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What’s in a name?

A name change is often in order when a credit union evolves from closed to open bond, or tries to expand its reach outside its existing circle of loyal members.

Gaining public attention and attracting new members can be a challenging task for any credit union, especially for those that started out by targeting niche markets or as closed-bond institutions.

Rebranding can be a way of hitting the reset button and trying to reach wider audiences but only if done right and for the right reasons. Changing identify offers credit unions the ability to start anew and redefine their purpose and value to uninformed Canadians.

The most common scenarios for name changes occur when credit unions merge with one another, or as a result of wanting to broaden the credit union’s identity. Plenty of credit unions have merged over the years and it’s understandable that the change necessitates a new name to celebrate the “new” financial institution. In this scenario, the rebranding is more to solidify the new-found identity of the credit union and less about marketing to consumers. It becomes trickier when a single credit union changes its name for the sole purpose of marketing to non-members.

The main reason a credit union would consider such a drastic change is to distance itself from earlier characteristics that might have limited the growth of the membership. “Credit unions changing their names is often consistent with the changing membership and trying to be reflective of new and evolving demographics,” says Marc-Andre Pigeon, assistant professor and director and strategic research fellow in co-operatives, Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan. “Kindred Credit Union (23,000 members, $1.2 billion in assets) is a primary example. They developed a new name as they stretched the boundaries of their membership bond from purely Mennonite communities to a broader array,” Pigeon says of the Kitchener, Ont.-based institution. “As your membership changes, I think it’s entirely appropriate to reflect that and transition to a new name.”

Another credit union that is well into the process of pursuing a name change is AWCCU Financial (12,092 members, $402 million in assets) in Oshawa, Ont. Founded in the 1930s by autoworkers, the credit union is looking to refresh its image via shedding its trades affiliation. “Members are aware that you don’t have to be an auto worker to bank with us but that the community is not aware,” states AWCCU’s 2019 quarterly summary on its website. As of deadline, the credit union had not yet settled on a new name but believes the moniker change will allow them to target new and younger demographics who might have otherwise not resonated with the financial institution’s previous identity.

Another easier solution to help reshape a limiting name is to simply adapt an acronym — a step AWCCU took when it stopped referring to itself as the Auto Workers Community Credit Union. This practice was also used by some of the major banks to help grow their following outside of their original areas. Bank of Montreal (BMO) and Toronto Dominion (TD) are primary examples, having dropped their full names in hopes of better attracting new customers outside of Canada. “When TD opened up in the United States they opened up as TD Bank rather than Toronto Dominion. I’m willing to bet a majority of their customers aren’t even aware it’s a Toronto-based institution,” Pigeon says.

Italian Canadian Savings and Credit Union (18,290, members, $803 million in assets), is currently transitioning to its shortened name, IC Savings. Originally known for having established itself among the Italian-Canadian community, the credit union is making the switch in an effort to connect with more Canadians and limit the impression that one needs to be of Italian background to bank with the institution. “We recently changed our bond of association from ethnic to urban, and one of our purposes was to clarify that we’re not just Italian, we’re for everybody,” says Ronald Hodges, vice-president of corporate development at IC Savings. “You don’t have to be Italian to bank here or work here,” Hodges says. ◊