Author: Jill Young Miller


About Jill Young Miller

As research translator for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to highlight professors’ research by “translating” their work into stories. Before coming to Olin, I was a communications specialist at WashU’s Brown School. My background is mostly in newspapers including as a journalist for Missouri Lawyers Media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. Also, I am the reigning Olin Cornhole Champion.

Get gutsy! Live gutsy! That was the message from Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour during her high-energy talk Tuesday at WashU Olin.

A Marine, Armour made history as the nation’s first black female combat pilot.

“If you don’t take action, it wasn’t a gutsy move, it was a gutsy thought. It isn’t, ‘Are you willing?’ but ‘Will you?’” Armour said in her talk before Olin students, alumni, faculty and staff.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Armour completed two tours in Iraq.

“I never wanted to be ‘one of the guys.’ What I wanted was to be part of the team: with one mission, one goal, one team that impacts lives,” she said.

On Tuesday, she shared her story of setbacks, challenges, adventure and success.

“Everyone has challenges and obstacles. But the key is, acknowledge those obstacles, don’t give them power.”

She also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging.

“It’s all about access and exposure, and that’s why diversity is so much more than a buzzword. We are the gateway to how young people see and engage the world.”

We all have permission to engage, Armour emphasized. “You are your ground controller. If you don’t give yourself permission, who will?”

Diversity is one of Olin’s core values, Dean Mark Taylor noted when he introduced Armour. “We are gratified to have many different voices here at Olin,” he said. “And just as important is making sure those voices are included.”

Armour uses her voice. She now runs a consulting firm and gives motivational speeches. In addition, she’s the author of the book “Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals that Matter.”

The event was part of Olin’s Leadership Perspectives series. Watch FlyGirl’s entire talk here. You’ll be glad you did.

Can data science be used for good? The answer is 100% yes.

Can data science be used for bad? The answer is also 100% yes.

“And the difference between the best applications and the worst applications is us,” said keynote speaker Jaime Metzl at Olin’s conference November 1 on data responsibility and the ethics of analytics.

Metzl, a renowned technology futurist, kicked off the event. Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights and the Bauer Leadership Center, in partnership with the school’s Leadership Perspective series, organized the conference.

Speakers also included representatives from Maritz Motivation Solutions Inc., Americas-Teradata, Bryan Cave LLP, Mastercard, Express Scripts Inc., Edward Jones and Daugherty Business Solutions.

“The challenge is that this future is coming at us much faster than most of us understand or appreciate,” Metzl said. “And the reason for that is that we are in an era of exponential change.”

Such rapid change is leading to a world where science fiction and science fact are connected, he said.

“We have to get out of our day-to-day, conservative mindsets to really be able to imagine where we are going,” Metzl said. “Because it is an exciting, crazy, frightening, new and fast-approaching world.”

‘Massive data pools’ and our values

Metzl cited the future of medicine as a prime example. The world of symptom-based medicine is shifting “to a new world of predictive medicine,” aided by human genome sequencing.

“We’re very soon moving into a world where every kid is going to have their whole genome sequenced,” Metzl said. “We’re going to have in very short order these massive data pools.”

Which brings up a lot of questions: How will we use the data? What are the applications that we think are OK? What are the applications that worry us?

The most sensitive application of new technologies will be for human reproduction, Metzl said.

“We humans are going to increasingly not conceive our children through sex, but we’re going to conceive our children through in vitro fertilization. We’re going to do it in the lab. And the reason is because taking conception outside of the human body will allow us to apply science to procreation.”

We must make sure that our best values guide the use of technology, Metzl said.

“This is not a conversation about technology. It’s a conversation about ethics.”

Other speakers at the conference included the following:

  • Jesse Wolfersberger, chief data officer at Maritz Motivation Solutions, on “Incorporating Guard Rails Around Transparency, Targeting and Tracking.”
  • Bonnie Holub, managing partner at Americas-Teradata, on “The Road Ahead: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics and Visualization.”
  • Sam Garner, associate at Bryan Cave, on “Privacy Risks of Using 23andMe and AncestryDNA Services.”

The morning also featured a panel discussion on “Creating a Data Responsible Culture.” Panelists were Amit Bhagat of Amitech Solutions, Shawn Hilleary of Matercard, Chris Lehmuth of Express Scripts, Emily Spriggs of Edward Jones, and Andy Sweet of Daugherty Business Solutions.

Watch the entire Data Responsibility and Ethics of Analytics conference here.

Pictured: Technology futurist Jaime Metzl speaks at the Olin conference.

Using an analysis of thousands of words spoken by corporate executives, Olin’s Jared Jennings and three other researchers have created a new way to help lenders make better loan decisions.

Their study uses qualitative information to assess a business’ credit risk. “It’s all based on language,” Jennings, an associate professor of accounting, said in an interview.  “Our measure captures unique attributes of credit risk that are not readily identified by existing measures.”

Jared Jennings

As it turns out, the words company officials use in quarterly earnings calls with investors and analysts can be, well, telling.

“Our results suggest that our measure improves the ability to predict future bankruptcies, future interest spreads and future credit rating downgrades,” Jennings said.

Evidence also suggests their measure more consistently captures a borrower’s credit risk than other methods.

They call their measure the “text-based credit score,” or “TCR Score.” The TCR Score could be particularly useful when other market-based measures of a firm’s credit risk aren’t available, Jennings said. “Our analyses suggest that only about 22% of firms with long-term debt are assigned credit ratings by leading rating agencies.”

Their working paper, “Measuring credit risk using qualitative disclosure,” is under revision for the Review of Accounting Studies.

‘A tighter link’

Traditional credit risk measures mostly use numerical, or quantitative, data.

Jennings and coresearchers set out to measure the spoken word. They used three machine-learning methods to create a measure of credit risk based on information disclosed in 132,060 conference call transcripts from 2003-2016.

Jennings, John Donovan of the University of Notre Dame, Kevin Koharki of Purdue University and Joshua Lee of the University of Georgia grouped into categories hundreds of top words, phrases and topics that their machine-learning methods identified.

One method identified language associated with liquidity, debt and performance. The other two identified phrases associated with performance, industry and accounting.

“By connecting the language identified by the machine-learning methods to economic intuition, we are able to draw a tighter link between the construct of credit risk and our proxy,” the researchers write.

The study adds to the growing body of research using machine-learning methods to gather information from conference calls and 10-Ks to explain accruals, future cash flows, fraud and other outcomes.

It also adds to research that examines other useful signals extracted from conference calls, such as vocal and video cues, and tone. (See “When Upbeat Language Belies Downbeat Results,” about research by Olin’s Xiumin Martin and Guofu Zhou.)

“We expect that practitioners and academics could use our measure to supplement existing credit risk models to obtain a more comprehensive and independent estimate of credit risk,” Jennings and co-researchers write.

Yulia Nevskaya’s first foray into the World of Warcraft started one evening at 7 p.m. She created an avatar to represent her in the online video game and set off to explore another land.

“It’s like another Earth. It looked like paradise,” Nevskaya said. “I was completely immersed.”

The next thing she knew, it was 4 a.m. 

Yulia Nevskaya

Nevskaya is an assistant professor of marketing at WashU Olin who studies, among other things, how consumers form habits. Her recent research used data that a bot gleaned from World of Warcraft, a massively popular multiplayer role-playing computer game set in a fantasy universe.

Blizzard Entertainment launched the game in 2004, and by 2011, it had more than 10 million subscribers worldwide. A character in World of Warcraft spends, on average, 12.5 hours per week playing the game, and more than 53 million people in the US played online games at least once a month in 2016.

The study emerges against a backdrop of societal concern over the overuse of online products and screens, including games and beyond.

Nevskaya and co-author Paulo Albuquerque of INSEAD focused their investigation on three main actions that the game developer has at its disposal to manage consumers’ use of the game: redesigning content and in-game reward schedules, sending notifications to gamers and imposing time limits on gameplay. In all, they analyzed a random sample of 402 gamers and nearly 15,000 gaming sessions.

They discovered this: When a firm changes its game’s rewards schedule and also limits how long gamers can play in a sitting, the firm can actually make more money—and people devote a smaller share of their time on gaming.

‘A win-win outcome’

“It’s a win-win outcome for both the firm and consumers,” Nevskaya said.
“Those actions led to higher revenues and a smaller share of people’s time devoted to gaming, curbing potentially excessive use of the product.”

The Journal of Marketing Research published their paper “How Should Firms Manage Excessive Product Use? A Continuous-Time Demand Model to Test Reward Schedules, Notifications, and Time Limits” in March. 

The researchers found gamers’ slower consumption of content led to an increase in their long-term engagement with the product, which is based on subscriptions. At the time of the research, subscription fees were about 50 cents a day on a weekly or monthly automated payment plan. 

“What’s good for the consumer is not necessarily bad for the company,” Nevskaya said in an interview.

Notifications might reinforce habit

Nevskaya and Albuquerque built an empirical model that mimics how consumers make choices so they could learn about gamers’ decisions—such as when to start and stop playing. Their approach allowed them to study consumers’ response to product design, notifications and rewards over time, as well as to identify people who display signs of habitual gaming. According to the study, more than two-thirds of gamers exhibit signs of habitual gaming with, on average, 100.8 minutes in every 24-hour period.

The data were collected by a software program that logged on to the game server every 5 to 10 minutes. It recorded gamers’ avatars present on the server at the moment, as well as their current experience level and the content area in which they were playing.

Yes, they found that altering in-game reward schedules and imposing time limits leads to shorter gaming sessions and longer subscriptions. But they also learned that notifications saying players should take a break don’t help. 

Here’s the rub: Because a suggestion to take a break may arrive at a time when a gamer is not yet satiated with a gaming session and is in a “hot habit state,” as Nevskaya calls it, it also may motivate the gamer to return quickly to the game—and reinforce the gaming habit. Notifications lead to a pattern of shorter but more frequent sessions resulting in a significant increase in active gaming time, for a large group of gamers, the authors discovered.

Gaming disorder

“Our paper addresses the important question of how to curb excessive screen usage, which has been a frequent concern among public policymakers,” Nevskaya said.

Since 2014, the researchers note, the World Health Organization has been evaluating the public health implications of excessive use of the internet, computers, smartphones and other devices. Last year, the WHO included “gaming disorder” in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases as a clinically recognizable and significant syndrome when “the pattern of gaming behavior is of such a nature and intensity that it results in marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning.”

With about $19.9 billion in sales in 2016 worldwide, the online video gaming industry especially benefits from new technologies that allow almost-constant online connectivity. Online and mobile games and social media platforms have spent significant resources to increase product use through customized content, frequent promotions and virtual rewards, the authors note. 

“‘Gamification’ of products is a common practice, which makes understanding of how consumers react to game-like product features increasingly important,” they write.

“We’re not claiming that gaming is harmful. It can be a wonderful pastime,” Nevskaya said. “But it’s potentially harmful when enjoyed in excess.”

As a marketing expert, she said she feels a responsibility to consumers.

“We can agree that marketing has become very sophisticated” in large part because of the massive troves of data now available to companies, she said. “Academics as well as responsible businesses should help consumers navigate the field safely.”

Yulia Nevskaya discusses a related topic: video-gaming data.

Olin’s Xiumin Martin and Guofu Zhou have won high-profile press for their work on CEO optimism.

The September-October issue of the Harvard Business Review features insights from their paper “Manager Sentiment and Stock Returns,” forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics. The article, “Beware of Excessively Chipper CEOs,” highlights the finding “that high degrees of positivity signal that managers are overconfident and apt to overinvest, causing profits to decline.”

In addition, Martin, a professor of accounting, was selected as the Poets&Quants Professor of the Week. The August 20 feature “WashU Olin’s Martin: When Managers Are Too Bullish, It’s Time to Sell” focuses on the same paper.

See the Olin article “When Upbeat Language Belies Downbeat Results” to learn about how Martin and Zhou conducted their research and its key takeaways.

Zhou is the Frederick Bierman & James E. Spears Professor of Finance and area chair.