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Although it is a huge and sometimes emotional step, hundreds of credit unions have undergone a name change in recent years. But when a credit union traces its founding back to two of the credit union “movement’s” most revered pioneers, Roy Bergengren and Tom Doig, and when that CU has been synonomous with the CUNA name from day one, it represents a really big move. The CUNA Credit Union, a $330 million asset, 46,000 members, 70 year-old CU, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, will soon have a new name. That is assuming two-thirds of members (a state regulatory requirement) attending a meeting on April 28th vote to support the board’s decision to establish a less confusing identity. It should be a slam-dunk. Members usually go along with policymaker recommendations in these kinds of things. Besides, old timers steeped in the tradition and history of CUNA Credit Union who might object are either retired or deceased. For what it is worth, as a long-time active member of CUNA CU, I enthusiastically support the long overdue name change. Kudos to the current board and management for having the guts to finally bite the bullet. The reasons for the change make good sense and have been presented well. As long as anyone can remember, citizens in the greater Madison area and especially the local media, could never get all the CUNA’s located there straight. The credit union has given many examples of the reigning confusion. Like CUNA itself, CUNA Mutual, CUNA Mortgage, etc. The confusion goes far deeper than those few examples. The CUNA Mutual Group has a long list of organization under its umbrella housed in its sprawling Madison headquarters. So does CUNA. Both keep adding new entities that either have the CUNA name or a variation of it featured prominently. No wonder the confusion level in the Madison area keeps rising. Recently, when visiting the CU’s East Side branch, I was not surprised to see a sign pasted on the door explaining that CUNA Mutual not CUNA Credit Union was in the midst of well-publicized labor problems. (What it didn’t say was that several months ago CUNA Credit Union employees voted to boot that same union which had been representing a handful of its employees.) Over the years there has been talk on any number of occasions regarding the need to eliminate CUNA confusion by changing the credit union’s name. It always failed because it was too politically sensitive. That sensitivity came about because of where the credit union was located (in-house at one time) and because dissenters were strongly reminded (CUNA logo) who made their paychecks possible. It was, they said, a credit union primarily for CUNA and CUNA Mutual staffers and their families. End of story! Community-wide memberships were given short shrift even though the credit union took the bold step some years back of dropping a variation of the CUNA logo in favor of a stylized logo consisting of two letters that represented (I think) CUNA, or Credit Union, or both, or whatever. No wonder the credit union grew little if at all in its early years. No wonder the credit union didn’t set the national credit union standard for excellence as the founders envisioned. Quite the opposite. Before the current CEO was even born, top officials at CUNA Mutual Insurance Society threatened to force the credit union to change its name because they were so embarrassed by its poor service and lackluster performance. I can tell you from personal experience that today CUNA Credit Union is a good credit union. But besides changing its name and logo, to make the credit union even better and unshackle it even more to become the fast-growing community-wide credit union it has the potential to become, it also needs to make long-overdue changes on the board. The current board line up makes the CUNA Credit Union look like a CUNA Mutual Group credit union. Traditionally the majority of board members are staff of CMG with an occasional CUNA staffer thrown in probably because of the name. Like so many formerly single sponsor credit unions that have expanded their reach, everything changes but the board whose members continue to be from the original sponsor. Changing the name is an important step. But if the direction of the credit union will continue to be set by CUNA Mutual staffers, the question arises, “has anything really changed?” So what is the new name that will once and for all eliminate the perception that the credit union is only for those who have some connection to one of the CUNA’s? After members make it official, the CUNA Credit Union will become the Great Wisconsin Credit Union. This member likes it. Obviously the name wasn’t just picked out of a hat. It came from lots of professional research and member input. What is still somewhat up in the air, however, is the new logo that will be an integral part of the new identification. Four variations are being offered. A big mistake. Along with the new name, the board and management staff should have made the logo decision, too. One variation, by the way, continues to use the old stylized CUNA CU logo, another mistake. If selected, that one has the potential of making a tieback to the old confusing name. The only downside I can see to the new name is that some different confusion may arise. An erroneous assumption may be made that the Great Wisconsin Credit Union is for people connected somehow to the state of Wisconsin and serves state employees. Maybe the new name should have taken a page from Alaska USA FCU and Hawaii USA FCU and become Wisconsin USA Credit Union? When all is said and done, watch for the Great Wisconsin Credit Union to leap out of the starting gate when the new name and logo become official and are marketed, even with an in-house board remaining unchanged. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

 

Credit Union Times

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