Breaking ground in fintech research—it’s not “too new” to pursue

September 8, 2020


Academic research on fintech was virtually nonexistent during the eight years Andrew Karolyi, the Harold Bierman, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Management and deputy dean of academic affairs for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, served as an editor of the Review of Financial Studies. Four years ago, when Karolyi become executive editor of the peer-reviewed academic journal, he set out on a mission to change that. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I would hear from my industry colleagues about the fact that the research being published in the top-tier finance journals is just not relevant enough to their work,” says Karolyi. The most commonly understudied topic cited by these industry practitioners was fintech, including blockchain currencies, peer-to-peer and online lending platforms, robo-advising, or big data. Frustrated by the lack of published research on the latest financial technology innovations and the overwhelming demand for such research, Karolyi put in motion an innovative process to generate a body of scholarly research on fintech.Adapting the registered reportIn order to address the root cause of the lack of fintech research, Karolyi first formulated a thesis about why scholars were not producing work on this exciting new topic area. “I just felt the perceived risks were too high among young scholars out there who would naturally be working on this topic, even if they had the capacity to do so,” says Karolyi. Whether they felt there was insufficient existing data to support their work, or they feared a lack of interest from editors, reviewers, and the industry as a whole—something was holding them back from producing their best work.Then it dawned on Karolyi that maybe the concept of the registered report, which was invented by Professor Chris Chambers of Cardiff University as a way to create more transparency in neuroscience research, could be retrofitted to encourage scholars to explore new topic areas in finance that were previously considered too risky. Rather than the traditional approach of submitting research for review and publication once completed, registered reports invite scholars to submit a research proposal for acceptance before the execution and analysis has even commenced.

By adopting the concept of registered reports for financial research, Karolyi sought to “create a competition using the platform of a top journal in finance to encourage researchers to submit proposals, not final papers, using all the creativity they could conjure to formulate those proposals.” By committing to publishing the registered reports before the actual research had been conducted, the journal would be accepting some of the risk associated with conducting research in uncharted territor.

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