MADISON, Wis. (8/13/10)--Credit unions have many opportunities to differentiate themselves from other financial institutions, according to a recent Filene Research Institute study. Filene has released, “Why Choose a Credit Union: An Ethnographic Study of Member Behavior,” and the first-ever audio interview or podcast for Filene with the study’s author, Stefanie Norvaisas. Norvaisas, director of research at Design Concepts, visited seven credit unions of various asset sizes and fields of membership nationwide. At each credit union, Norvaisas and her research team conducted up to a half dozen in-home, in-depth interviews with members and a similar number of in-credit-union interviews with staff members. Most consumers said they chose their credit union because of price, convenience, service and trust. However, many also didn’t understand what a credit union was or the value of membership. Many consumers also had relationships with other financial institutions, and were “hard-pressed to describe real meaningful differences,” Norvaisas said. Some consumers had chosen credit unions based not on age or income, but what was happening in their lives--like a difficult financial event, such as divorce. Norvaisas suggested that credit unions look at members’ behaviors to better serve them. Instead of saying, “What checking account do they need?” they should ask, “How can we help them pay their bills?” she said. Credit unions should have individual identities for each of their branches that are tailored to supporting the local community. Also, make sure to put things in terms people understand, Norvaisas said. For example, most consumers she talked with assumed financial advisers were only for the wealthy--instead of using the term “financial adviser,” perhaps try “financial coach,” she added. Ethnographic research can be an interesting tool, and the credit unions involved in the study said it was incredibly valuable. “There were lots of surprised reactions,” Norvaisas said. “They couldn’t believe what members said. Members’ needs were different than what [credit unions] expected.” Overall, Norvaisas said credit unions are uniquely positioned to help people and can use studies such as ethnographic research to attract members and help them improve their lives. “[Credit unions] are positioned to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “They are nonprofit, cooperatives, members are owners, and credit unions can pull the members in to help credit unions shape their [own] futures.” For more information or to listen to the podcast, use the link.