UICCU – The Credit Union Formerly Known as Optiva… OptivEx… Noptiva…

logo_iowa.gif…I’m sure I could think of a better parody given time, but… well… this result doesn’t really fill me with joy.

Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered which way the vote went – the fact that the credit union was unable to disclose the real reason for the name change (hint: it probably wasn’t just confusion) meant that the membership didn’t have enough data (in either vote) to cast an informed ballot.

While I don’t have 100% confidence that the University gave an ultimatum to the CU, I’m more confident in that cause than I am in any other. I’m pretty sure that if this cause had been disclosed initially the name Optiva would’ve been accepted more easily. In my casual perusal of online commentary I’ve found that many of the complaints about the new name reference the fact that the old name was the whole reason that they were a member in the first place. Many wanted the strong tie to the University and thought it was almost criminal to tear it away.

But what if the CU had been able to communicate that they had to disassociate themselves from UofI?

Imagine if Weber Marketing Group had been able to work with the full membership to find a way to honor their desire to feel connected to the school? Disclosing that the university was trying to protect its brand (saying, in effect “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”) could’ve brought a rallying cry from the membership instead of a cry of foul play.

This is not to say that a naming contest was the right way to go – but certainly offering members a chance to contribute to the identity – to make sure that the new identity at least addresses the values the membership holds most dear… that would’ve been worthwhile.

At Stokefire we’re approached occasionally by membership organizations and non-profits that wish to have their leadership team develop names without involving (or occasionally even informing) the membership until it is time to vote. While we may offer consulting support for these organizations we’ve never taken on a full naming project under these terms. (And FWiW, a good portion of our consulting effort goes towards trying to persuade the client to involve the membership and be as forthright as possible.)

This Optiva re-vote seems to validate our take, no?

Kudos to OptivEx for beginning to tell the full story, to the membership base for showing that there are consequences when an organization becomes disassociated from its membership, and yes, even to Weber for weathering the storm.

To those that find it surprising that I might not be ripping apart Weber… I find it interesting that no one has ever questioned whether the name Optiva was one of the top candidates suggested by the Weber team. Maybe that’s because not many people know what the naming process is like. I don’t have inside insight into how Weber runs their projects, but when Stokefire works with clients we present numerous candidates and make suggestions as to which are the best for various purposes. We’ve had a few clients go through the process and select a name that we think is a poor candidate (or that we didn’t develop.) The client still has every right to disclose that we were the naming expert for the project – and it isn’t likely that we would ever mention publicly that we advised against selecting a name our clients end up with. (Dissing clients – or making them look foolish – is never a good thing.) Our goal is to advise our clients as to the strongest identities available and then to do our best to support the identity choices that our clients make – even if they don’t exactly follow our advice.

A few links for you:

I have enjoyed (albeit wincingly) reading the opinions of Nicholas Johnson and see them as an example of what happens when a really smart guy who cares doesn’t get enough access to the information he needs. Today he provides an overview of the second vote and links to areas where you can find more backstory. Any CU or membership organization considering a top-down naming effort needs to read Mr. Johnson’s words before they go through with it.

I’ve also watched Michael over at Popwink as he has opined on the issue – today just summarizing the final vote and showing some snapshots of the CU’s home page before and after the vote.

[Edit – Thank you to JT the ‘Hawk-eyed’ reader who noted that I’ve been watching hermits rock as well. Greg’s post today has some interesting quotes from the event last night.]

The story was also picked up by the Iowa Press Citizen and what appears to be another site owned by the same folks – HawkCentral. Both sites have comments enabled and the boards are heating up quickly. My quick Google search found no other news outlets covering the vote.

Tate Linden
Principal Consultant
Stokefire Consulting Group

13 Responses to “UICCU – The Credit Union Formerly Known as Optiva… OptivEx… Noptiva…”

  1. Tate,
    I love your blog and it’s approach to the science of naming.
    As you know, I’m a credit union evangelist and this decision makes my heart sing. Because a credit union is MEMBER owned and these days that doesn’t seem to matter much. It’s the only thing that makes them different from banks.
    Having over 1400 members show up last night (without a promise of great door prizes or a full meal) is unheard of. These people care. UICCU should be proud, not angry, that their members care.
    And as for Weber, you’re right, they were just doing the job they were hired to do. I still didn’t like the name (Optiva = oral care in Seattle) but can understand why they pitched it. It’s neutral. That was their goal.
    Thanks for giving this time on your blog.

  2. Tate Linden says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Denise.
    I’m dealing with a couple other member owned organizations and we’re doing our damnedest to head off the exact same issues before they become issues. It is natural to think that just having the membership’s interest at heart is enough – or even to think that what the membership doesn’t know can’t hurt them. Both assumptions are wrong. I have a strong belief that UICCU’s management had no evil plans and didn’t want to hurt anyone. I’d wager that they wanted to help their membership in any way possible – and maybe even protect them from issues that might upset them.
    It rarely seems to work out.
    I agree that it was an impressive turnout. Oddly I’m actually more shocked that about 40% of the votes were *for* the new name. I was expecting very little increase from the pro-Optiva crowd.
    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the exchange. I’m guessing this will quiet down for a while. Expect some noise when UICCU figures out who they’re going to use for the next round of naming. I’d suggest they give Weber another chance (assuming that they didn’t go with Weber’s initial recommendations) but wouldn’t be surprised to see this come out as a naming contest.

  3. hermit greg says:

    I’m dealing with a couple other member owned organizations and we’re doing our damnedest to head off the exact same issues before they become issues. It is natural to think that just having the membership’s interest at heart is enough – or even to think that what the membership doesn’t know can’t hurt them. Both assumptions are wrong. I have a strong belief that UICCU’s management had no evil plans and didn’t want to hurt anyone. I’d wager that they wanted to help their membership in any way possible – and maybe even protect them from issues that might upset them.
    This gets it exactly right, Tate. However, from my limited vantage, that this was the case was much more evident in last night’s meeting than it was in October. Whatever it actually was, to a lot of people the name change felt like it was being rammed through without sufficient debate (evident in the letters to the Press-Citizen and the ongoing discussion on its Web site). That it’s also become an employees vs. everybody else (and now, employees vs. a radical minority: I heard shades of that last night as I was leaving when a woman, probably an employee, grumbled, “That’s not even most of the members”; the claim’s showing up today at the P-C) hasn’t helped.
    This side of Vote 2, the only thing that’s really obvious is that there is some community building to be done.

  4. First off, thanks to Tate for a great blog. I’ve read everything that everyone has written everywhere, and this blog has become a gathering place of sorts for many varied, yet rational perspectives about UICCU’s name change. That includes Greg and others from hermits rock, and Michael Weissenfluh from Cintara/POPwink. Their insights contributed something meaningful to the discussion, and provided refreshing relief from the pounds of pettiness and inane redundancy that plagued other blogs and discussion boards.
    Secondly, my personal reflections on this whole experience. It has been perplexing, frustrating, surprising and very educational. Our firm learned as much about managing a renaming project as we did in our last 10 or 20 renaming projects combined. One thing is for sure: *Renaming* is a lot harder than plain old naming.
    Overall, I don’t think this was a healthy experience for anyone: the University of Iowa, the credit union, its staff, its board, its management, its members and the greater community of Iowa City. I struggle to see any good that’s come of this (so far). It seems like it’s only resulted in negativity, distrust, resentment, accusations and anger. Sad, too, because the people of Iowa City seem like basically pretty normal and well-intentioned citizens who take pride in where they live. If it weren’t for all the divisiveness, these folks would probably be having barbecue (well, at least when the weather improves).
    In the end, I agree that there is no real “victory” here, and Greg’s right: the work to rebuild the community — especially the credit union — must get started now.
    It would be extremely unfortunate if the only result is bitterness and a weakened credit union.
    The very small brightside is that there are a lot more people in Iowa who are really getting involved in their credit union for the first time. For instance, there are members who actually want to read their credit union’s articles of incorporation! And I believe 1,400 people may be an attendance record for any meeting at any credit union ever. But don’t forget: 98.4% of the membership still didn’t participate — twice, no less. It’s too bad more people don’t take the responsibilities of credit union membership more seriously.
    *What does the future hold?* It will be interesting to monitor UICCU’s healing process. How deep are the scars? Will an angry mob seek revenge? How will employee morale recover? Will the credit union continue growing? Will the University of Iowa ever step forward with an earnest position? Will the credit union pursue another new name? And would the membership approve it? If so, how many people will vote?
    We will see.
    – Jeffry Pilcher
    Creative Director
    Weber Marketing Group

  5. Tate Linden says:

    Agreed hermit greg.
    I would guess that most non-employees didn’t understand (and likely many employees don’t either) what the leadership was trying to do or why they tried to do it.
    A few bloggers have pointed out that not only does a community rebuilding effort need to happen, but now the cost of changing the name needs to be bourne again. Even done well there will be some significant hurdles. It ain’t cheap to involve the membership in decisions like this. I know we pay thousands of dollars to subcontractors when we get a room full of interviewees together. Imagine that cost multiplied by the 1400 people that voted.
    I’d almost recommend a naming contest in this case just because the first time through was handled so poorly. The organization could use the PR boost. I’d be afraid, however, that the result would be something like “The Listen To Us Next Time Damnit Credit Union.”

  6. Tate Linden says:

    Well said Jeffry.
    It’s been a pleasure to provide a place for people to interact and learn about this issue, and to learn about the naming process in general. I’m hoping that by providing a bit of industry insight into what naming is, how it is often done, and the types of things that can derail a project we enabled at least a bit of rational conversation to creep into what was a rather passionate and emotional debate.
    Rather sad that we learn the most by *not* achieving what we intend, isn’t it?

  7. Evan says:

    I have been mulling this name change controversy over still. I’m still not 100% convinced of the value of a name change, but I think one of the most interesting challenges going forward is that if the name change *must* take place, what should it change to?
    Obviously, the members of the credit union community desire a continued connection with the University and the Iowa City community. So I don’t think a created name like “Optiva,” no matter what it is, will satisfy them. I’ve heard several names tossed around, “Black & Gold CU” is one I like, I would however steer clear of anything with Iowa or Hawkeye in the title, they are a dime-a-dozen. I’ve also mulled “Old Capitol CU,” naming the CU after the most prominent University/Iowa City building – a building that is already a part of the current logo.
    One of the more fun/modern ideas I came up with was the Icu or Iowa Credit Union. The I would be written like the classic Iowa capitol I used in athletic wear – like this, http://www.iowabook.com/goiohahatwiw.html, and in black and gold. And the potential for marketing is incredible: one of the leading industries in Iowa City (after education) is healthcare, so the association with “the icu,” to fix your ailing finances would be an interesting one. Also, I-see-you as a new member. And still there’s the “internet-friendly” Mac-style vibe of the iCU. But the “Industrial Credit Union” may object, even though they don’t seem to have much fun with the name.
    That idea may not be the most practical, but it certainly is the most fun. Old Capitol Credit Union it is then…does anybody else have a suggestion for a name for the credit union now?

  8. One thing it seems everyone seems to forget (except Tate) is that Weber Marketing Group does not present only one name. We had over 250 potential candidates and presented dozens of names through multiple rounds. This includes quite a few with ties to education and/or the University of Iowa.
    With each name, we advise our client on the pros and cons. A name like Optiva is very trademarkable, but has no real inherent meaning. A name like U-First preserves a connection to the client’s history, but isn’t very distinct (since many financial institutions have the word “first” in their name).
    We provide advice and guidance. The client chooses. Then its our job to do everything we can — short of lying and breaking the law (note to Tim T) — to help our client and defend their choice.
    There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking in Optiva’s aftermath. Just remember, it’s always much easier for everyone to talk about “what should have happened” in retrospect. Hindsight is 20/20.

  9. Evan says:

    I didn’t mean to criticize you Jeffry, and I’m not sure if you thought I did, but I thought I’d clear that up. I realize you presented many many names and that the client had the ultimate decision. I just think the time has come to move past the Monday-morning quarteracking and see where the UICCU goes from here. That to me is the most interesting process going forward.

  10. Thanks Evan.
    We haven’t seen anything but handgrenades thrown our way lately, so it’s hard to tell who means what.

  11. UPDATE – July 5th
    Optiva Mortgage, once a controversial point in the Optiva Credit Union story over the two-person brokerage’s imminent plans to expand from San Diego to Iowa, is now apparently out of business:

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