IOWA CITY, Iowa -- How much did members really care about the "Optiva" name change flap at the $575 million University of Iowa Community Credit Union last February.
Not much when it comes to members walking or quitting the CU following initial 2006 acceptance of Optiva and then a noisy re-vote rejecting management's bid to stick with a new moniker.
"I guess a loss of 24 members out of 50,000 speaks for itself," declared Jim Kelly, senior vice president--marketing, at the state's second largest CU.
That's how many apparently quit the CU as a fallout from the bruhaha which captured newspaper and TV coverage in this college town over the failed plan to convert UICCU to "Optiva CU," a name suggested by marketing consultants and endorsed by CU management and its board.
It was "a lot bigger affair in the media" than it was in the minds of CU members, observed Kelly.
As it turned out, there apparently was more behind the name change than just a simple marketing makeover, angst over what some called an unorthodox CU brand or false reports the CU wanted to convert to a bank.
While the CU has remained mum on the topic, marketing and CU bloggers from across the U.S. have charged the name switch was forced on the CU by the university administration under pressure from the Iowa Bankers Association.
According to the blogs and media reports, the banker group had a grudge against UICCU dating back to 2003 and its failed bid to acquire the troubled Hawkeye State Bank, Iowa City, vigorously opposed by the banking lobby.
The old bank/CU feud was rekindled in 2005-06 when the IBA charged the Iowa City CU was growing too fast for its own good, particularly in commercial loans and therefore the university should force the CU to drop the name linkage since the state was giving "official endorsement" to a tax-exempt institution.
University officials have dismissed the banking power play as "rumors" and since the formal March 1 rejection of Optiva have insisted there are no plans afoot to force UICCU to come up with still another name or loosen its linkage.
On the contrary, the university administration said it's pleased so far with UICCU actions in opening a branch earlier this year in the student union building.
"The branch opening has nothing to do with Optiva since the credit union won after submitting the successful bid in a competitive bidding process," explained Steve Parrott, director of university relations.
In addition to the branch, UICCU also won the right to offer CU-linked ID/ATM debit cards to students.
In the official university view, UICCU chose to seek a name change because it wanted to expand and seek a generic brand "that could reach people in neighboring counties."
Based on focus groups, UICCU has long maintained nonmembers "simply do not understand that they can belong to this credit union even if they are not members of the broader university family," said Kelly.
Even inserting "community" in the name has not really helped since nonmembers still think one must be part of the university community.
Parrott of the university said the administration understands the CU's
Nonetheless, following negotiations with the university's legal department earlier this year, UICCU maintained that the university had requested the CU come up "with our own brand rather than continue to piggyback on the university's."
UICCU said it agreed to that notion, but "Optiva" soon became controversial with members and outsiders taking sides forming a protest group and Web site under the name, "SinkOptiva."
Since the final rejection vote, UICCU said it has had healthy loan and checking growth. Indeed, deposit growth is up 17.2% and loan growth at 16.2% on an annualized basis.
"We are performing well," said Kelly, a point echoed by the state regulator, James Forney, superintendent of the Iowa Credit Union Division. Forney was drawn into "Optiva" in 2006 and last winter in connection with ill-advised member complaints about UICCU intentions.
As to "Optiva" and the university's role in CU branding, Kelly said, "name change or not, the internal and external factors that led to the decision to pursue a name change still exist."
"There is still and always will be confusion on who can join our cooperative, and the university is still interested in having us change our name," said Kelly. "So someday, we'll have to fry this fish."
Kelly concluded that the CU is not upset the university might still be interested in the name change. "It makes sense that the university is interested in controlling their brand. I can't think of one institution or organization that would not hold that as a top priority."