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The Weird, Wild And Wonderful World Of Credit Union Name Changes

The Financial Brand studied every name change in the U.S. credit union industry since 2006. There have been 234 credit union name changes in the last seven years. That represents 3.27% of all credit unions, but they collectively hold 5.52% of all credit union assets. Who’s changed names, and what are the current trends in credit union naming? Find out here.

Credit Union Name Changes in 2012

2012 saw the fewest name changes in the credit union industry in the last seven years — three fewer than in 2006. The pace of credit union name changes in clearly slowing. The average asset size for credit unions changing names last year was $123 million. The median is around $58 million. Notable new names rolled out in 2012 include GO, Solarity, Latitude 32, Evolve, Alive, Edge, CarePoint, ClearChoice, Fieldstone and BluCurrent.

Old Name New Name Asset
Size
Albany Federal Employees Members United $55
Allegheny Energy FirstEnergy $48
Armour Kankakee Fieldstone $38
Catholic Solarity $486
Charleston Area Latitude 32 $52
Dallas Telco GO $122
Delaware Del-One $310
Eagle Legacy Partner Colorado $227
El Paso Employees Evolve $354
Equitable Resources Employees EQT $47
Florida Commerce First Commerce $363
Healthcare’s Cooperative Alive $113
Jersey Trades Union Building Trades $75
Liverpool Central School Edge $38
Members Aurora $78
Postal Federal Community BluCurrent $138
Sangamon Schools Illinois Educators $48
Springfield Teachers Foundation $66
St. John’s of Little Canada Minnesota Catholic $26
Tenet CarePoint $44
Tulsa Postal & Community FirstOklahoma $26
UGI Employees ClearChoice $21
Waterbury Firefighters FD Community $61
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Naming Trends in the Credit Union Industry: First, Financial

There isn’t much value in using the word “First” in a financial institution’s name. The term is so ubiquitous in banking monikers it’s completely lost any meaning or cachet. Because so many banks and credit unions are already using “First” in their names, it makes it nearly impossible to secure a federally-protected trademark. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop 21 of the 234 credit unions (9.0%) with new names in the last seven years from embedding the word “First” somewhere in it. Two credit unions went with “Community First,” while another pair both went with “First Financial.”

Indeed some 16 different credit unions (6.8%) tacked the word “Financial” at the end of their name. The Financial Brand has previously noted a trend among credit unions who feel the “Financial” surname suits them better than “Credit Union.” XYZ Financial, the argument goes, is easier to for consumers to understand than XYZ Credit Union. The beauty of this approach is that you can take a rather ordinary word and make it seem financial simply by slipping the word “Financial” after it. Examples include Prime Financial, Partners Financial, Grow Financial and Power Financial.

Some 56 credit unions (23.9%) chose coined words as their new names. Critics of this type of name hate them because they look weird and often lack a clear connection or relevance to the brand. But it is because of their unique construction and unusual context that they are so easily trademarked. Anyone who’s worked in naming has heard the expression, “All the good names are taken.” While not necessarily true, the exaggeration illustrates the challenges and frustrations namers in the financial industry face. Being able to trademark your new brand and protect your investment is tantamount to all other concerns. It’s much more important to have an odd name you can own than a logical name you have to share with others.

Some of the more notable new coined names to come from the credit union industry since 2006 include: Altier, Inova, Viriva, Ascentra, Interra, Riverset, Altana, Aventa, Solarity, Abri, Everence, Astera and Envista. You’ll notice coined names commonly end in a soft “a” sound, giving them a quality some associate with pharmaceutical brands.

There have been several coined names in the last seven years that have sparked furious debate — NuUnion, Red Canoe, BluCurrent and Salal among them. One name change, Optiva, was so controversial it sparked petitions, legal filings, regulator rulings and two members votes. It was ultimately rejected. It was an ugly story.

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Alphanumeric constructions are rare in the financial industry, but names like Plus4, Med 5, Coast360 and Latitude 32 are among the most unique you’ll ever see. Two credit unions went with just numbers: 121 and 360.

For many generations, financial institutions have aligned their names with the geographic area they served. It’s a formula that seems to have worked out okay, so many credit unions just stick with it. A total of 48 credit unions that have changed names since 2006 (20.5%) have included a geographic reference or emphasis in their new name. To a credit union that’s growing and just expanded its charter, its hard to imagine a time when they’d ever serve more than just City X or County Y. But that day could come. In fact, it could be only one quick merger away. And then what? You have to change names again. That’s always the main risk with geographic names.

One in five credit unions changing names adopts a common, regular word as its name. Some include predictable choices for the financial industry, like Security and Trust. Others like Argent are more clever. Verbs can be used to create a fresh financial context: Go, Grow, Magnify, Aspire, Amplify, Elevations. Other notable new names drawn from everyday words include Max, Via, Icon, Smart, Edge and Fieldstone.

Usually when a credit union picks an everyday word as its new name, members don’t usually make too much of a fuss. Some folks may scratch their head a little, but the volume of chatter is typically kept to a minimum. That wasn’t the case when one credit union picked Wildfire, perhaps the most controversial everyday word ever picked as a new name in the industry’s entire history.

Smaller and Smaller Credit Unions Are Changing Names

In 2006, 79% of all credit unions changing names had assets over $100 million, but by 2012 that percentage had dropped to only 33%. The other 67% all had assets under $100 million. Only one credit union with over $1 billion in assets has changed names in the last three years, and that wasn’t even really a name change (Addison Avenue adopted the name of its merger partner First Tech).

The total assets for all credit unions changing names in 2012 amounted to only $2 billion, the lowest amount in the last seven years. The average has been around $7 billion in combined assets.

Clearly the size of credit unions changing names is shrinking, and the pace of name changes is slowing.

Credit Union
Name Changes
By Year
# Who Have
Changed Names
Average
Asset Size
Median
Asset Size
2006 29 $316 million $190 million
2007 34 $339 million $153 million
2008 36 $281 million $146 million
2009 42 $183 million $92 million
2010 27 $151 million $82 million
2011 42 $253 million $85 million
2012 24 $123 million $61 million

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Comments

  1. Great post & thanks for including the BluCurrent name change in it. Just a small correction: While our name is a coined word, we were fortunate that it did not spark furious debates (that we’re aware of)! It definitely took some members a while to adjust to the change, and we do still have some people that just don’t care for it, but in the end we were very pleased with how smoothly the entire name change process went.

  2. Hi Jenny,

    The debate was within the CU industry, not among BluCurrent members. Coined names always take heat from so called “experts” and industry analysts/observers — some more than others.

  3. Great Article! We love our new name- ClearChoice! It actually reinvigorated our current members and increased our number of new members and loans. We owe it all to our marketing consultant Paul Lucas! He thought of our new name and helped us with our branding! We are so lucky to have partnered with him- He’s a marketing genius!!

  4. Although we didn’t under go a complete name change a few years ago, we did rebrand “Capital Educators” as “CapEd” (pronounced Cap-Ed). The adoption of the new term has stuck, and it is much easier to say “CapEd”. We use a stylized logo, which is easily recognizable.

  5. The Cap-Ed reduction is a good name change.

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