Thought Leadership

In the Now, Qual Is Queen

March 17, 2021
Qual is Queen

We’re a year into the global pandemic and every day is still another curveball. Will my kids be learning in-person or virtual today? Whose turn is it to get the vaccine? Am I going to wake up to rogue groups on social media wreaking havoc with individual stocks, making investments feel like a playground rather than a responsible place to grow my retirement nest egg? With this level of uncertainty as to what the next day will bring, we find ourselves living in the now more than ever.

In the research world, quantitative research has always been king. Quantitative research gives us statistically generalizable answers to our questions so that we can make calculated business decisions. Quantitative surveys track our brands and performance over time to give us a history and alert us of changes. Long live the king.

And it has been said that behind every great man is a great woman.

Well, not anymore! We are living in a time when women are catapulting to the top. Just ask Cathy Bessant of Bank of America, Thasunda Brown Duckett of JPMorgan Chase, Abigail Johnson of Fidelity Investments, Yie-Hsin Hung of New York Life Investment Management, and many others about their rise to becoming the “Most Powerful Women” in financial services.

I say that if quant is king, then qual is queen. And both women and qualitative research are rising in importance now. To quote another great woman, when “I’m speaking,” qual is listening. Qual is about listening to what people have to say—about truly hearing people’s stories. It’s also about understanding the why, which is important to dig into now during these times of change.

Merrill Miscue Chart

As the lead qualitative moderator behind Merrill’s most recent gender equality work, I am proud to have made an impact in these times of change. As Merrill puts it: “As bias of all kinds and in all spheres is being examined, potential gender bias in financial planning is getting a serious look” and there is a “rising tide of gender equality in wealth management.” Furthermore, “it’s more important than ever that we continue to listen and look for ways to support women investors, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women, causing many to have to rethink their goals and priorities.”

We came at this groundbreaking research from every qualitative angle:

  • in-depth interviews with advisor-investor pairs of all types
  • eye-tracking
  • lexical analysis
  • ethnographic analysis
  • and more

And I came at it with firsthand appreciation for the shock (and delight) of my own financial advisor, who has come to see me as a female client with whom he can actually talk shop. And we do—we debate the merits of asset classes, active/passive, sectors and individual stocks (even ridiculous ones such as GameStop).

The future is making sure diverse populations are treated well by your business. This rise of women in financial services, not to mention the Black Lives Matter movement, is proof positive. While it’s uncertain what the next day will bring, qualitative research is the perfect way to study and understand these and so many other changes now.

We are living in the now. Qual is now. Let the reign begin.


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Heather Mitchell
Heather Mitchell
Vice President, Financial Services Qualitative

Heather is a leader in the Qualitative space with over 18 years of research experience and a true passion for advancing methods and moderating techniques toward an end goal of well-informed business decisions. From eye-tracking analysis to System 1 techniques, Heather takes projects to the next level. She specializes in our financial services sector, conducting informed sessions with the full gamut of investment experts to entry-level banking customers, of business decision-makers on 401k or health insurance plans to end participants. She is an in-demand problem solver for many repeat clients – a strategic partner who aligns the right approach and techniques to quickly investigate the underlying causes of issues and deliver actionable insights. Heather has a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce with concentrations in Marketing and Management from the University of Virginia, and a Masters of Research from the University of Connecticut. She is a RIVA trained and Unilever accredited moderator.