Believing its current brand was restraining opportunities, Weber State FCU surveyed its community to determine the best way forward.
The completion of its rebrand to Ascent Credit Union in May 2020 will include the introduction of new products and services.
“There was no ‘aha’ moment,” says Vickie van der Have , CEO of Weber State Federal Credit Union ($130.1M, Ogden, UT), on her credit union’s decision to rebrand to Ascent Credit Union. It was something the CEO had thought about, off and on, for years.
“We started to think about it 11 years ago,” the CEO says. “What if we had a different name? Would things be different?” Specifically, the executive wanted to know if its current brand was inhibiting its ability to grow; did potential members know they could join the credit union?
The Beehive State cooperative converted to a community charter more than a decade ago, but the Great Recession scuttled any plans to rebrand. As the years passed, however, the idea persisted.
In mid-2017, the credit union took its first formal steps toward a rebrand by studying the equity of the Weber State brand. Since then, the credit union has learned a great deal about its communities and its own place in the financial services landscape. When Weber State officially becomes Ascent on May 1, 2020 — and rolls out expanded product and service offerings — it will be the result of years of careful planning.
To Find The Answer, Ask The Question
Weber State FCU was founded in the late 1950s by 10 staff members of Weber College. Back then, the cooperative went by Weber College Employees Credit Union and has maintained its close connection to the school, now called Weber State University, ever since.
That association raised an important question: The credit union was close to the school, but did it have its own brand as a financial institution?
“When we go into the community, we have people who see us and chant ‘Weber State-Weber State-great-great-great,” says Cami Higgs, marketing manager. “There was no disconnect between us and the university for some.”
To determine how pervasive the university-credit union connection was, the credit union surveyed members and potential members in the communities it serves. The credit union converted to a community charter 11 years ago and now serves four counties in northern Utah — Weber, Davis, Box Elder, and Morgan. In mid-2017, it worked with a third party to determine its brand equity among 22- to 55-year-olds in those counties.
“We weren’t ready to say we needed a name change,” Higgs. “But we suspected the name was restrictive. We wanted to verify that.”
Sure enough, it was.
“Most people thought you had to be affiliated with the university to join,” Higgs says. “That hadn’t been the case for more than 10 years.”
The Ascent Of A New Brand
As the leaders at Weber State FCU began brainstorming new names, they focused on names that fell into three chief areas of interest: Aspirational, Geographical, and Technological.
Starting with a big list, the credit union eventually whittled down its options to nine, favoring those that fit into at least two of the three buckets. From there, it returned to its communities and surveyed the same segments in a different way.
“If you saw a financial institution with this name, what associations would you make?” van der Have remembers asking community members. “Would you do business with it?”
The name “Ascent” stood out at as the top performer. The board approved of it, too. But that wasn’t good enough for the credit union.
When it was considering new names, the credit union talked with current members and employees, too. And before it made the new name public, it contacted some long-time members to answer questions and assuage concerns they might have had with the change.
The credit union publicly unveiled the new name in December 2019 and has plans to implement additional strategic changes in 2020. In the short-term, changes will include a new website and the construction of a new branch.
To differentiate itself from Weber State University, Weber State FCU will officially change its name to Ascent Credit Union in May 2020. The financial institution selected this name primarily for its association with personal aspiration, local geography, and modern branding.
Additionally, the credit union will introduce enhanced business services, including improved business accounts and new loan types such as commercial real estate, equipment, and lines of credit. According to van der Have , the credit union hopes these changes will allow it to gain a greater foothold in its four-county field of membership.
“We want to bring new products and services to our community,” the CEO says. “A less restrictive name opens us up to a small business demographic in need of these services.”
Ascent also will produce a transition video that vocalizes the credit union’s mission, vision, and values more clearly. Ultimately, what’s changing isn’t as important, van der Have believes , as what is staying the same.
“We needed a name that would allow us to grow in our communities, but our staff is not changing,” van der Have says. “This is the same credit union members have come to know and love.”
And whereas some of those members were sad to see the name change, van der Have and Higgs believe members have come to understand it was the right decision if not an easy one.
“For us to be around the next 60 years, it was the one we had to make,” van der Have says.
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