Credit unions rebrand for an assortment of reasons, which can include a new product or service launch, a decline in member engagement, a merger with another credit union, or a shift in audience composition.
Spero Financial Federal Credit Union ($630.9M, Greenville, SC) was founded in 1935 as Greenville Telco Federal Credit Union. At that time, its directive was to provide financial services to the employees of Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company. The credit union rebranded to South Carolina Telco Employees in 1959 when it expanded its field of membership to all employees in the telecommunications industry throughout the state and then to SC Telco FCU in 1977 following a field-of-membership expansion.
In 2018, the credit union realized its SC Telco FCU imagery and identity needed yet another makeover and announced its new brand — Spero Financial — in late 2020.
In late 2018, the credit union’s board of directors and management team, with the help of a branding research firm, conducted a market survey to measure the credit union’s brand equity and perception throughout its local markets.
We learned brand confusion existed among our members with over 80% of respondents saying the inclusion of the word ‘Telco’ in our name created a perception that made them less confident they could start a banking relationship with us, that’s when we began exploring a rebrand.
The credit union completed its research within 10 months, and its board of directors unanimously endorsed the need for a rebrand — in particular dropping the reference to Telco. Of note, many of the board members were themselves veterans of the telecommunications industry. The branding partner got to work developing a new name, logo, and brand elements for Spero Financial. The process required approximately two years, but the credit union stayed busy during that time.
“We moved to a multiple common bond charter and forged relationships with over 500 SEGs, the vast majority of which had no affiliation with telecom employees,” says CEO Brian McKay. “These were mostly businesses in the area that wanted to offer their employees the opportunity of membership in a credit union.”
The credit union also added underserved areas as allowed by the NCUA under its charter.
“Our deep commitment to serving our entire community further contributed to the need for a rebrand,” McKay continues. “SC Telco didn’t represent who we now were, and it didn’t project who we wanted to be moving forward.”
At the same time, the credit union was in the midst of a merger with nearby Anderson FCU. The two credit unions had already partnered on a shared branching concept, and McKay as well as Spero’s board members believed both credit unions would benefit from a merger, that there was strength in unity.
Adding to the complexity of executing the most ambitious rebrand in its history, Spero, like nearly every business in the country, was coping with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and all the restrictions it brought.
The Big Reveal
The credit union chose a name that would reflect its mission, values, and cooperative spirit. And the spelling of Spero is intentional.
It’s derived from the Latin phrase, Dum Spiro Spero, which is the South Carolina state motto that means “While I breathe, I hope,” Williams explains. “Hope is the core identity trait that we weave into everything we do, inspiring financial hope one member at a time to make our communities greater places to live, work, and play.
In Latin, the name is pronounced the same as “sparrow” in English. That, too, was a strategic choice as the word brings to mind the image of a small, industrious bird, Williams says.
“Although small, sparrows are highly adaptive, while being individually resilient and collectively strong,” the marketing VP says. “These characteristics are reflective of the cooperative spirit that sets Spero apart.”
Leaders at Spero anticipated the unveiling of the credit union’s new name, logo, and brand identity would be momentous. What they did not expect was to debut it during a global pandemic. They adapted and moved forward, conducting the big reveal remotely to team members.
“When our brand partner presented the concepts to our team, there was an immediate and positive reaction to the brand,” McKay says. “There was an emotional attachment to the brand’s look and feel. Their energizing response when they saw and interacted with it was exactly what we were hoping for.”
The Heavy Lift
“The rebrand to Spero took every single business unit and almost two years to complete,” Williams says. “The project plan mapped out 550 tasks.”
Spero readily acknowledges the role its legal team played in essential matters such as patents and trademarks.
“The trademarking process alone took a full year,” says Jessica Baker, Spero’s chief operating officer. “Our member service center handled a spike in call volume. We also had to identify every member touchpoint, from the internal and external forms to the call center greeting scripts and the debit and credit plastics and artwork.”
Internally and prior to launch, all department leads pinpointed every item in their areas that needed to be updated regarding contractual or legal matters, third-party vendors, forms, and permitting.
Following the big reveal, every team member attended a mandatory one-hour, brand-immersion interactive live webinar. The credit union provided a detailed FAQ document to staff and posted them on their newly redesigned website for members.
Externally, Spero used every available channel — social platforms, television, billboards, website, digital, and print. It preceded that marketing campaign with a “coming soon” teaser.
Room For Improvement
Spero launched its rebrand in November 2020 and officially completed the merger with Anderson FCU three months later. The rebrand went quite well; little was left unaccomplished.
“We occasionally find internal usage of the old name and logo that need to be addressed in our third-party systems, but overall, we consider the rebrand complete,” Williams says. “The brand achieved our primary objective, which was to elevate the visibility of our mission in the communities we serve. It continually reminds us that while today might be hard times for many people, there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow.”
Still, the marketing vice president highlights a few lessons the team learned in the course of executing the rebrand.
- A rebrand is far more complex than just a name change. It is creating a strategic brand identity with specific goals to measure success.
- Avoid making the switch too fast for current members. Despite communications in advance of the change, there will be members who simply don’t read all the “coming soon” messaging.
- Using a reputable legal team for the trademarking and patent processes is well worth the investment — those processes alone can take up to a full year to complete.
- The information technology department will play a vital role in the success of the rebrand. It will assist with changing internet domain names, staff email addresses, caller ID names, and much more.
- Think ahead and take a brand inventory of all internal and external forms used throughout the enterprise.
“We sent many communications ahead of time across all available channels, but the reality is many members did not read them,” Williams says. “So, there was some confusion for them in the early weeks after launch.”
CU QUICK FACTS
SPERO FINANCIAL FCU
DATA AS OF 06.30.22
HQ: Greenville, SC
NET WORTH: 9.9%
Spero launched the brand with actual member stories, photos, and videos, letting the members tell the story, which helped address that confusion.
“As a credit union, our story are their stories,” Williams says. “They are the reason Spero Financial exists.”
McKay doesn’t anticipate a need for another rebrand in the near future given the flexibility the new brand affords.
“The new brand is modern, clean, and symbolic,” the CEO says. “We feel the brand will stand the test of time when you think about giving hope to folks. Hope will never run out of style. I don’t foresee a rebrand happening during the rest of my career at Spero Financial.”