(This column from credit union branding guru Denise Wymore is in response to the renaming of GTE Federal Credit Union to GTE Financial. A column from President/CEO Joe Brancucci explaining the move was posted in this space last week.)
I’ve been pretty outspoken on the plethora of ridiculous name changes in credit union land. So I have to say it upfront; I know there are some credit unions that had to drop their sponsor name. They were told they could no longer use it (best example is John Deere Credit Union) – or they didn’t dare continue to use it (in the case of Enron Credit Union).
I don’t know the exact number, but my guess would be that over 50% of all credit unions have changed their name in the past decade. Some name changes simply broke my heart – Lockheed why did you change to Logix? Some made me scratch my head – Weyerhaeuser Longview to Red Canoe – and some just pissed me off – Group Health to Salal. They all kept the credit union distinction – but in my opinion bastardized their brand.
On Aug. 11, 2012 the Tampa Bay Times announced “GTE Federal Credit Union broadens its name.” At first I thought – why would you want to ADD words to an already long name? Truth is they shortened their name considerably in an effort, according to CEO Joe Brancucci, to broaden their base. GTE Federal Credit Union is now GTE Financial.
At first glance this sounds like a finance company for GTE. And I assume that GTE was the General Telephone & Electronics Corporation which no longer exists.
To their credit they did NOT drop the name of their sponsor – no they dropped the name of their business model. They are no longer a credit union – in name.
But like the credit unions I mentioned above, the press release had a similar rationale for changing the name.
Last week in the Credit Union Times Mr. Brancucci explained in more detail why “financial” is a better brand name than credit union. He said: “The use of the term ‘financial’ will convey that membership is open to every individual and business in our communities and not simply select groups.”
Or put another way, even though we were founded by (insert amazing brand names like Boeing, Texaco, Portland Teachers, Fort Bliss Army Base, IBM) we are community charter now. And people are confused. They STILL think they have to work for them in order to join. So logix would tell you to go generic and your problem is solved. Wrong.
Here’s what I know about human behavior. If someone wants to get into your club bad enough they will find a way to do it. It’s not like we’re the DMV and we scrutinize the hell out of our applicants. We have been “finding a way” to let people in for decades. Remember when Costco was closed to the general public? My friends and I always found a way to get in there. Because we wanted it bad enough.
In the Tampa Bay Times article, Brancucci acknowledges that the recession has taken its toll on the – er, business (I guess you can’t say credit union). And that they were not as focused on the right things. It’s no secret GTE and a lot of Florida credit unions have been hit hard in this recession. Being focused on the right things, in my opinion, would be improving the experience to the member not the distraction and incredible cost of re-branding.
He also acknowledged the past by saying, “We are proud of our heritage and look forward to making sure we stay relevant for a future generation of members.”
Again, I applaud Brancucci and board for keeping the GTE in their name. There’s 70 years of brand equity there that doesn’t deserve to be kicked to the curb. How you stay relevant for future generations of members is in your product offerings and service. The great paradox of brand is that to be consistent a brand must keep changing. I do believe the GTE Credit Union logo needed a face lift and I really like the new font – I’m just not digging the Financial.
Here’s the deal. Your brand is your reputation. Period. If you have an excellent reputation, your name is not a hindrance. You slap “Financial” on the end of your name you will not get people beating down your door to join because they THOUGHT they had to work for GTE or some other employer group to join.
Consider USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union. Two fierce competitors for the same member – neither dares to change their name. USAA originally stood for the United Services Automobile Association – but now is synonymous with service excellence. Navy Federal Credit Union serves ALL branches of the military now. Yet their brand is so strong – Marines, Army, Air Force are joining without confusion or hesitation.
Now more than ever I think we need to stick together. The big banks continue to do stupid things. Thank you Bank of America for Bank Transfer Day. How we will have a unified message when we dilute the credit union brand?
Oh, and another thing, if you’re thinking “Denise, no one really knows what a credit union is?” After 105 years of existence, whose fault is that?