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MONTEREY PARK, Calif. – Goodbye, Energy First. Hello, E1 Financial. Effective August 1, the $407 million Energy First will undergo an identity change many peers can identify with: it will drop its name association with its original gas company sponsor in an effort to appeal to a wider audience. Energy First expanded its field of membership two years ago to include select communities in Southern California. But just because you build it, the members don’t necessarily come. The credit union suspected the new charter didn’t mean much to potential members outside the original sponsor group, and research confirmed their suspicions. “With the Energy First name, they assumed you had to work for, or be a part of, the gas company or an energy company,” said LJ Tarman, vice president of marketing. Although Energy First Board members are all associated with the original gas company sponsor, Tarman said research results quickly convinced them of the necessary change. The credit union will open its first retail center this fall in Alhambra, a suburb east of Los Angeles, but it won’t be using zip codes to define its target market. Instead, Tarman and team will attempt to attract the elusive 18-35 age group. Hence, the edgy E1 Financial moniker. The credit union worked with several industry agencies to find a new name, but weren’t sold on any suggestions until they pitched the job to industry unknown Creative Source, Inc., located in nearby La Crescenta, Calif. “Like any company going through a name change, you go through hundreds of names, and have people submit them from all different areas – employees, agencies, board members. This particular one came out of the blue at the very last minute. We looked at it, and we knew right away it was the one,” Tarman said. The credit union recruited Irvine-based research guru Neil Goldman and his Member Research agency to confirm they had a winner. Goldman’s team conducted six months of testing on current members, as well as focus groups made up of various demographic categories. Member Research even utilized man-on-the-street interviews near the planned retail center site. Tarman said the E1 Financial name tested significantly better across the board, and was “off the charts with the demographics we’re looking for.” The credit union has been teasing members about the upcoming name change for the past few months, and unveiled the new name in the 3rd Quarter newsletter, July statement inserts, and on its Web site. As expected, the credit union has received calls of protest from members, mostly retirees, but Tarman said most members have a change of heart once the reasons for the change are explained to them. The new E1 Financial is hoping its new look and strategy will boost membership growth, which has been stagnant the past few years. Once the name change is in effect and the retail location opened, the institution hopes for a 13% annualized membership growth to add to its current count of 19,000 members. The new Alhambra facility will be housed in a brand new shopping center located across the street from a large corporate office park. The credit union will benefit from popular retail neighbors like Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Kohl’s department store and Nextel outlet. Tarman said the credit union hopes to work with its neighbors, particularly the eating establishments, to develop co-marketing programs that attract new members. The credit union will also require employees to get involved in the community, already required of executive and middle management staff. The VP said staff will be given opportunities to select an activity that interests them, like working with children or participating in fundraising walks. Community involvement will set E1 Financial apart from its competitors in the marketplace, Tarman said. “We don’t want to just give money to an organization, we want a face attached to it,” she said. -

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