School of Economics

William Mailer

William Mailer
Subject: MSc Behavioural Economics

Graduated: 2011
Place of work: Commonwealth Bank of Australia
Position: Head of Behavioural Economics at Commonwealth Bank of Australia

William studied economics in his native Australia and in the US before applying for an MSc in Behavioural Economics during a visit to Nottingham. It's fitting that he now describes his route to this life-changing decision as "a complete long shot", as he was actually in the city to play in a football tournament.


How did you first become interested in economics?

I've always been interested in observing people and understanding why they make the choices they do. I was probably more interested in psychology, but economics seemed a more structured way to think about people and the world - and, as quite a logical and analytical thinker, I found that appealing. I also I had a great economics teacher at high school, and I'm sure that had something to do with my early interest as well.

Why did you choose to study at the School of Economics at Nottingham?

It's quite a story.

I was working in Sydney in a business economics role but had been reading a lot of books about human social preferences and biases - what I would later understand as parts of the emerging field of behavioural economics. That summer I travelled to Nottingham to play in a football tournament, and in doing some research on the city I found out about CeDEx and the interesting work the people there were doing in behavioural and experimental economics.

It was a complete long shot, but I contacted the school and managed to get a meeting with Professor Chris Starmer, CeDEx's director. We met for a coffee and had a fantastic discussion about the books I'd been reading and some of the new developments and directions in economics.

Chris suggested I apply for the MSc - so, inspired by our meeting and my newfound interest in behavioural economics, I went for it. One year later I was enrolled and moving to Nottingham.

What are your fondest memories of your time at the school?

The people - both the faculty and my fellow students. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful, and it didn't take long at all to feel at home. I also enjoyed the challenge of the MSc programme - I really got to push myself. And I found Nottingham itself a fun place to be, with a great lifestyle.

What advice would you give to someone considering or about to start a course at the school?

Get organised. There's so much to do and so much to enjoy about the programme, but you’ll get more out of it if you can effectively balance the demanding work schedule with time to meet new people, enjoy the city and maybe even get to a Nottingham Forest game.

Also, don't be afraid to ask for help. There'll be times when the workload seems overwhelming, but I was amazed by the accessibility and friendliness of the professors and students.

Oh, and get in quickly for the popular textbooks in the library. They can be hard to get if you're too slow.

Tell us about life since graduation

I worked for PwC as a management consultant after leaving Nottingham. I was promoted to senior manager in the people and organisation practice, but I worked closely with other teams - including economics and policy, financial services and digital consulting.

Where does behaviour economics fit in?

Well, in 2014 I started a PwC behavioural economics consulting practice, which is now growing and doing very well. In June 2015 we won the PwC Global Innovation Challenge competition against 84 entries from 27 countries, and PwC is now helping us to build behavioural economics consulting expertise in other countries around the world.



And what exactly does that work involve?

I lead a small group of technical experts with backgrounds in economics, psychology, applied ethnography and user experience. A lot of what we did is related to the work you might seen in the "nudge units" around the world. We used behavioural science insights to redesign customer decision moments so that people can make better choices. We might redesign complex products, communications or incentives/prices or even test one or more designs against the status quo to see what works in different contexts.

It sounds like your experiences at the school have very much helped shape your career

My time at Nottingham helped me build a solid basic level of understanding of the field and definitely made me restless to learn more. I’m keen to explore at a deeper level, but in the meantime I enjoy being able to understand the literature and engaging in conversations with academics and interested practitioners.

My MSc also helped me to learn a lot about myself and to build resilience in demanding situations. It really tested me and gave me an appreciation for rigour and structured, disciplined thinking. I'm now much more confident in approaching complex problems and challenging different ideas.

And now you get to put it all into practice

Absolutely. My work allows me to apply many of the concepts I learnt for my MSc. I'm able to combine my passion for the science with my prior experience, and it's very rewarding to see the increasing demand for this type of thinking.

Are you still in touch with your fellow alumni and, if so, how do you stay in contact?

Facebook! Isn't that the only way we speak to each other these days?

Seriously, though, I keep in touch with different people through different channels and in different circumstances. I've come across some who are now working in related roles; I've bumped into others at academic/practitioner conferences; and then there are those I'll always contact when I pass through their countries and cities in the hope we can grab a coffee or a meal.

Why is staying in touch important?

It was such a great group of people from all over the world. Everyone was so nice, and the mix of backgrounds created such a unique experience - particularly when we were all working so hard and so closely together. I see the MSc as such a nice memory in my life, and the people were a big part of that. We share stories whenever we get together, and it really takes me back. It's also great to see all of the different paths people have taken.

Have you been back to the school since you graduated?

I haven't, unfortunately, but I plan to. I've been in touch with friends and professors who are still at the school, and I even have a picture of the Trent Building on my wall at home. I like to keep an eye on the news from the school and try to keep up with what's happening. I look forward to visiting soon and seeing some old friends.




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