A bank organizer's first big decision? Coming up with a name

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It didn’t take many brainstorming sessions to name Studio Bank, a de novo in Nashville, Tenn.

Aaron Dorn, Studio’s chairman, president and CEO and a former marketing executive at Avenue Bank, said the name came to him one weekend. He shared it with his team and they agreed that Studio was the right brand for the boutique bank experience they wanted to create.

Studio, which raised more than $46 million in initial capital, recently opened its doors for a soft launch last month. Dorn expects to host a grand opening a few months down the road.

Choosing a new bank's name is an important marketing decision, especially since it is challenging and expensive to rebrand down the line, industry observers said. While some groups still prefer brands tied to a market or home state, new electronic channels and the need for broad expansion are pushing some organizers to get more creative.

Other de novos with atypical names include Grasshopper Bank in New York, Catalyst Bank in Las Vegas and Spirit Community Bank in Statesville, N.C.

“The challenge involves coming up with a name that conveys a local presence and the ability to deliver a digitalized experience,” said David O’Connell, a senior analyst at Aite Group.

A bank should consider imagery alluding to the clients the new bank will target, said Steven Reider, president of Bancography, a marketing and branch-planning adviser in Birmingham, Ala. Organizers could also adopt a made-up name or obscure word with no association with banking, though doing so would requires more branding and marketing to associate the brand with the bank.

“Maybe there's a symbolism there,” Reider said. “This is a different banking experience. It’s completely divorced from what we historically have come to expect from bank names. Once you get past that difference, the question becomes how is it different — and why?”

Studio's organizers chose the name, a nod to Nashville's music industry, to signify to prospects that the de novo is a purpose-driven bank dedicated to serving “creators,” which Dorn defines broadly to include families building their first home, music artists or small business owners.

“It takes resources to be a creator and banks are an essential and critical source of financial resources for people creating different things,” Dorn said. “A studio is a place where creators do their thing and we want to be a bank for Nashville creators.”

Studio also has a French bulldog as its logo, an animal Dorn describes as a delightful companion. Dorn said he also thought of the Frenchie logo during the same weekend and, after some deliberation, the team agreed it was the right image for the bank to portray. It also represents Nashville’s French roots, Dorn said.

“We're a bank with a personality,” Dorn said. “When you think about a logo, it’s hard to capture the personality unless it’s something living.”

American Bank & Trust, a proposed de novo in Monroe, N.C., that has not yet filed its application, chose a name familiar to the community. It is also a common bank handle; more than 1,200 institutions use the word "American" in their name.

Organizers agreed to recycle a name that has been around in various forms for about 90 years rather than spending time and money to build a new brand, said Randy Helton, a former CEO of American Community Bancshares who was hired to help open the proposed bank.

“It’s a name that is very dear to people in Union County,” Helton said. American Community used an unusual looking “A” in its branding material that, every now and then, still appears around Union County, he added. The name also does not limit American Bank geographically.

“In our opinion, it is easier to bring that nostalgic name back up,” Helton said.

New banks should choose names that give insight into their business plans and who the bank plans to serve, said Byron Richardson, a senior consultant at Bank Resources. It also helps to have highly regarded members of the business community involved in the de novo effort, he said.

“In the case of de novos, management and the board play an important role and they must have several people who are involved in that effort who are high profile within the communities they plan to serve because their individual brands are going to strengthen the brand of the new bank,” Richardson said.

Spirit Community's organizers hired a marketing firm to create its name. William Long, the proposed bank’s CEO, said the firm came back with five potential names; his group unanimously chose Spirit. Long said the name personifies the energy, enthusiasm and passion that the bank plans to exude.

One of Spirit's proposed directors also expressed a view that Statesville's local banking community has gotten “stale” from small banks selling or merging with larger institutions, Long said.

“This bank is about entrepreneurs," Long added. "We felt there was a real lack of spirit [when it came to] taking care of customers."

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