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Angst can come along with name changes

A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but what about banks?

In December, the boards of directors of The Peoples Holding Company and The Peoples Bank & Trust Company voted to unify the operations of The Peoples Bank & Trust Company under one name, Renasant Bank. The change, which is subject to regulatory approval, is expected to become effective February 1, 2005.

While new in one sense, the name is also a familiar one for Peoples, as the company acquired Germantown, Tenn.-based Renasant Bank in the summer of 2004.

Having worked inside the banking industry at one time in my career and as a long-time writer for financial services industry magazines, I know all too well the angst that accompanies the name-change issue.

Success requires preparation

When I managed public relations for a large banking company in another state in the 1980s, I listened to more than a few pitches on name changes that ranged from the utterly ridiculous to ones that reflected little association with our company’s values and organizational culture. The few that sounded good on the surface had the potential to become outdated quickly given the regulatory and competitive climate of the time period.

On the other hand, I’ve seen companies that have taken on the process in a thoughtful, rational way and have gone on to enjoy success with names that accurately reflected a broader, bolder vision and direction. Like so many other initiatives in the financial services industry — whether it’s a merger or the expansion of a line of business — a name change is only as good as the thoughtful preparation and detailed execution that accompanies it.

Understandably, a name change isn’t something that banking executives take lightly, given the equity that is invested in that name in local communities. For Tupelo-based Peoples, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004, there’s a long-standing heritage and sense of pride associated with the name. Indeed, many civic, educational and economic development achievements associated with North Mississippi’s progress have a Peoples connection. But there are times when change more accurately reflects an organization’s direction for the future.

Into new markets

When banking institutions were more limited in their geographic and product/service scope, perhaps it didn’t matter as much if several institutions had similar components of names. But as Peoples CEO and president Robin McGraw stated at the time the name change was announced, the company is extending its reach beyond Mississippi into new markets in the region, such as Tennessee and Alabama.

In addition to Renasant in Tennessee, Peoples also announced in 2004 its proposed merger with Alabama-based Heritage Financial Holding Corporation. The acquisition of Heritage is targeted for an early 2005 completion. At press time, Peoples operated 50 community banks, insurance and financial services offices in 30 cities in Mississippi and Tennessee. The Heritage deal would add eight branches in five Alabama cities. Clearly, the company is developing into a more regional financial services entity.

While the company could continue to brand itself under individual names, McGraw said that the company came to the conclusion that Renasant Bank was a “distinctive name” which “reflects the distinctive company we have become.” After looking at various options, Peoples decided it already had what it deemed to be a winner with Renasant. Some have suggested that the name implies a positive, enlightened image. McGraw added that the decision to adopt the Renasant name “resolves confusion which too often results by the use of the Peoples name by others in Mississippi and adjacent states.”

Branding efficiently

Efficiency in branding was another factor for consideration. “In addition, we think it is prudent to focus our resources to build, grow and enhance one unified Renasant brand rather than three,” McGraw stated. Additionally, the board of directors of the company has also approved asking company shareholders to endorse changing the parent company’s name to Renasant Corporation.

While Peoples has built a solid reputation in Mississippi, it has also undertaken a number of new initiatives under McGraw’s leadership that are aimed to take the company to the next competitive level. As those changes have emerged, McGraw has continued to reinforce the company’s commitment to customer service.

There’s a saying that goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In the important customer service arena, one would guess that in the year ahead, McGraw and his team will be working to prove the saying’s validity under the Renasant name.

Tupelo-based freelance journalist and consultant Karen Kahler Holliday writes regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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