Credit unions have members who own the credit union, not customers. Each person who deposits money in a credit union becomes a member of the credit union because their deposit is considered their share of the ownership.  Banks can serve anyone in the general public. Banks have customers who have no voice in how the bank is operated. Banks are owned by a small group of investors who expect a certain return on their investments.

Credit unions are democratically controlled. They are run by a volunteer board of directors elected by and from the membership. Each member has one vote in electing board members. At banks, only the investors have voting privileges. Customers don't have voting rights, cannot be elected to the board, and have no authority in the overall governance of their bank.

Credit unions are not-for-profit. This doesn't mean that they do not or should not make a profit. After expenses are paid and reserves are set aside, surplus earnings are returned to members in the forms of higher dividends, lower loan rates and free or low-cost services. In banks, only the investors get a share of the profits.

Credit unions are part of a worldwide support network that includes credit unions, a national trade association (CUNA), and a worldwide credit union organization (WOCCU). They share ideas, information, and resources. Most banks belong to state and national organizations. However, banks usually are reluctant to share ideas, information and resources with each other.