What's In a Name? The best and worst credit union naming strategies

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What's In a Name? The best and worst credit union naming strategies

What’s in a name? Well, only everything and nothing. It’s according to your situation. There was a day when Yellow Page position was top priority, thus AAA names were king. These days, names run the gamut from straightforward to completely obscure. In Credit Union World, it’s all about defining who you serve. If your name is too narrow and still ties to a specific employee group, you alienate potential new business. If your name is too broad without the right target market strategy, you can lose loyalty and no longer have a clear picture about who you’re serving. Here are a few ways credit unions are currently naming themselves. Some work better for long-term viability than others.

  • Self–Explanatory: The name directly defines what the company is or does.
    • AFL–CIO Employees Federal Credit Union – The consumer sees this name and immediately knows this is a credit union for employees of AFL-CIO. Or is it? Yes, employees of the AFL-CIO can join, but so can affiliated AFL-CIO International Unions, constitutional departments of the AFL-CIO, state or local central labor bodies, employees of the Office and Professional Employees International Union - Local 2, the United Food and Commercial Workers- Local 400, the National Football League Players Association and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 51.
      This is the biggest problem for credit unions with community or common-bond charters. Non-members have a hard time figuring out what a credit union is in the first place, so without a name change, you’re unlikely to make inroads into new markets, even if you expand your charter.
  • New Word: Throw out the dictionary and create something original.
    • Numerica Credit Union – Why stick with words that exist at all? Evoke a feeling by combining words that already feel natural. Is this New America, perhaps? Or Number and America? Who knows, but developing a new word is a creative way to set yourself apart with a name that is uniquely you.
  • Obscure Word: Your name can be based on a word that has fallen out of common use so it sounds unconventional.
    • Alliant Credit Union: The word “alliant” isn’t typically used but Webster says it means, “ally, confederate.” What a perfect choice for a consumer-friendly financial institution! While it sounds unique, it actually comes from existing vocabulary.
  • Foreign Word: Choose a word that feels familiar but is actually inspired by another language or culture.
    • Altura Credit Union: This credit union chose a fun word that is Spanish for altitude, and thus it strongly infers they will take their members to new heights. A lot of foreign words feel natural in the English language because we share Latin/Greek root words, so don't be afraid to look outside our borders for a new way to define yourself.
  • Deeper Meaning: Name represents a core brand quality or is a metaphor.
    • Connect Credit Union: In this case, the credit union chose a word that pay homage to their past  (Florida Transportation CU), but it also sends a strong message about who they are --“We want to connect with you and travel on the road of life together toward a shared goal.”
  • Acronym: Name is made up of first letters from a longer, less convenient name.
    • BECU – formerly Boeing Employees' Credit Union: While this is the easiest brand transition since it incorporates the original name, it’s also very confusing and rarely moves the brand forward. People assume you’re just abbreviating the same name and that nothing has changed. For a credit union wanting to expand its membership reach outside your original charter, this is not the most effective choice.
  • Xtreme Spelling: Taking an existing word and changing the spelling to make it unique to your brand.
    • Xceed Financial: This name evokes fun, excitement, and unlimited possibilities. There’s magic in taking an existing word and making it your own with a unique spelling. However, this is too extreme for some credit unions. (True story: We had a CEO tell us once that she was afraid people would think she didn’t know how to spell the word.) You definitely need the Xtreme personality to back this style up!

According to the market you serve and your market position, your name can make or break you. From an outside perspective a name may be confusing, but for the community the credit union serves, it works. In most cases, however, your name should closely define who you are today with enough broad flexibility to give you expandability in the future (sort of like an elastic clause for your brand!) in order to enjoy long-term viability.


Samantha Strickland is the CEO and founder of The Pod, a full-service marketing firm based in Florida. Before launching her firm, she spent nearly 13 years leading marketing for First Commerce Credit Union. As Emmy-award winning storytelling experts, Sam and her team work with credit unions around the country to re-brand, refresh, or simply re-energize their identities.