Points | Research profile Sabine Bernard

Get introduced to postdoctoral researchers at SAFE. The profiles are originally from the print magazine Points which can be downloaded here.

Connecting to people’s lives

In her research, Sabine Bernard combines empirical questions about household finance with explanatory approaches from behavioral economics to provide answers as close to real life as possible


Getting to the bottom of things is the core business of academic research, and Sabine Bernard’s approach is no exception. “I can’t sink completely into theory, though,” cautions the economist: “I need tangible examples.” Statements like “the space is continuous” are not exactly catchy terms for private investors. “In many respects, finance offers areas of application for what we know from theoretical models in economics,” says Bernard. So it’s only consistent that Bernhard followed her bachelor’s degree in economics in 2013 by a master’s in finance in 2016 and, finally, a Ph.D. in finance at the Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences (GESS) at the University of Mannheim, which she completed in 2021.

“Originally, I studied economics with a view to becoming a business journalist: after all, you can only ask the right questions if you have a grasp of the subject matter at hand,” Bernard explains. That’s why she combined her academic degree at the University of Mannheim with an accompanying five-year journalism fellowship at the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. After a few stints in the newsrooms of Germany’s leading business newspapers, however, she was rather disillusioned: “At some point, I was bothered by the fact that, even in specialized journalism, you still have to remain relatively imprecise in order to catch the largest possible audience.” Combined with the skills she had acquired in asking the right questions, it was the urge to understand interrelationships in business in more depth which led her to switch lanes and go into research.

“The connection to the reality of people's lives is important to me”

“I work in the field of household finance and draw on explanatory approaches from behavioral economics,” says Bernhard when asked to explain her area of research. “I expressly do not posit a rational investor or household which only responds to monetary incentives. Psychological pitfalls and emotions play an important role in decision-making processes.” She appreciates SAFE as an environment where she can work on providing tangible examples of this. The institute’s connections both to politics and the private sector enable her to collect her own data in a targeted manner and to conduct surveys and experiments. During her Ph.D., Bernard focused strongly on the trading behavior of private investors in the capital market: What drives them to sell? How do financial market cycles affect their actions? What are the differences in trading behavior between asset classes?

“In my research, it has always been important to me for there to be a connection to the reality of people’s lives,” explains Bernard. That is what motivates her to pass on her knowledge of finance to a broad audience and private investors through lectures and presentations. In doing so, she benefits from a core element of her training as a journalist: breaking down complex issues in a way that is generally understandable – i.e. on topics such as sustainable investing or the psychology of investing. “Research is important, but we also need to pass on our findings to all the private investors out there.”

Sabine Bernard rarely sets her research aside entirely – except for once or twice a year, when she can be found sailing at sea. Her sailing license was something she picked up during her doctoral studies. And out on the water, too, it’s the practical aspect of things that she finds most interesting: “It starts as soon as you get on the boat: no endless discussions, just taking action as and when required. That’s what’s great about it.”

Sabine Bernard is Advanced Researcher in the department Household Finance at SAFE.