Anatomy Of A Name Change: What (And Why) One Large CU Went Through

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According to one person, at any time there are as many as 1,000 credit unions exploring a change in corporate identities through a name change.

Before doing so, those credit unions should include a broad constituency, including employees, sponsor groups, members and potential members-all with a stake in the credit union-in the decision making process, advised Teresa Freeborn, who shepherded Hughes Aircraft Employees FCU through a year-long switch to its new identity as Kinecta Federal Credit Union.

Members, said Freeborn, need to be included throughout the process. "You can't just tell them what's happening; you have to tell them before it happens," she said during the annual CUES Convention here. Freeborn said the credit union began discussing the name change with members as much as a year in advance.

The credit union, chartered in 1940 to serve what would become California's largest civilian employer, had evolved over the years to serve more than 100 unrelated groups, even as it continued to focus on Hughes Aircraft.

"We had no choice but to change our name. To be a multi-employer credit union we needed a name that reflected that," said Freeborn.

"You have to ask yourself why you want to make the change," said Paul Jones, chairman of the credit union's board. "We saw the marketplace and our sponsor group changing."

"You have to be prepared for those long-time members' emotional attachment to the credit union history," added Thomas Graham, president of the credit union.

"We had one member so attached, she actually came up to me and cried," said Freeborn.

Field of membership (FOM) expansions, charter conversions, and a desire to pose themselves as more than just a local credit union have prompted as many as 1,200 credit unions to undergo name changes over the past three years, alone. And as many as 1,000 credit unions are believed to be contemplating a name change, which generally entails a two- or three-year process.

The million-dollar campaign to change the name of the nation's 10th largest credit union included the hiring of a national naming consultant, Landor Associates, trademark and Internet address searches, linguistic studies of potential names, and as many as 50 focus groups culled from the credit union's 230,000 members.

Though the new name did not have to be approved by the membership the credit union wanted their approval, because it is their credit union, said Freeborn. "There were some real sensibilities involved, especially for our older members."

The inclusive process so impressed members, that CEO Graham only received 50 negative messages after announcement of the new name, all of which he responded to personally.

The lengthy process involved winnowing down potential names from a list of 1,200 all the way to 12, then to just three, none of which was Kinecta, said Freeborn. "One name was actually like Kinecta. So we tweaked it a little," she said.

Though the final choice was not among those suggested by the consultants, the hiring of an independent source to give unbiased advice is important, said Freeborn. So is the linguistic research. With the credit union's members speaking 37 different languages, "It's really important to know what the name means," she said.

In Kinecta's case, the name is based on the word "kinetic," to imply energy and motion, with emphasis on "kin," meaning family.

The process was culminated in a big party the credit union threw for its members last August. "We finished the last chapter at HEFCU and started a new book," said Freeborn. "Now we're writing the first chapter in a whole new history."

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