Sovereign Bank, the U.S. unit of Spain's Santander Group, will be rechristened this fall with the name of its parent as part of a $200 million transformation that is meant to improve just about every customer touchpoint.
Branches will get an overhaul. ATMs will be upgraded. A revamped website will launch. New products will roll out, and new technology will be introduced, with its recently launched mobile app being the first example.
The goal is to offer "a different experience" for customers and employees, says Carlos Garcia, chief corporate affairs and communications officer at Boston-based Sovereign and Santander Holdings USA.
A major advertising campaign kicks off when the signs change Oct. 17. It will incorporate the "Bank for your ideas" slogan that Santander uses across its operations in nine other countries.
Santander bought a hobbled Sovereign in 2009, and Garcia says the name change was part of the plan from the start. But Sovereign required repairs first.
The work involved boosting capital and asset quality and moving multiple legacy systems to a single platform. In what Garcia characterizes as the final step, Sovereign changed its charter last year, converting from a savings and loan to a commercial bank.
Garcia says that the renamed Sovereign still intends to position itself as a local bank, just one with the benefit of international ties, which he expects to be particularly appealing for commercial customers. He stresses that the U.S. unit operates autonomously, with no financial help from its parent company required.
For the past year, Sovereign has been using an online forum as a market research tool to gather insight that will inform its rebranding effort. Nearly 1,000 people-customers, prospects and employees-are part of the crowdsourcing community it created with the Boston consulting firm Communispace.
"Any time we question something, we go into the community and ask," says Sovereign's chief marketing officer, Kathy Klingler, who adds that the forum has been helpful enough that the bank plans to keep it going.
Recruits to the forum receive a nominal amount to join and agree to log into the website at least once a day. A site manager actively engages with them, posting questions as a way to spark conversations within the group. The topics are not only about banking, but life in general.
"All of that insight has been relevant in us really understanding more about the bank and where it should be heading in the future," Klingler says.
Sovereign has seven pilot branches in the Boston area, to show employees what they can expect as more of its roughly 700 branches get refreshed. Depending on their location, the branches will have different features. Some will be designed with particular customer segments in mind-such as small businesses or college students-and have specially trained staff on hand. Others will offer specialized investment advice.
Branding consultants say the loss of the Sovereign name is unlikely to faze customers, as the bank never did make much of an impression before.
The rebranding is a great opportunity to change that, and the plan to associate the new name with improvements such as modern branches and better technology is a good strategy, says Steve Reider, the president of Bancography in Birmingham, Ala. Now it just comes down to execution.
Says Reider, "If nobody has heard of Santander-and I think that's a fair presumption-then it is incumbent on the institution to explain what a Santander is and why it is different and better than a Sovereign."