The Name Droppers

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As you wander the hallways of any credit union conference-such as NAFCU's annual Convention here recently-people don't seem to match up with their name tags anymore.

It just seems that everyone's changing the name of their credit unions these days.

Whether it's just a minor change from FCU to CU, or a major switch reflecting a modern theme such as Velocity or Free Choice, everyone seems to be playing the name game.

"We changed our name three of four years ago to better reflect our new community charter," said Byron Smith, a director for Omaha-based Centris FCU, formerly known as Bell FCU. "Centris is just a name that is all-inclusive."

"Our old name was a real mouthful," said Linda Reynolds, president of Pinellas FCU, Largo, Fla., which used to be Pinellas County Employees FCU, citing one of two reasons for the name change. The other was the broadening of the field of membership to include people other than county employees.

The choice was easier for Santa Rosa Teachers FCU in Milton, Fla., after converting to a community charter. "We just dropped the 'Teachers' from our name and became Santa Rosa FCU," said President and CEO Phil Pridgren.

For Goodfellow FCU, which served the Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, the choice was just as simple after they converted to a community charter covering 16 Texas counties; change the name to 1st Community FCU.

Telco FCU in Phoenix also had an easy choice after expanding from the telephone industry to add new groups to its FOM, changing its name to SunWest FCU. "We come from Phoenix; obviously, sun, it's hot, so SunWest," said Tom Sheridan, a director of the $20-million credit union, of the decade-old name change.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, credit unions are dropping their old names in droves to adopt new monikers that better reflect their new FOMs, a change in charters from federal to state or state to federal, a combination with another credit union or two, or just to bring a modern feel to the membership.

Over the last five years more than 2,300 credit unions have adopted new names to reveal a new corporate identity, according to data compiled by CUNA. And more than 400 credit unions have already changed their names in the first half of this year.

Some credit unions, most of them serving the military, are going for the patriotic theme. So Marine Air FCU has become Patriots FCU, Fort Lewis Community FCU has switched to Americas CU, Celriver FCU is now 1st Patriots FCU; and Burlington CU has become Liberty First CU.

Others have adopted single-word, futuristic-type identities. Austin Metropolitan Financial CU has become Velocity CU, Bell-Tel CU is now Insight Financial CU, NW FCU has switched to Verity CU, EBTEL CU is now Sterlent CU, and Reynolds McCook Employees CU has changed to Nu Genesis CU.

Service-oriented names are also popular as Philadelphia Joint Board FCU has changed its name to First Choice FCU, Member First FCU has become Your Choice FCU, Southwest IBM Employees FCU has changed to Your FCU, and Vickers Employees CU has become Value Members CU.

Still, others have adopted clever-sounding names that reflect their original sponsorship. Iowa Postal CU has changed to First Class CU, Boone County Teachers CU is now Academic Employees CU, and Grant Baker CU has become Old West CU.

Many others have chosen new monikers to shorten their names. Motorola Employees CU-West is now TruWest CU, Government Employees CU of Florida is now First Florida CU, Natrona County Schools Employees FCU has become Reliant FCU, and Philadelphia District Railway Postal Clerks FCU has switched to Eagle One FCU.

Among the things to look out for when switching names are members' identity with the old name, potential members' identity with a new name, and expenses for changing account statements, signs, and other marketing and advertising materials, according to executives who have gone through the process.

"It took us about a year to do," said Pinellas FCU's Reynolds, who said they hired a consultant and involved members and employees in the process. She put the total cost of the name-change at less than $20,000.

"The most important thing is evaluating what the members want; what kind of message are you sending to the members. For a small credit union it is very important that our members not lose their identification with the organization," said Reynolds.

But the flip-side of that is ability to appeal to new members or potential members made eligible from an FOM expansion, according to Phil Clarey, president of Tulare (California) County CU, formerly Tulare County Teachers CU.

"A lot of our members who we wanted to serve didn't feel included under the old name," he said.

To make the existing members feel comfortable with the new identity the $70-million credit union changed its letterhead, signs and other identification gradually. "We did it progressively, so members wouldn't lose our identity and so we could spread the cost out over 12 months," said Clarey.

Some credit unions see the value in retaining their corporate identities. David Gilbert, chairman of the board for Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU, in Aberdeen, Md., said they plan to hold on to their name despite converting to a community charter serving two local communities and parts of Baltimore. "You've got to let a long period of time go before to prove yourself in a new market," said Gilbert. "We'll keep our old name, for now. We do not want to walk away from that asset. It's a valuable asset."

"We do not want to lose our ties to the past," said Gilbert.

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