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Most bank names are meaningless

Why are most bank brands just acronyms? I know it’s a silly question, as banks are acronyms because who wants to say John Pierpont Morgan Chase when it’s easier just to say JPM, but it is endemic to banking that banks are acronyms. I was just writing down a few: HSBC, SCB, OCBC, DBS, ICICI, ICBC, ANZ, BOA, BBVA, RBS, BNP, ING, TSB, DNB, AIB … and the list goes on and on. In fact, when I look at a variety of industries, banking is the only one with large-scale acronym mania.

In the top brands in automotive industries, there is only one acronym: BMW; in technology there’s IBM, HP and SAP; in retail you get CVS, H&M and IKEA (or would you rather say Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd?); but in banking there’s loads.

Now I know it’s because their names are often too long to articulate, but it’s also because banking is very B2B oriented. When you’re dealing with commerce and trade, people don’t mind abbreviating the company name to a few letters, but when you’re a retailer … well, you need a cool name: Apple, Nike, Samsung, Amazon, Disney.

Or would you rather deal with ABC, MNO or XYZ?

Mind you, this is changing. After all, most challenger banks are not using acronyms in their names: Bunq, Che, Monzo, Hello, Atom, Starling, Soon, Tandem, Tide and so on. I mean you wouldn’t start a new branded retail firm today and say let’s call ourselves KNOB, or I hope you wouldn’t.

And maybe this is another reason why I regularly hear start-ups uttering who wants to deal with a big corporate faceless bank, because that’s what they come across as being. Big, corporate swinging dicks. An industry that has corridors of grey-faced people wearing suits and ties, with stringent rules and massive atrium styled receptions. The image is all about being big and corporate and boring. The image is meant to promote stability as a big, corporate organisation, where staff are given uniforms to sit in the front desks, but that’s not working today.

In fact, it’s another sign of the cultural change of finance that the millennials want their banking to be boring, but fun. How to do that? I want you to kind of be like Robert Pattinson?

It’s a tough call, but the banks that are trying to turnaround from being legacy corporations to cool FinTechs need to really focus upon their branding pretty heavily in the process. For example, star of my Digital Bank book was Michal Panowicz talking the transformation at mBank. I always remember him saying that when the new bank was launched, they threw away the old bank. They didn’t literally shut the whole thing down but what he was pointing to is that they rebranded. In 2013, mBank was BRE Bank, one of those many other acronym banks that are big, faceless corporations. Suddenly, it was like a new bank launched: mBank. Overnight all the branches rebranded and all the branch materials.

Now I know that most retail banks think marketing isn’t that important, but the one thing you really need to do as you relaunch the bank for digital age is ask: does our brand work? Do people like walking into a firm whose name means nothing? Do we need to rethink our logo, colours and name to make this new digital bank work?

Alternatively, you could always acquire one of those bright young start-ups and rebrand that way. Yes, maybe ING could buy Knab and call themselves Knabbing … just a thought.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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