I’m a member of a cooperative bank: between economic, ownership-related and ideological participation

Research Area: Economic theory
Scientific coordinator: Sara Depedri
Project Manager: Sara Depedri

Project status: concluded


The understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic  motivations that move people to play an active role within cooperative enterprises and bottom-up organizations in general is definitely a crucial element as it explains the desire to aggregate people, the ability of the cooperative mechanism to prevail over individualistic and market dynamics, as well as possible repercussions on the organization itself and its performance. This research project has been included in this reflection by studying the motivations and perceptions of the members of a specific organizational form: the credit cooperative. Research was also supported by an explicit willingness of some cooperative banks to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship with members and the banks’ capacity to encourage participation, to transmit values, and to be perceived as a different bank by its territory and its members.

The research therefore started from the assumption that being a bank that involves the local community in its social base and which places the customer at the center of its activities means being as close as possible to members not just with the range of services, but also interpreting their requirements and being responsible about their expectations, perceptions and involvement needs.

In the light of these assumptions, questionnaires were firstly constructed ad hoc and scientifically validated and then administered to members of various cooperative banks, returning to each organization a survey report.



The objective of the research was to understand the relationship between a cooperative bank and its members, looking at the fundamental elements of exchange with the member of a cooperative enterprise: economic participation, ownership-related participation and ideological participation, understood as a sharing of values and identification of the social relevance of the cooperative, and fundamental element in defining commitment to the cooperative, loyalty and trust.

The analysis of these perceptions for a representative sample of shareholders and for several co-operative banks at local level but also in other Italian provinces also allowed cooperative banks involved as well as the credit cooperative movement in a large sense to think about their main goals and strategies in terms of management and governance policies and on the relationship with members, on their strengths and weaknesses, and on the ability of internal policies to satisfy, to fidelize, and to transmit values to their members.

Main results

The scientifically validated survey questionnaire was aimed at members and so far has been administered to 11 cooperative banks of different sizes. Samples of members were interviewed, for a total of over 4,000 members.

The interviews highlighted some positive shared elements in the participating cooperative banks: the ability to attract and motivate young people, the perception of the cooperative bank primarily as a local bank, the satisfaction with both the service and the membership relationship in a broader sense, the relevance of relationships with employees and trust in the bank and the strong link between ownership-related and ideological participation. The results were not entirely predictable, however, and many differences emerged from an in-depth reading of the data. Differences between types of members, first of all, with different levels of loyalty and perceptions of young members and those present for longer within the social base, with differences between competence areas and active and non-active members. But differences also emerged based on the policies of the analysed banks in regards to members, at times more aimed at the member and inspiring economic loyalty, and at times more focused on the social aspect of the activity. But differences between banks of different sizes and in different areas were not so accentuated as to presume that different locations or growth can theoretically compromise the quality of the relationship with their members.


Individual reports for have been produced for the cooperative banks that have participated in the investigation.


This research project is part of a general scientific reflection on the role of cooperatives and social enterprises and empirical analyses aimed at testing them. The overall project aims to come up with innovative interpretations of the role of cooperative and social enterprises, based in particular on an analysis of organizations as a mix in which the cooperation coordination mechanism represents a central and establishing element for possible comparative advantages in relations with members and to generate cooperative behaviour among them. This research was therefore one of the elements of in-depth analysis within the following research project:

Towards an economic theory of cooperative and social enterprises and an understanding of their role and potential

Other studies are connected to the same research project, with the common objective of verifying the characteristics and rationale of cooperative and social enterprises and the relationship with their members:

Social participation and active volunteers: Analysis of motivation among Ancc-COOP members;

Aspects of participation and social relations in consumer cooperatives in Trentino



Single Cooperative banks

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