Foreign banks are joining the name game-unifying their identities to bolster brand recognition in the United States.
HSBC Holdings, based in London, recently announced that by early next year it would rename to HSBC its far-flung operations, including its Buffalo-based affiliate, Marine Midland Bank.
The British banking company said a single brand is vital in global banking, especially with the growth of travel and telecommunications.
Foreign banks-following the example set by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch & Co., and other U.S. companies-are creating a common identity to serve as "a rally point, a banner," said Q Malandrino, managing director of Brandlink International, a New York consulting firm.
"Ten years ago, 'global' meant you were doing business globally," Mr. Malandrino said. "Now it means your customers are global, so the consistency of your name is more important." A single identity is less costly because it requires only one marketing campaign and can help solidify morale in a worldwide company.
"It's much more efficient, and it makes it much easier to build a corporate culture," said Hayes Roth, senior executive director at Landor Associates, a New York consulting company.
"It's harder to build and maintain two or more brands," said Brannon Cashion, a bank consultant at Addison Whitney in Charlotte, N.C. "It makes it harder to create a unified strategy."
HSBC is not the first European bank to unify its brand. In February, ABN Amro Holding of the Netherlands simplified the name of its Chicago securities affiliate, ABN Amro Chicago Corp., to ABN Amro Inc.
Deutsche Bank AG of Germany, which agreed last month to buy Bankers Trust Corp., is likely to attach its name to the U.S. investment bank in some form, consultants said. Deutsche Bank added its name to Morgan Grenfell & Co., the London investment bank it bought in 1989. This year it changed the investment bank's name yet again, to Deutsche Securities.
Tinkering with a name like Marine Midland can be tricky, consultants said, because the $33 billion-asset company commands strong recognition in its home markets.
"The trouble is, you lose a great deal of the equity that you had built up in the name," Mr. Roth said.
Marine Midland ranks second in deposit market share in Buffalo, with 26.65%, according to Sheshunoff Information Services, but it ranks first in market share in Rochester, N.Y., with 22.36% of deposits.
Consumers are likely to greet the name change at Marine Midland's 383 New York branches with a certain degree of bewilderment, consultants said. HSBC, which stands for Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., is not an easily pronounceable or readily identifiable name, they added.
"It's cold and lacks a personality," said Mr. Malandrino. "In retail banking, warmth is important."
Mr. Malandrino worked two years ago with Bank of Montreal and its Chicago affiliate Harris Bankcorp on a name-changing project, but the two companies have yet to alter their brands. Negative consumer reaction to a name change at Harris was a sticking point, he said.
"They are a community-oriented bank," he said. "If you suddenly change the name to this global identity, that can be a threatening thing."