For Mennonite Savings and Credit Union (MSCU), a faith-based financial cooperative headquartered in Ontario, Canada, a new name held the hope of connecting faith and values with finances for more families and businesses in their community.
Since its founding in 1964, MSCU’s mission has been putting mutual aid and community impact into practice through financial literacy and social justice. But five decades later, and despite expanded membership eligibility criteria, asset and capital growth were stalling – while competitive banking and regulatory pressures were growing. By 2015, MSCU was concerned for its future. Growth in assets and membership was declining and, if left unchecked, would reach negative growth within the next decade.
“Being a responsible steward, I couldn’t stand by and let us diminish over time.” – Brent Zorgdrager, Kindred retired CEO
Through market research, MSCU identified systemic issues that were barriers to growth, which included its cherished, yet exclusive-sounding name. Of the potential members surveyed, 91% would not consider joining because of the name.
In 2015, MSCU leadership recommended a renaming initiative to the board. “Shying away from a name change was not an option if MSCU hoped to be sustainable,” said retired MSCU CEO, Brent Zorgdrager. “While our name was considered an obstacle, reactions to our emphasis on peace, social justice, and mutual aid were admired by survey participants among those people seeking to align their values with their finances.”
For full transparency, MSCU announced its renaming initiative to staff and membership. Reasons were highlighted, but without a full roadmap and strategy to guide the change, the rationale failed to resonate. Response from staff and members was vocal and emotionally charged, expressing fear of the change and leaving behind MSCU’s most durable legacy: the Mennonite name and community and its focus on faith.
Successfully managing an emotional brand change:
For a new path forward, MSCU leadership began searching for the right strategic partner, selecting Seattle-based branding agency Strum to craft an organization-wide communications strategy for the renaming initiative.
“We believed MSCU had reached the correct strategic decision to rename with its members’ and the organization’s long-term interests at heart,” reflects Strum CEO, Mark Weber. “But many members, and even staff, were confused and upset with the idea of change. Our goal was to create and articulate a compelling vision that would celebrate, not detract from, the credit union’s rich history and values, and then make that positive case to staff and members.”
First, was to reunite staff, leadership, and the board around developing a shared future vision, and to ensure staff felt heard and engaged in the journey and outcomes. Staff was given a voice through a survey and focus groups to rebuild shared ownership and purpose. Participating in a Name and Brand Workshop also helped to align the board and senior leaders, so that a new name and brand platform would support the credit union’s philosophy and future growth goals.
Strum recommended that MSCU shift the focus from a name change to rearticulating its overall brand position, with the name being one component of a broader vision.
Key to this brand rearticulation was developing a new Purpose Statement:
Cooperative banking that connects values and faith with finances, inspiring peaceful, just and prosperous communities.
With Strum facilitating, the Brand Team evaluated name options against strategic criteria, such as inclusivity and authenticity. After vetting by a trademark attorney, quantitative research was again conducted to evaluate a short-list of names and their connection with the Purpose Statement.
Findings included that the name “Kindred” evoked feelings of warmth, connection, home, and community along with faith-inspired values. More importantly, it embodied the credit union’s unique story and values that could resonate broadly with key growth audiences not connected to their faith alone.
Unanimously, the board approved Kindred Credit Union as the name to bring forward to a membership vote. It also marked a new phase: one of building support and momentum for the change from staff.
During the 4th quarter of 2015, an internal survey found that 38% of staff expressed apprehension over the proposed name change, while 62% favored a name change. In response, Strum helped to craft a “Case for Change,” a staff messaging campaign focusing on the vision of a brighter future. Thoughtful messages were delivered in stages, guiding staff through a positive experience of change with clear information. Within months, a follow-up survey found that only 5% of staff expressed concerns, and 95% now favored the change.
The communications efforts continued to bear fruit, and the Kindred name was approved by a vote of members. “The name united members, staff, and stakeholders with a fresh focus, vision, and purpose,” reflects Zorgdrager, “while keeping our rich history and philosophy intact.” Gaining member affirmation was an exciting milestone, but the journey to engage people continued.
“Delivering a clear vision of a positive future is key to an initiative as sensitive as naming.” – Mark Weber, Strum CEO
A staff celebratory and education event, “Letting Our Light Shine,” guided stakeholders in sharing the Kindred brand with members. Strum’s “Brand Camp” followed, attended by staff and leadership. “Our goal was for everyone to speak the same language, to become brand ambassadors, and to learn how each person is vital to delivering the credit union’s brand promise,” explains Weber.
In the two years following the rebranding, Zorgdrager notes that the credit union experienced 200% annualized new member growth, without losing a single member, and the highest growth in loans, deposits, and mutual funds – ever.
From fear of decline to letting their light shine even brighter, Kindred Credit Union’s focus on telling a bigger vision of their brand – first to staff, then to members, and then to the broader community – unlocked their growth potential and opened new avenues to pursue their purpose of mutual aid.