Sep 23 2008

Employee Perceptions of Credit Unions

Report  
Number  
162

This project assess how credit union employees think about credit unions in general and the extent to which their understandings and attitudes are shared, both within their own institutions and among different credit unions.

John B. Gatewood, PhD
Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Cognitive Science Program
Lehigh University
John W. Lowe, PhD
President
Cultural Analysis Group
Report Number 162

Executive Summary

This study hypothesizes that credit union success is critically dependent on the credit union’s employees and, in turn, is likely to be strongly colored by the employees’ own perceptions of, and attitudes toward, credit unions. Employees’ beliefs about and attitudes toward credit unions influence their behavior at work and their interactions with credit union members. These same beliefs and attitudes also affect the way employees talk with potential members, family, and friends about credit unions and, hence, play a significant role in employees’ abilities to recruit new members through word of mouth.

What is the research about?

To test this hypothesis, we asked anthropologists John Gatewood, PhD, from Lehigh University, and his colleague John Lowe, PhD, from the Cultural Analysis Group, to ask the following research questions:

  • How do employees think about credit unions?
  • Do they all think about them the same way? What are areas of consensus and of disagreement?
  • Do knowledge and attitudes toward credit unions vary in a meaningful way among credit unions? 
  • How deep does their commitment to the ideology of credit unions go—is it understood, is it internalized, how does it affect behavior? 
  • What are the implications of employee performance, and how is the image of credit unions projected to members?

What are the credit union implications?

Differentiation is the process of distinguishing one offer from other offers, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. Many firms, especially in the financial services industry, present hollow claims on differentiation. But credit unions are truly different. This study indicates that differentiating factors map very well to what many people view as the ideal financial institution. In short, credit unions have a unique story to tell, and like most really good stories, it takes time to get the pitch right. If you agree with the hypothesis of this research study, getting the pitch right is critical to credit union growth, success, and awareness.