Just Say No To One-Size-Fits-All Approach To Rebranding After Merger

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SEATTLE-At risk of sounding like a "lawyer," Jim Haack says the answer for how to best rebrand a branch after a merger is "it depends."

"It depends on where the merged facility is; how close it is to existing branch network," said the president of Momentum, a design/build firm that specializes in financial institutions, primarily CUs. "There are always advantages in developing a prototype, the look and feel, and making it consistent with every facility. But if a location is extremely remote there won't be a lot of membership crossover between branches. In that case it is not necessary to make one a wholesale replica of the others."

In some instances, all that is needed is to introduce the new CU's colors to the branch while retaining the feel of the "local look" so it resonates in the area, Haack continued.

"We play that balancing act quite a bit. We are working with a university-based credit union in the south that has seven sites in three cities where the state university is. Some branches are getting a very light touch-primarily merchandising, color and materials-while other locations are being torn down and a completely new facility is being built on the spot."

When it comes to moving quickly versus more deliberately, Haack said the biggest determinant is cultural. If the merger was of two willing and eager participants, an overnight or all-at-once approach would make sense, he said. If the merger was not necessarily sought after by one of the parties, it would warrant a more gradual approach.

The primary advantage of a branch makeover taking place all at once is it makes an impact, he advised.

"The credit union can make an event out of it and celebrate it," he said. "The best mergers are those that are carefully cultivated from a cultural standpoint. These help maintain the members [from the credit union that is being merged out] by good public relations and communication. Make members feel they are not losing, they are gaining."

An active merger strategy, if done properly, is always preceded by a strategic analysis and an outreach program, Haack asserted. He said CUs should put clarity into why the merger is taking place, what the advantages are and how the move will benefit members of both credit unions.

Budget decides in some cases-one branch might not generate enough revenue to generate enough to cover the expense of major changes to the interior or exterior.

"The facility is a very important component of brand and voice because it is the most tangible touchpoint," he noted. "But having said that, good brand strategy defines and clarifies behaviors and a service model. The most successful examples I've seen leverage both aspects. It is not what a credit union looks like, it is what it does."

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