Arbitration with Uninformed Consumers

Arbitration with Uninformed Consumers

By Mark Egan, Gregor Matvos, Amit Seru
October 2018Working Paper No. 3768

We examine whether firms have an informational advantage in selecting arbitrators in consumer arbitration, and the impact of the arbitrator selection process on outcomes. We collect a novel data set containing roughly 9,000 arbitration cases in securities arbitration. Securities disputes present a good laboratory: the selection mechanism is similar to other major arbitration forums; arbitration is mandatory for all disputes, eliminating selection concerns; and the parties choose arbitrators from a randomly generated list. We first document that some arbitrators are systematically industry friendly while others are consumer friendly. Firms appear to utilize this information in the arbitrator selection process. Despite a randomly generated list of potential arbitrators, industry-friendly arbitrators are forty percent more likely to be selected than their consumer friendly counterparts. Better informed firms and consumers choose more favorable arbitrators. We develop and calibrate a model of arbitrator selection in which, like the current process, both the informed firms and uninformed consumers have control over the selection process. Arbitrators compete against each other for the attention of claimants and respondents. The model allows us to interpret our empirical facts in equilibrium and to quantify the effects of changes to the current arbitrator selection process on consumer outcomes. Competition between arbitrators exacerbates the informational advantage of firms in equilibrium resulting in all arbitrators slanting towards being industry friendly. Evidence suggests that limiting the respondent’s and claimant’s inputs over the arbitrator selection process could significantly improve outcomes for consumers.

Keywords
arbitration, financial advisers, brokers, consumer finance, financial misconduct and fraud