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Like many of our online readers, I was smacked right in the funny bone by Canada's financial experts recently and their decision to force credit unions to stop using the words “bank,” “banker” and “banking” in any marketing materials by the end of June 2019.
My first reaction was, “Are you ____ing kidding me?” And then I laughed. Sorry Canadian friends.
This is one of those stories that bounces around in my former marketing/public relations/social media brain for hours and I haven't been able to shake the question, “What would I do in this _ituation?”
To catch everyone up – here's the scoop: Canada's Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions in Ottawa announced a strict interpretation of “Canada's Bank Act.” In this interpretation, credit unions have until the end of 2017 to remove any “bank,” “banking” and “bankers” words from websites and social media accounts. By the end of next June, credit unions will no longer be able to use those words in print marketing materials and then by June of 2019 none of those words will be allowed on any signage.
The terms “outrage” and “Canada” tend to rarely be used together. Kind of like “Saved the Bell” and “best TV show ever.”
And in this case, the outrage over this new rule has been relatively mild – like a warm can of Molson at a Blue Jays game.
I’ve been following Canadian media on this issue and, I’ll put it this way, the coverage has been minimal. As far as I can find, we’ve had more comments on our Facebook page about it than stories published on this topic from our media neighbors to the north. One news organization that has done some coverage is the Winnipeg Free Press and reporter Murray McNeill. In his piece “Ruling could cost credit unions millions” (that ran the same day as our Peter Strozniak's story “Canada Bans the B-word for Credit Unions”), McNeill pointed out the estimated $80 million price tag for credit unions to comply with Canada's Bank Act. From his reporting, it appears that the Canadian credit union industry was caught off guard by this announcement and “they don't know why the federal regulator is making an issue of this.” One quote in McNeill's piece stood out: “It's kind of funny, because these terms have been used for decades. It just seems a little ridiculous to us.”
I love _anadians and their PM _ustin Trudeau and the way they come across as laid back, like native Key Westers, but too cold to care. If this ruling came down in our country, I have to imagine that 1) we wouldn't be caught surprised by it and 2) we would see a massive uprising from credit union trade leadership, credit union executives and even members rallying behind the industry to stop such a silly rule and waste of money.
From my perspective, this is a typical bank versus credit union issue that has crossed over into a public view showing that the banks have a much larger lobbying arm than credit unions. The Canadian Bankers Association is thrilled about the ruling. Its leader, Neil Parmenter, said, “We have always been clear in our view that only institutions that have gone through the rigorous process to gain and sustain approval by federal regulators to be a Canadian bank should be allowed to call themselves a bank or say that they are providing banking services.”
Which raises the question: Are banks and credit unions equal? Banking leaders would probably say that credit unions are trying to be equal, but without the tax burdens and every little regulation requirement. Credit union leadership might say no, we are totally different, and we get the tax breaks.
And that's the tricky spot – are credit unions different or not? Canada decided to draw a hard line in the Canadian sand/ice to make that distinction. Which now puts the credit unions in a tough spot to show that CUs are different and better and friendlier and focused on people over profit and all of that.
I don't envy the Canadian Credit Union Association. The CCUA's president/CEO, Martha Durdin, said, “Having to create and popularize new words is an unnecessary and expensive undertaking, and will make it difficult for credit unions to compete fairly with banks.”
I think the flaw in the logic on both sides of this issue comes from the use of the word “bank.”
The banking industry views the word as a trademarked word like “Google” or “Kleenex.” While credit union people see it as using the word “Google” and “tissue.” It's a verb, a noun, an adjective that's commonly used and has been absorbed into our culture worldwide.
Where does that leave credit unions? For the moment, stuck. If this were a TV show, you could call up Don Draper and his team to come up with a new credit union word and full marketing campaign. But, in the real world it's up to the CCUA to figure it out.
I haven't been able to come up with any good, free ideas to pass along to my Canadian friends. I will say that this entire Canadian soap opera should be looked at as a serious threat to the credit union industry around the world.
As an experiment, take a look at your marketing materials and website and see how you’d be impacted by this decision. “_ank online wherever you are!” “Simplify your _anking experience!”
This story has the potential to have such a wide and massive impact, and our readers had an immediate and very vocal reaction to it that we will be following this story all the way through.
Michael Ogden is Executive Editor at Credit Union Times. Can be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org