A reader of The Financial Brand recently asked, “Is there any credit union that does not use ‘Credit Union’ in the logo?”
The answer is yes. It’s an increasingly common trend as more and more credit unions realize that most Americans don’t know what “credit unions” are, and struggle to decipher the term. “Is it something to do with money and organized labor?”
This is something Sarah Snell Cooke, Editor of the Credit Union Times, noted in an editorial she wrote about the challenges the “credit union” surname presents. “What does ‘credit union’ mean?” she asks. “Other than those in the industry, polls have shown time and again, very few have any clue. Yet, the basic idea of a bank is understood by anyone over the age of six.”
“Drop the ‘credit union’ from your marketing,” she implores. She goes further and recommends dumping terms like “members” and “join” too. It’s surprisingly frank talk coming from someone as influential as Snell Cooke. Twenty years ago, such talk would be heresy and she could have even lost her job over the uproar.
It’s quite common in Canada for credit unions to drop “credit union” from their names. Two of the country’s largest (both located in Vancouver, B.C.) have done it. Vancity Credit Union is just simply “Vancity,” and Coast Capital goes by “Coast Capital Savings.”
CANADIANS COMMONLY DROP “CREDIT UNION”
Tim McAlpine, President of Currency Marketing, a credit union branding firm, says the move away from “credit union” has worked in British Columbia, Canada, arguably the most successful and competitive credit union market in the world. “The three largest credit unions in B.C. — Vancity with $14B, Coast Capital Savings with $13B and Envision Financial with $6B — plus a half-dozen others don’t use the term ‘credit union’ in any of their signage, advertising, marketing, websites, etc. Nothing other than fine print on documents,” McAlpine observes.
“Half of all residents call a credit union their primary financial institution,” McAlpine says. “Ironically, it is commonplace to not include credit union in the financial institution’s brand name.”
In the U.S., more and more credit unions are replacing “Credit Union” with “Financial” (or at least drastically downplaying “credit union” in their logos):
Federally chartered credit unions have a few more options (something The Financial Brand wrote about earlier). Here’s some of the ways in which they are dropping “Credit Union” from their names:
“Federal Credit Union” is a mouthful, yet another reason FCUs might think about dumping the phrase. Some ditch the entire thing, while others shorten down to just “Federal” or “Fed.” Interestingly, Bethpage uses a .org web address (www.bethpage.org) that redirects to a .coop site (www.bethpage.coop). USA Fed uses a .org address. Whether or not these credit unions feel some attachment to their roots, it might raise questions for some consumers: “What’s up with the .coop thing?”
There is at least one credit union marketing itself simply as “Citadel,” using the tagline, “Banking with one focus. You.” However, they have “fcu” in their web address, and also use a .org domain. It seems odd that they would take such great pains to distance themselves from their “credit union” status only to use a URL — www.citadelfcu.org — that feels markedly “credit union.”
Credit union names have been evolving over the last few years, although feelings about them haven’t softened as much as one might expect. There are plenty of credit union insiders who feel strongly that it’s a big mistake to create any distance with “the movement.” The editorial in the Credit Union Times sparked a fiery debate, with both sides hotly contested:
- “If no one understands the meaning of the terms, why be insistent in their continued use?”
- “The credit union name is confusing, but it is what it is and we should be proud of it and wave the flag high.”
- “Credit unions have to face the reality: no one knows what a credit union is. If the term is meaningless to those you’re advertising to, and you tell them you have to join us first, you’re already behind.”
- “I agree with banishing the term “join a credit union”-it is misleading to the public.”
- “If you’re spending a lot of effort trying to explain a credit union you’ve reduced the resources you can focus upon enhancing member relationships or attracting new members.”
- “It’s all about separating the credit unions from the bank. The general public really sees no difference between the two and both banks and credit unions get lumped in together.”
- “Not using the term “credit union” doesn’t mean you aren’t one.”
- “The more credit unions do to compete with banks by trying to look like, sound like and operate like banks the more they become like banks.”
Bottom Line: Most of America (1) doesn’t know what credit unions are, (2) doesn’t know they can “join” a credit union, and/or (3) doesn’t regard credit unions as a serious alternative for financial services. One research study after another has proven this time and time again. Until the credit union movement comes to terms with reality and accepts the situation, nothing will change and this debate will rage on.
The choice is simple, either the industry can (1) make people aware of “credit unions” and what the term means, (2) find another term to replace “credit union” (like “Financial Co-op” or “Cooperative Bank”), or (3) keep moaning about how sad it is that know one knows about “credit unions.”
As Trey Reeme, , said back in 2008, “If after 100 years people still don’t know what “credit union” means, it’s probably time to change it.”
Make that 102 years now.