Thursday, January 3, 2008

What's in a Name?

"That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet."


Such is the rationale of Juliet. Maybe it's just that she's outdated, or hopelessly romantic, but I disagree.

What does your credit union's name say about you? To me it should say everything. Your credit union's name is the flag that tells the world what you're purpose is. It should tell people who it is you serve, and the way in which you serve them.

The first piece of information your name should reveal to potential members is who you serve. People should be able to see your credit union's name and know if they are eligible for membership, without ever opening your membership brochure. This is especially important if you are considering expanding your field of membership. For example, before we expanded our membership, we were Maine State Employees' Credit Union. Sure its a mouthful, but I can look at that name and know whether or not I am eligible for membership. When we expanded our field of membership we dropped the "Employees'" from the name...who do we serve now? Looking at the name it would be easy to think we served the whole state, but I'd be wrong. We now serve the Kennebec and Somerset counties, but our name doesn't tell me that. I have to search through the membership brochure to find out what towns are included in our coverage. I don't like that.

The second piece of info your name should tell people is how you serve them. We all have two small words in common, "credit union". Lets take a minute to examine what these two words actually mean. The term "Credit Union" has a very powerful message behind it, but it has been lost behind piles of paperwork and the bank-esque facade that has sprung up around many credit unions. A union is a collective group of people, working for the benefit of every person in the group. So what exactly is a "credit union"? It is a collective group of people who are working to improve the financial standing of everyone in the group by lending to each-other through an intermediary system, and by offering products and services tailored to the people specified in the first part of your name. People should be able to look at your name, see "credit union" and know what it is that you do. Unfortunately a lot of us have lost sight of this powerful term's meaning in the search for larger fields of membership. In the effort to grow the credit union movement, many (including MSCU) have lost touch with why the movement was started in the first place.

Let your name be a reminder of why your institution exists. Embrace it and what it means to the community you serve. Make sure it tells people who you are, what you do, and who you support.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I noticed in your profile that you used MSCU. Deliberate protest over the name, or just convenient shorthand?

Andy said...

Thanks for the comment Jeffry,

I used MSCU in my profile just as convenient short hand. I feel like our name isn't indicative of the people we serve, but it's who we're recognized as now and I don't see a way of changing that. This post was more an expression of my hope that more credit unions will seriously think about what their name means to the people around them, especially if the opportunity arises to change it.

Anonymous said...

Here, here Andy. Too true. Whenever a credit union is facing a name change for whatever reason, the choice should be a strategic and deliberate one that maximizes longterm potential for both current and future members.

Too often a new name is 1) an acronym, 2) the removal of a word, 3) the addition of the word "Community."

Andy said...

Changing to simply an acronym has always been a pet peeve of mine. For instance, KSW Federal Credit Union (which serves a similar area as we do), has only the acronym now. I don't even know who they served before the charter change (not even a note on the history of their CU on the website), but now its so ambiguous that you can't really do anything with it. It makes me wonder who they "left behind" when they switched to a three letter name. We "left behind" the state employees, and I've heard many of them voice their displeasure.

Andy said...

Mind you, I don't know much about KSW other than their name and don't mean to put them down...we've got similar issues here at Maine State CU.