CU Water Cooler

Credit Union Brand or Bland?

William AzaroffComment
Photo from my recent trip to Bologna, Italy

Photo from my recent trip to Bologna, Italy

"If you don't have enemies,
   you don't have character."

                                              – Paul Newman

Every now and then a debate emerges among credit unions about the strength of the credit union brand. Many prominent credit unions in British Columbia have dropped the words "credit" and "union" from their brand (including Vancity). Some people are bothered by this. Not me.

I don't believe the term credit union has much resonance with people. Same with the term co-operative. I believe strongly in the co-operative model. I studied co-operative economics and the behaviour of leading co-ops in Bologna, Italy where over a third of the regional GDP comes directly from co-operatives. I believe the model is inherently more human and ethical than the corporate model. It is the economic equivalent of the locavore movement, keeping people's money reinvested in their community. I recently heard it referred to as locanomics

To me, the troubling thing isn't whether the words credit and union are in your brand name or whether you market yourself as a co-operative, to me the main thing is behaving in a way that reflects the co-operative ideal, and marketing that. I don't really care that people understand our governance model, most won't. I care that people know that keeping their money reinvested locally has real tangible benefits for them and their neighbours.

But when I look at many credit unions, I'm troubled by their blandness, their inoffensiveness. They used to be the credit union serving teachers or firefighters or pulp and paper workers. They knew their niche and segments like no one else. But then they became a community bond credit union so they could serve a larger, more diverse membership. And in doing so, they lost their soul. They became all things to all people. They used to stand for something, but now they're moving away from differentiation and towards sameness.

And many credit unions are doing this at the precise moment when differentiation is a necessity. We are competing in a time of commoditization in the financial services sector. Marketing is moving towards tactics that require differentiation. Social media, for example, doesn't work for companies who have nothing to say, and conversely works best for organizations with a vision, a mission and a soul. 

The question is: do some people hate your brand? If some do, then I would say you're doing something right. If not, then I'm guessing your organization is trying to be all things to all people, and should take a stand for something and embed that into your brand.


William Azaroff lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is Director, Business & Community Development of Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union. William works on a team overseeing Vancity's entire granting slate to develop members' communities, improve financial literacy, develop new businesses creating positive impact and, ultimately, to grow the Vancity brand and business.