May 12, 2008 | last updated May 26, 2012 4:21 am

All In A Name | Credit union's name change boosted membership numbers

Every year for 11 years in a row, the Hamilton Sundstrand Federal Credit Union lost members.

Then, in 2007, the credit union posted its first net gain in membership. That was also the first time the 47-year-old company was operating under its new identity: the 360 Federal Credit Union.

"A bad name can actually be a barrier for a business," said Steven Smith, creative director at BrandEquity, the firm that worked with the new 360 FCU in its renaming process. "What a good name will do … is it will be a gateway rather than a barrier."

BrandEquity's clients seek the company out when they're "in a state of pain," Smith said. "They come to us for a reason."

Something with their name isn't working, and they need help.

For 360 FCU, it became increasingly aware that its old name had become a "road block," its specificity preventing the company from attracting new members, said credit union CEO Robert Aresti. People just didn't realize that the Hamilton Sundstrand Federal Credit Union served those outside the company for which it's named.

"It's a difficult decision," Aresti said, "because it's been the company's name right along."

With the level of competition in the area, Aresti said, credit union officials realized a new name with a symbolic connection to Hamilton Sundstrand could ensure the company's longevity.

"[360] wasn't anything that jumped out at us right away," Aresti said. And Smith, of Massachusetts-based BrandEquity, had warned them that the good names don't jump out right away, they grow on you.

Marketing Potential

"360" has a lot of marketing potential, Aresti said, and worked well with its accompanying tagline, "It All Revolves Around You." The credit union also liked the tie to Hamilton Sundstrand's roots manufacturing propellers. Plus, the proposed logo colors — green and black — popped.

Aresti said that 360 FCU was tactical about the name change. Members were informed weeks before the public announcement, and based on members' reactions, it amassed a list of common concerns and issues to clue in staffers on how to respond.

Out of the credit union's 17,200 members, only about 20 were "really, really upset" by the name change, Aresti said. And those people were long-time members who felt like their credit union was losing its identity.

So far, Aresti said the new 360 FCU has not lost any members because of the change.

Clarify Function

Another issue plaguing credit unions specifically, said BrandEquity's CEO Ted Selame, is that some people don't really know what a credit union is and what it does. Fighting through that ignorance can be tricky. So some brands try to reposition themselves more as banks, like another of Selame's clients, HarborOne Credit Union, whose new name is accompanied by the tagline: "Better Banking for Our Community."

HarborOne, formerly the Brockton Federal Credit Union, changed its name about four years ago, said Leo MacNeil, HarborOne's senior vice president of marketing.

Over the years, the credit union had expanded beyond the city of Brockton, Mass., and the company felt its name didn't speak to the company's scope.

In February of 2004, it became known as HarborOne Credit Union. In the wake of that change, the credit union did an extensive marketing campaign, with print and TV ads, billboards and lots of public relations.

That helped ease the transition, as did the company's rapid change-out of all its signage, which the credit union made happen within five days of the official name change.

"I was very, very pleased with how well we transitioned from one brand to another," said MacNeil of HarborOne.

Still, the credit union faced problems. Some people automatically equated a new name with a company takeover. Waitresses in restaurants would recognize MacNeil and offer their hopes that he still had a job.

The new HarborOne also encountered a little resentment from native Brocktonians, the folks with a great deal of city pride. They felt like the credit union had abandoned the city, MacNeil said.

But the company weathered that storm successfully as well, establishing a new corporate headquarters in Brockton. That helped re-establish the brand in the community and reassure city loyalists of its commitment to Brockton.

"I don't think the name change necessarily increased business," MacNeil said. But the company has seen marked growth in the past four years. In 2004, the company was a $1 billion institution. Now, it's worth $1.5 billion.

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