 percent increasing their spend – not including groceries – for 2015 would do so in both online and in-store shopping. The 2015 spend trend is dominated by the 18-24 age bracket, with 64 percent of that group expecting to spend more this year than last.

The young age bracket, not surprisingly, also plans to increase online spending the most by the end of 2015 (38% of respondents), in contrast to the over-55s, where 37 percent planned to spend more in-store.

Mr Clarke said in line with the increased online spending by younger demographics, the survey revealed the 18-25s age bracket was the one most motivated by online cashback incentives (59%), followed by 25-44s (55%), then 45-54s (49%), and over 55s (38%).

The Cashrewards survey panel of 1000 Australians reflected consumer confidence and good news for the Australian economy in the lead-up to Christmas, Mr Clarke said.

The survey found NSW residents were slightly more confident about the economy than those in other states, with 61 percent saying they would spend more this year, followed by 58 percent of Victorians, Queenslanders (58%), West Australians (56%) and South Australians (56%).

 “The fluctuating employment rate and Australian dollar certainly don’t seem to have deterred spending by the 18-25s, which may indicate that this age bracket isn’t as affected – or just that they don’t allow it to affect their planned spending,” Mr Clarke said.

“This could be because they’re very savvy with their online shopping and look for discounts and cashback for all their purchases.”

A key insight from the survey showed that across demographics, 90 percent buy on sale or through a promotion. Shoppers are mostly enticed by discounts (73.8%), coupons (32.3%), and rewards (38.9%).

“Having said that, when it comes to online shopping, 49 percent prefer online cashback over points schemes,” Mr Clarke said.


Cashrewards backgrounder

The online cashback concept works like this. With over 700 retailers across categories, Cashrewards claims to offer Australia’s highest cashback rates. It’s free to join and members can browse, compare prices, and get on average (it is claimed) 10-20 percent cashback on every item purchased; adding coupons to special discounts, shoppers are said to be able to save up to 50 percent.  Shoppers click through to the retailer website of their choice to purchase as usual, then Cashrewards credits the cashback directly into the shopper’s nominated bank account. Where it varies most from points schemes is that actual cash comes back to the shopper, rather than waiting for points to accrue for a reward.

Cashrewards says new deals are available daily, from Australian and international retailers including Woolworths, Coles, eBay, Chemist Warehouse, Priceline, The ICONIC, ASOS, David Jones, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lorna Jane, Virgin Australia, Telstra, Vodafone,, Avis, Microsoft, Sony, Groupon, Living Social, Dan Murphy’s, Uber, Menulog and EatNow.

The Survey

* Survey of 1000 Australian respondents on online shopping habits, conducted by Pure Profile for Cashrewards, August 2015. 


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