Hermits Rock

Go to content Go to navigation


My local credit union, at which I’ve been a member almost as long as I’ve lived in Iowa City (excusing a short flirt with a regional bank — which quickly became a national one), held a meeting Wednesday to assault the very idea it’s local. For thirty-odd years it’s held the name “University of Iowa Community Credit Union.” The university, see, was its original sponsor. Membership, however, is open to people in 14 different counties, but according to the board of trustees and the president, the name inhibited business. “We held focus groups,” they said, “and 75% of persons in the focus groups said they didn’t know they could join!”

$250,000 they spent to hire a naming firm, which was charged to find a name that is “relevant and meaningful to key future audiences” and is “simple, brandable distinctive, memorable, and easy to identify.” “Look at Nike, Amazon, and Starbucks,” the president said. “They had names that didn’t mean anything — what’s this, a rain forest? a character from Battlestar Galactica? — and they’ve filled that brand with the character of their companies.” Besides, he said, “the fabric of who we are is regardless of our name, including our commitment to our community.” (Yes, it does beg the question: why change the name, then, if the “fabric of who we are” is irrespective of the name itself? The meeting was full of claims like that, as well as anecdotes that said the opposite of what they were intended to say.) Moreover, he warned, “Not changing the name is not an option. If we are not successful for some reason tonight, we will start th eprocess again at additional time and expense.”

The simple, brandable, distinctive, memorable, easy to identify name? It speaks of opportunity, they said, options, and diversity:



Optiva? What does it mean? It was the question at the meeting and for days before in the opinion pages of the Press-Citizen. Marvin Bell got at the question best. “Give us a chance to make it mean something!” the president pleaded. A lot of people charged that it sounded like contact lens solution, or an erectile dysfunction drug. And they’re right. It sounds like a product. It is empty. It is empty, too, in ways that few members pointed out Wednesday: it is empty because it disavows any connection to the area. It’s empty because it says that the people who run our credit union believe that emptiness is a better virtue in business than localness, that anchoring in a term is more stable than anchoring in a city or a region. Optiva is more than a replacement of the University of Iowa prefix, it’s a rejection of the very sort of thing on which credit unions traditionally thrive — community, simplicity, connection. They spent a quarter of a million dollars in order to claim that only a new name can say all that, and what they came back with was a name that says anything but.

Still, the name passed. The vote margin was six, 198–192. They were giving away UICCU pens at the beginning of the meeting, and I quipped to K that they were unloading the old pens before they buy new ones. It’s irritating that I was probably right. The new brand rolls out March 1, 2007.



I thought I recognized the name Optiva. So, they are naming the credit union after a failed nanotech company?

Oh, wow. I didn’t bother to google the name beforehand. I suspect that one of the assets the nanotech company sold is its name; I wonder if the naming firm bought the trademark, then offered it to the CU as if it were a prime, unclaimed property?

I wonder how one would go about tracing that kind of transaction? Any a business-minded investigative reporters around? There could be a scoop here—you can be the Press-Citizen ain’t following up on anything like this.

In Australia, it’s a catheter.

Here’s the CU’s announcement.

I took a lot of notes at the meeting, which was really antagonistic, although probably the arguments are very similar.

Damn. They registered the “optivacu.com” address in mid-June.

A quick search reveals 11 live and 10 dead trademarks which include the word ‘Optiva’ (at least one of which belongs to your CU). ‘Optiva’ is also used by companies involved in electronics, tootbrushes and components, blood testing, and fiber optics. Oh, and there’s a company that owns a trademark called ‘Optiva Puritos’, which makes little cigars.

I’m pretty ignorant of trademark law. Is the Optiva™ an industry-specific thing? I mean, so long as there’s not another bank or CU named “Optiva,” is it OK to trademark it in the banking industry?

Because there’s some big companies who own that name. The toothbrush, for example, is a Philips product. (It looks like Philips bought some if not all of the old nanotech firm’s business: if you goto optiva.com it goes to the toothbrush.)

The primary concern of trademark law is avoiding confusion and mimicry, so, since there’s virtually no chance of confusing a toothbrush maker with a small CU in Iowa City, there’s no problem with them having the same name. If, on the other hand, the Optiva toothbrush factory were in Iowa City, there would be obvious problems with changing the name of the CU to Optiva.

Trademark law, from my basic understanding, pretty much revolves around common sense: will consumers be confused? Is the CU freeriding off of the prior holder’s fame? etc.

(note: I’m no trademark lawyer. Just my thoughts based on a coupld of IP classes)

The main reason not to change the bank’s name to optiva: it makes absolutely no sense.

Word to that.

We were really surprised when at the meeting more people were adamant about not changing the name at all. It was all about sticking close to the UI. But no one asked—I didn’t get an opportunity to do so—why such a bland, corporate name was yet better than going regional, say the Iowa Valley Credit Union, or something like that.

An example: since my dad was a cop, we belonged to the City Employees Credit Union. When they wanted to do a name change, they dropped ‘Employees’ and just became City Credit Union. Seems to make a little more sense than Optiva or some other made up corporate name.

Scott may be right in the real world, but I wouldn’t want to defend the litigation. If Phillips decided that it would rather not have its brand diluted in the midwest, they might think a suit is worth the effort. I can’t guarantee the outcome, but defending it may make the $250K consultants regret their advice, especially if they knew their good were hot.

Hmmmm. Would it be wrong to tip Philips off, I wonder?

If so, who, exactly, would be wronged?

Correction to 7: Philips would not have had to buy the nanotech company to get optiva.com—it only needed to buy the domain when it came available.

It would not be wrong to tip Phillips off, but I betcha a firm with that scope diligently watches for these developments.

Phillips would be wronged. The concept is that they have made signficant investment of time and money to create an identifiable brand, so that they should not be robbed of the benefit by someone distracting from their brand.

It may be a hard sell, though, if, as you note, lots of people are using it. Optiva the Bank would say, we aren’t hurting Phillips because it’s so commonly used. If that’s the case, though, they it runs counter to the consultant’s pitch that you describe.

JRB & Scott: in your opinions (insofar as you keep up with such things) is wrongful infringement on trademark policed more doggedly now than in previous years? I know intellectual property & copyrights trend that way, but I sense that trademarking wouldn’t be treated quite the same…?

Meanwhile, here’s one that cuts closer to financial services: Diebold (of e-voting fame) has an ATM called Optiva—or had, because it looks like they might’ve replaced it with “Opteva.”

How is it that you can charge more for coming up with a stupid name for a local bank than a laborer makes in 8-12 years? Crap like that makes me want to Storm the Bastille.

I don’t know anything about current trends, but I must say that the consultants and bank are brilliant or wholly reckless. I wonder if anyone stopped to do the work you’ve done in a passing afternoon: actually googling the name to see what might be out there. The more examples you bring up, the less I think anyone could prosecute a trademark action against them. The best defense would be, look, everybody’s doing it! Even so, and once again, if everybody already has the name, why would want to change your bland, yet accurate brand, to join in the anonymous herd. It’s not like there are Nike vaccuums in Oregon and Starbucks Five-and-Dime in Seattle.

I still have a savings account at the credit union in question—the account I opened with coins from my piggy bank when I was three or four years old. I got a letter from them a couple months ago explaining that they were going to be spending enormous sums of money on this renaming business, and I got another letter just a bit ago announcing the Optiva option and inviting me to come to the meeting Greg attended.

The whole thing—the money, the fake, corporate sounding new name—has pissed me off enough that I keep considering taking my measly little sum of money out of the place entirely, but it wouldn’t do much good, and any place I put it instead (except perhaps under the mattress) would be equally if not more compromised.

Anyway, thanks for the report.

There’s little to add to this, but this post is followed with comments by Jeffry Pilcher, who works for the branding firm that came up with “Optiva” for the UICCU. He defends the choice with quite a bit more candor than the CU president and board did.

To clarify a few misconceptions circulating in this thread, and to provide a few thoughts from a different perspective…

Once the USPTO rules on a trademark application and grants an applicant full registration, the trademark owner enjoys a significant amount of protection. Philips would have a very difficult time trying to convince the USPTO that it ruled erroneously when it decided no marketplace confusion would result from having an “Optiva Credit Union” and an “Optiva” toothbrush. These are totally different industries. Just as Diebold’s “Optiva” ATMs are targeting a B2B audience.

There are very, very few companies out there who don’t share their name with some other firm somewhere.

And yes, my firm, Weber Marketing Group who helped Optiva Credit Union with its name change, did the Google searches you did…and then some. We also search local phone books, federal and Iowa state trademark records, URL availability and other public records before we even present a potential name to one of our clients. And then there’s more research after its picked. Many names (especially the familiar ones everyone seems so fond of) are ruled out instantly.

Jeff Disterhoft, the president and CEO of Optiva Credit Union explained that the name change PROCESS cost $250,000, not the name itself. The University of Iowa’s daily paper and a few others decided to spin this as the fee charged by the naming firm to originate the new “Optiva” name. I assure you: my firm did not receive anything close to $250,000 for the project, despite rumors that have been widely circulated. The amount we received is a substantial fraction of that total. Disterhoft was including other costs such as research and attorney’s fees — fees the credit union paid to firms other than Weber Marketing Group.

It seems that some opponents to the new name equate it with the Pentagon dumping $250,000 on a toilet seat. I don’t think that’s fair, especially when you consider (1) the strategic importance of an organization’s name, (2) the challenge of coming up with a new name, and (3) the complexity — legal and otherwise — involved with getting a new name approved and trademarked. The process takes many months and involves the input, feedback and approval of many different stakeholders. At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s much harder than it looks. A resident of Iowa City recently commented along these lines in his blog.

The change to Optiva Credit Union came at an average cost of about $6 per member, which is not just a pure cost. It will lead to new members and will create significant additional member value — certainly much more than $6 per member in return.

Personally, I applaud Disterhoft for being honest and straightforward with his members. He was not obligated in any way to divulge how much the credit union spent or didn’t spend.

If Optiva was a bank, I guarantee you’d never have known. You would have just opened your mail one day and saw a new logo on your statement. No vote. No information. No explanation. No discussion.

Instead, Disterhoft made his case in a candid and forthright manner, then let the membership decide democratically. Which they did. This is the beauty of credit unions.

To those who have made dubious suggestions such as “ratting” on the credit union by tipping-off other firms who share the Optiva name, I pose these questions:

* Is that how a loyal member of his or her credit union shows their support?

* Does your opinion about the name outweigh the legitimate vote of the credit union’s membership? Are your feelings so strong that you think the democratic process should be usurped?

* If you think a name change was expensive, how much do you think litigation will cost? Are you really so vehemently opposed to the new name that you would subject your credit union to a completely unnecessary, totally avoidable and very expensive lawsuit? Especially when you consider that if the credit union lost such a lawsuit, there would still be a new name…with even more cost heaped on top of that?

* Are you so committed to killing the Optiva name that you’re willing to do so at any cost? Even if it hurts your fellow members financially — your friends, family and neighbors? Would your mother be proud?

* Aren’t there more burning issues in the world (or just in Iowa City, for that matter) to which one can dedicate themselves? Aren’t there better things everyone can do with their time and money?


Jeffry Pilcher
Creative Director
Weber Marketing Group

Thanks, Jeffry, for your explanation and insight into some things above. Our assessments of Disterhoft’s and the board of director’s honesty differ, obviously, and beyond that, I clearly don’t buy either of your claims that the name change will directly result in increased membership. It’s a logic built on assumptions that I don’t buy—namely, that it’s necessary to forsake rootedness for obscurity in order to advance. That the vote was won by only six ballots indicates that the whole proposal was controversial, and close votes make controversies more poignant than landslides.

No thanks, however, for your rhetorical questions. You must have a lot of time on your hands—or a lot of money at your disposal—to go around the internets defending your company’s work from months-old idle talk and speculation by deadbeats such as us.

Heh. Looks like someone’s been googling himself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I have about $125 in a savings account at the soon-to-be-renamed UI Community Credit Union. I think $6 of my money, or $250,000 of every member’s money, was a huge waste, however it was divided among however many entities, for an idiotic name.

I’m not seeking litigation or revenge, but when I come home later this month, I’ll be closing out my savings account. I’ve had an account at the UICCU since I was 4 or 5 years old—over 25 years. I opened it with money from my piggybank. But I don’t ever want to have an account at Optiva.