First Chicago NBD Corp. is trying to get a sense of how people feel about its names.
The company has hired Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, N.J., to conduct 1,000 interviews with bank customers, institutional investors, analysts, and employees to determine what images people conjure up at the mention of any of the three brand names the bank uses.
The $104.6 billion-asset company operates as First National Bank of Chicago in Illinois, NBD Bank in Michigan and Indiana, and American National Bank in Illinois and Wisconsin. It also markets nationally a credit card branded First Card, but the survey doesn't ask about it or any holding company names.
Opinion Research began contacting people last month and is expected to report results to the company sometime in the second quarter.
Thomas Kelly, a First Chicago spokesman, said the bank is simply trying to determine how people view the names for public relations and marketing purposes. He noted Opinion Research doesn't advise companies on new names or designs.
While First Chicago chairman and chief executive officer Verne G. Istock has said a unified name for First Chicago is not a "front-burner issue," several analysts have voiced concern over the multiple corporate identities of the company.
Analysts have been critical of the resulting clumsy corporate name that came from the merger of First Chicago and NBD of Detroit in November 1995.
"The name stinks," said Michael Mayo, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston.
"It was like it was thrown together on five minutes thought," said George Salem, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison.
Although the analysts work for firms with names that are also the result of mergers, their companies are not in the retail banking business, where brand names have become crucial. This is especially true as the banking industry becomes more centralized and national in scope.
First Bank System Inc., for instance, is dumping its name in favor of U.S. Bancorp, the Portland, Ore., company that it plans to acquire, because the latter name has broader national appeal.
Some analysts said they hoped First Chicago's research is the first step in creating a new name.
"I think they need to take a hard look at it and come up with a name that will travel," said Mr. Salem.
What should that name be? "They didn't like my idea for a name, which was either Big Ten Bancshares or Big Ten Corp.," he joked.