A 68-Year-Old That's Just Not Acting Its Age Anymore

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It's not often you find many 68-year-olds looking to change their name. After all, they're interacting with the grandchildren and even the great grandchildren of those who knew them when they were young and just starting out. I mean, what would people think?

So far, they think it's just fine. Or at least that's what United Airlines Employees Credit Union has found since announcing it would now be going not just with a new name, but with a more hip, swinging new logo. The Credit Union Journal has reported on hundreds of credit union name changes, if not more, so many that most are relegated to our Community News section. But not every credit union has $4.5 billion in assets and some 168,000 members, many of whom have longstanding relationships with a credit union that shared a name with their long-time employer. While all business name changes require thought, changing a name that's nearly in its seventh decade and which directly conveys ties to a large sponsor company, takes extra thought.

"We've thought about changing the name for a couple of years, but really began seriously discussing it in early 2003," said Christine Cedusky, senior communications specialist with what is now Alliant Credit Union.

Cedusky said United Airlines Employees CU had been watching trends within credit unions, including expansions of charters and the name changes that followed. UAECU had also begun to expand beyond its single-sponsor FOM; it is now open to anyone in 19 communities that surround O'Hare airport. (No word on how loud it has to shout to be heard.) It began talking with other CUs that had undergone significant name changes, such as Kinecta FCU (formerly Hughes Aircraft ) in California and THINK Credit Union (formerly IBM) in Minnesota.

"We got some good advice," she said. "The really, really crucial thing they stressed was making sure to communicate with employees early on. You have to get their initial feedback and buy-in."

Cedusky said the credit union did that, at the same time it was also bringing in a brand development consulting group and doing surveys and focus groups with members and non-members alike. Another key driver that wouldn't have even been thought of 10 years ago: was the web address available?

The availability of a URL was a "big factor" and one of the reasons it didn't opt for a new name that was, for instance, a combination involving the word "United." "It just didn't bring any uniqueness," explained Cedusky. "There are just so many other companies out there with United in their name."

More than 240 new names were proposed, but Cedusky said "Alliant" became a favorite early on. "We were looking for a word that was strong and inclusive, like alliance," she said. Alliant is meant to represent the words all, alliance and reliant.

With the credit union's primary sponsor introducing a low-fare airline named Ted, I asked if they had at all considered calling the place "Ted's Credit Union." The marketing possibilities seem endless: "Need money? See Ted." "Avoid the Red with Ted." "Get Ted In Bed. And Other Home Improvement Loans." But Cedusky said "Ted's Credit Union" didn't make the cut.

Once Alliant was chosen, the CU immediately began communicating with members, especially those who had retired after careers with United Airlines. "We made a special effort to communicate with them," she said, noting they have been "through a lot" as the airline has struggled with profitability. She said the CU's own employees were far more "pragmatic and practical" about the name change.

After the name was formally introduced there was a spike in call volume from members, but nothing the credit union wasn't prepared for, according to Cedusky.

"Like others that have gone down this path, this is really a matter of supporting growth in the future," said Cedusky. "We're very serious about returning value to our members and about our service philosophy. For instance, we just lowered our loan rates."

Which I guess is just what you would expect from an organization born in 1935.

Frank J. Diekmann is editor of the Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

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