The Credit Union name also comes from a different era, with plenty of similar limitations.

What ad agencies and credit unions have in common

Ad agencies have a real problem; they don’t like being called ad agencies.

For most of the people working in the industry today that term should have been left behind, maybe as far back as in the ’60’s (especially once it was overly-romanticized by the TV series “Mad Men”). But if nothing else, that show has shown the enormous changes between then and now.

Back then, a single TV spot or print campaign could grab everyone’s attention. Today, agencies do a whole lot more than advertising, including branding, marketing and design, offering strategy and content creation for an almost unlimited range of media options, usually targeting very specific market segments.

That’s why agencies are now calling themselves “strategic communications firms”, “integrated product innovators”, “multi-disciplinary marketing companies”, “digital marketing specialists”, or even “creative disruptors.” In fact, they call themselves almost anything but an “ad agency.”

<< shudder >>

The Credit Union name also comes from a different era, with plenty of similar limitations.

Today’s credit union is much more than some cash collected in a communal shoebox in order to dole out small loans. Today, most every credit union can offer most everything in the financial services arena, from deposits and loans to insurance and investments. With mobile apps, online banking, shared branching and ATMs, their members can access their money almost any time, anywhere. Maybe that’s why the name feels so dated; CUs obviously do so much more than hand out “credit” today.

Of course it doesn’t help that the second part of the name carries its own baggage for some people. Then there’s always having to explain so many other CU-specific terms to the public: membership, share drafts, share insurance, shared branches, etc., etc., etc.

In retrospect, it’s too bad we didn’t go with “cooperative” instead. That term seems to be used and understood around the world. And I have to admit that there are more retail co-ops than I realized — Ace Hardware, Do It Best, Piggly Wiggly, and NAPA are all co-ops — and a good reminder that being “member-owned” is not something exclusive to CUs.

One of our staff told me he has regularly shopped Ace Hardware for years; didn’t know it was a co-op until recently, and pretty much still doesn’t care that it is. He goes to Ace because “they carry high quality stuff, they are good at having stuff I need on the shelf, and they know their stuff.”

Of course complaining about the CU name now is mostly pointless. Since we somehow settled on “credit union” in the US, we’re legally stuck with it. At least until there is enough consensus in the industry that a change is worth the investment in lawyers and new branch signage.

So, perhaps the best thing to do is to live with the Credit Union name, and focus on what you do best.

Because, when it comes down to it, the consumer doesn’t really care what you call yourself. In fact, your CU could probably change its name to “Hootie Tootie’s Money Shack”, and as long as you’re doing a good job, you’ll succeed.

Or, maybe the real point of differentiation is focusing on what comes BEFORE “credit union”.

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