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Why Choose a Credit Union? An Ethnographic Study of Member Behaviors

This report provides an overview of the ethnographic research process, insights into strategy and member segmentation opportunities for credit unions.

Executive Summary

This research study is an attempt to clarify the choices consumers make as they move through their financial lives. Consumers’ attitudes and behaviors are shaped by past experience as well as inner biases and preconceptions. The choices consumers make in their financial lives may relate to some “x-factor” hidden deep in their psyches. Rational products and services offered by a rational financial institution may not meet their needs and wants. By understanding the hidden motivations of consumers, credit unions can position themselves in a more advantageous manner. Uncovering these hidden motivations is difficult, at best. However, using unconventional research methodologies may help us better understand these consumers you call members.

What is the research about?

In this study, we deliberately eschew precisely wrong research methods (broadly quantitative approaches) and instead opt to experiment with research methods that yield approximately right results. Specifically, this research study uses ethnographic research methods to ask consumers why they choose (or don’t choose) a credit union.

What are the credit union implications?

While meeting consumers’ growing and changing expectations may appear to be a daunting task, credit unions may be better positioned than their banking competitors to make a significant difference in their members’ lives. As not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperatives, credit unions could be a natural place to create solutions for and by their members. To capitalize on the structural advantages they enjoy, however, credit unions need to develop the resources necessary to understand what consumers are asking for and how those demands might be met. That’s the role of research and this project in particular.