Credit Union Picks ‘Wildfire’ as New Name

In response to an aging membership and a decaying telephony industry in Michigan, Communications Family Credit Union announced on Monday that it is changing names and is now Wildfire.

“In the last few years, we have found that the Communications Family Credit Union’s name has created some confusion as to who can join,” Timothy Benecke, President and CEO/Wildfire, wrote in a letter to members. “Even though we are a community charter, our name has given the perception that our membership is still exclusive to the communications industry.”

With its recent community charter, anyone in seven counties can join the credit union.

“With any name change, there’s kind of a shock to it.”
— Timothy Benecke
President and CEO
Wildfire Credit Union

“We wanted something that was short, memorable and distinctive,” Benecke told the Saginaw News.

“Conventional credit union names follow a ‘who’+’where’ pattern, a formula that describes the geographic market and industry served,” noted Karen McGaughey, VP Client Services/Weber Marketing Group, the agency who served as the credit union’s renaming parter.

“Many credit unions find these names limiting names and outgrow them, which was true for the old Communications Family name.”

“The name Wildfire is a distinctive name that busts financial naming conventions that many financial institutions follow,” McGaughey added.

communications-family-logo wildfire-logo

Old Logo/New Logo

“This decision emerged from many months of research and evaluation under the leadership of our Board of Directors and executive team,” Benecke said. “Through this process, we have conducted research with credit union members, community members and credit union staff.”

In his letter, CEO Benecke reassured members that the credit union was well-capitalized, and that the name change had nothing to do with a merger.

People’s reactions to the Wildfire name span a very predictable range of human psychology, seen in almost every renaming situation — not just in the financial industry. The Saginaw News online article about the Wildfire name change has received some 50 comments since Monday. Some of the more provocative observations include:

  • You bring in a national advertising firm and this is what they give you?
  • I like the name…stands out and different from the rest!!
  • Was the name ‘Earthquake Credit Union’ already used?
  • Sounds like a steak house.
  • I wonder if the marketing firm did a focus group?
  • They probably paid this marketing firm $20,000 or more to come up with the name. But lets not blame them, since they offered 40 choices. That [Wildfire] couldn’t have been the best (or worst) one.
  • I think the name is different, fresh.
  • I will be in tomorrow to close my account.
  • You are ashamed to belong to a credit union because of a name?
  • Lighten up punkins, there are other things to get more worked up about…

“Everyone’s a critic,” said Mark Weber, CEO/Weber Marketing Group. “It’s the same thing as saying names like Verizon, Kinkos and Wii are stupid.”

Reality Checks:

  • There is no new name that will please everyone.
  • Anyone can make fun of any name.
  • New names aren’t picked to resonate with historical target audiences. They are picked to appeal to future generations, looking 10-20+ years out.
  • People are comfortable with what they know, and they generally hate change — it scares them.
  • Name changes are subjected to a level of scrutiny and ridicule that startup organizations never endure.

What if a place like tried to become What if the Java Stop tried to become Starbucks? People would scream and spew all sorts of nastiness. They would draw biased comparisons between the old- and new names, dwelling on the “obvious superiority” of the original. Then, like kids in a school yard, they’d make fun with jests and jabs: “Ewww look, it’s Icky Vicky.”

When Weyerhaeuser Employees Credit Union became Red Canoe back in 2006, the first story the local paper ran on the name change drew so many fiery comments — some 350 or more — that the paper ran a second story about the outpouring of comments the first story received. And then the second story got another 250 reader comments.

Red Canoe may have received “a boatload of ridicule.” But, Weber points out, the credit union “had is best growth year ever after strong initial weeks of media and blog attacks.”

Three years later, Red Canoe Credit Union is now an accepted- and well-respected fixture in the communities it serves.

Wildfire is a courageous choice, no doubt. Some may argue the name lacks relevancy, but at least it isn’t an acronym, nor does it try to squeeze in the word “Community.” It is unique, memorable and legally available in the financial industry.

And sometime soon, today’s fuss over the name will be forgotten.


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