If we can’t figure it out in the first 100 years…

Ron Shevlin recently wrote a post asking the credit union movement to come up with a new name for doing business there so that we aren’t confused with “banking”, which is what you (naturally) do at a bank. This topic comes up from time to time on EverythingCU.com as well (Gerunds besides ‘banking’).

But if we haven’t come up with it in the first 100 years of the movement, I don’t have high hopes for the perfect new word to appear anytime soon. In fact, the CU movement has ALWAYS had a “name” identity crisis. It’s baked into the movement’s DNA.

From the web site of America’s Credit Union Museum, about the first CU founded in 1908 in the U.S.:

“Originally called St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association, its name was revised in 1925 to La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie, or ‘Bank of the People,’ St. Mary’s.”

Today, that same institution is officially named “St. Mary’s Bank.” On signage, their web site, and everywhere else, they are not using the term “credit union.” (I’m not going to get into what a shame it is that the first credit union in the nation doesn’t call itself a credit union, but it seems that that is due to its historical origins.)

If we have had (at least) three different names just for what this thing is called, how in the heck are we going to come up with a single new name for the verb associated with the transactions there? I’m not holding my breath.

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7 Responses to “If we can’t figure it out in the first 100 years…”

  1. Jeffry Pilcher Says:

    I also wrote an article about the credit unions and the hotly-debated B-word last week. I suppose you could say it was in response to the piece Ron published.
    http://thefinancialbrand.com/2008/10/31/the-b-word/

  2. Danielle Says:

    While I do wish that we had an alternate term, I’m rather resigned to the fact that sometimes we have to meet the consumer on a terminology level that’s familiar to them. It’s the same reason we say “checking account” instead of “share draft” account. If we raise the barrier to entry by requiring a lengthy explanation of how things are the same just under different names…I think we lose the more important opportunity to talk about how we can save members money.

    (Don’t even get me started about the ongoing internal struggle between “certificates” and “CDs”. Even though credit unions by regulation cannot talk about their “CDs”…no amount of training in the WORLD seems to overcome that hurdle)

    It’s kind of like me and kleenex. I *know* that it’s supposed to be called “facial tissue” but like almost everyone else in the world I still call it kleenex. BUT, that doesn’t stop me from buying Puffs brand if I like their product better.

    So for me, it’s less about the terminology and more about our failure to give a value differentiation. Consumers just want the best possible “banking” experience they can get that helps them save money. If we can do that through more customized products/services/education, so much the better. They may still call it banking, but we are perceived as the ones with the value added service.

    Now, i’ll go duck under an armor-plated desk whilst waiting for the other comments to arise.

  3. Ron Shevlin Says:

    No one has come up with a new term in 100 years, because no one, in the past 100 years, has TRIED to come up with a new term. But with today’s CU marketers so obsessed about the “CU difference” — and the current crisis of trust with banks — it might just be time to do so.

    @Danielle: You are right on about the importance of terminology. But a point I was trying to make in my blog post was that you CAN define new terms, and have them stick. It requires discipline, timing, and luck.

    For another angle on this “differentiation” problem, y’all should be sure to check out the CU Skeptic’s site.

  4. Morriss Partee Says:

    @Jeffry – thanks for the link to your blog article kicking off *this round* of this particular discussion.

    @Ron – this is not new, this is decades old. The first mention on our site was 2002, which is shortly after we launched. For CU folks, here is a link to the much debated CU Terminology topic.

    Also, I can’t wait to respond to the CU Skeptic’s latest, I just haven’t had time yet. He makes some valid points, but I feel he’s overlooking some points too.

    I do agree that terminology is extremely important, and is something that definitely needs to be addressed and worked on.

  5. Michael Hostetler Says:

    Does it make a difference to the credit union member if they are doing their “banking” at a bank or a credit union?

    What they care about is:
    personal service
    competitive rates
    convenience
    security

    In CU land, I know we’d like to believe that calling ourselves credit unions automatically guarantees these four factors, but it doesn’t. Being a credit union does not offer a competitive advantage. Delivering on these four factors does.

  6. David Says:

    Following on from Michael’s comment, there are other things that niche segments of your members may want (perhaps the most profitable niches):

    * ethical savings
    * ethical transactional banking
    * affordable loans based on their ability to pay, not their credit score
    * patriotism or ‘field of membership’ loyalty
    * fairness

    Again, as Michael says, being a credit union doesn’t guarantee these things – they must be delivered. But these are things that few banks will be able to offer.

  7. Linda Keith Says:

    I struggle with this all the time. I do training sessions that people from banks and people from credit unions attend. When I am doing an in-house training for credit unions, I have no problem saying ‘members’ instead of customers and ‘movement’ instead of industry.

    I have asked some of my credit union clients if they are offended when in a mixed-group I say banking, and they say no. Especially as credit unions move into business lending (which by the way is easier right now with the mistrust of at least some banks), their members will think they are ‘banking’ at their credit union.

    I sense that credit unions are doing great at getting the word out and differentiating without trying to find a new word for what they do.

    Linda Keith CPA
    Founder of http://www.LendersOnlineLibrary.com
    (Notice it is not ‘BankersOnlineLibrary’ )

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