Banks x Credit Unions

research, benchmark


Branches of the biggest brazilian credit unions companies.


One of the biggest banks of Brazil, came to us requesting a research about credit unions.

They wanted to know more about their relationship with customers, the design of the branches and the most important:
how they can offer loans with a fee so low compared to the banks.

They asked us to focus only on the most representative credit unions, according to assets and the growth during the last years.

The Problem

The credit unions are gaining more space in the brazilian market share over the last years.

Since 2015 the banks started to be cautious liberating credit and loans for the customers, raising fees and requirements.
[some political problems and other subjects caused this financial instability]

In other hand the credit unions are providing more services than ever, and that's the reason the banks are concerned about.


Planning the project

The research was divided in 3 phases

1. Desk / Field Research
Gathering information available on the web, calling to customer service, visiting branches, evaluate business model, analysing digital channels, interview a specialist in credit unions.


2. Quantitative Research
Online questionnaire, with 28 questions about the financial behavior and oppinion of the respondents, like services , products and the bank or credit union that they were or are clients.

It was sent to customers of credit unions and banks, of mixed genders and ages from 25 to 55 years old, living in areas with a big presence of credit unions.

The goal was to reach at least 500 valid answers to have a reasonable sample.


3. Qualitative Research*
Phone interviews from 40 to 50 min each, with 6 customers of credit unions, ex clients of banks or clients of both.

p.s.: I had to stop at this phase, to help in another project.

My role

The team was formed of 3 UX designers (including me), under supervision of 2 UX specialists. We were responsible to search for information that could answer those initials questions, to understand their business model.
We discussed and evaluated the evolution together, sharing new findings and relevant information frequently.


A few credit unions websites.

Credit Unions

Brazil has lot of small credit unions, but these are most significant, based on assets, number of customers and branches.



Because of a change in brazilian law,  credit unions can also offer services and products for non-associated members, like credit cards, loyalty programs, loans, insurance and much more. A few years ago only banks had this permission.


Credit Unions in Numbers

An overview about the growth and structure


Business Model Canvas

After we were familiar and understood how they really work, we started to map this content, using the business model canvas. The canvas helped us check if something was missing and of course, discover valuable information.

Knowing the weak points and threats allowed us enhance our reserch and present insights and opportunities for the bank, besides it, they also can learn and adapt what the credit unions are doing well for its new strategy.


Visiting the branches

We learned a lot of things about credit unions, in theory, everything looks great. So, the best way to check if the reality was the way described by the digital channels and the sucessfull numbers, was to visit branches as customers, looking for some guidance and with one particular question to ask:

"Why should I left my bank and become an associated of this credit union?"


A Sicredi brand new branch at the biggest avenue of São Paulo

source: retail design institute

Sicredi Avenida Paulista

Inaugurated in 2016, this branch is a model of the new design of Sicredi's branches. This makes part of a rebrand, they also changed its logo and visual communication.


Sicoob Coopmil and Credmetal

These two credit unions belong to Sicoob and are really close from each other, this helped us to visit and also compare different branches of the same company, considering that in this case, they don't follow the same architecture model.


We found some aspects that could answer the question
"Why should I left my bank and become an associated of this credit union?"

1. They have a different approach, inside some branches there's no guard or doors with metal detector.

2. Comparing the benefits of choosing to be an associated rather than be only another client of a bank. (one of the example they commonly use).

3. In this 3 visits the attendants invited us to read the folders, search for more information, but didn't asked us to accept another service or open an account at that time.


Satisfaction assessment

We evaluate the 3 branches based on our experiences.


Final Toughts

The research was presented  to show how we worked, methodologies apllied, how we measured the information and the different approachs used at each step.

It was focused in provide enough details for the bank, to build a strategy with confidence and knowing better the customer needs and what make the credit unions a case of sucess, on the financial sector.

However, the banks have other difficulties that credit unions didn't have, but investing on research show us that the traditional business model, is evolving into something tailored for the future of banking.