Q&A with our CEO and Board Chairman
Prior to the launch of our new name, the editors of our Member$Only newsletter sat down with Gail Cook, President and CEO and Carl Palotas, the credit union’s Board Chairman, in order to get their thoughts on this historic announcement. We’ve decided to reprint their interview in its entirety here for posterity’s sake and because their answers reveal a lot about just how much thought and effort goes into a change like this. Enjoy!
Member$Only: The Credit Union will be announcing a name change at its Annual Meeting on April 20, 2013.How do you think it will be perceived?
Palotas: We hope it will be perceived as enthusiastically as we feel! A name change probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to our membership or the community at large as it’s something we have undergone before. Many of our members have experienced a name change through several mergers over the years. We’ve opened our doors to the entire community and worked diligently to have a presence throughout our region. The more we have done these things, the more the need to distinguish ourselves has become vital.
Member$Only: How will this change the organization?
Cook: The short answer is; it won’t. We’re still the same place members have come to know and trust for more than 77 years. To elaborate, this change will solidify many of the cultural changes that we’ve already been undergoing over the last few years, including serving the needs of every member and making the credit union a household name. We’re still the same great place that’s serving, volunteering and supporting important causes throughout our region.
Member$Only: Why now?
Palotas: This is something we’ve been thinking about doing for a number of years and it hasn’t come lightly. People think they have to work for GE in order to open an account. We hear that all the time. Many consumers confuse us with other financial institutions in the Erie region and we can no longer afford to have our growth hindered in any way during these tough economic times.
Cook: Some additional reasons for the change include consumers not understanding the words “credit” or “union”. They don’t immediately associate us with a financial institution; instead they think you might have to belong to a union in order to use our services. What’s more, our name carries inside of it the name of one of the world’s most successful companies. We are very proud of this, but continuing to carry the General Electric name could limit our future expansion.
Member$Only: Can you tell us more about how you chose the new name?
Cook: Our volunteer Board of Directors are at the heart of everything we do. This was a decision that they arrived at based on the growing needs of the Credit Union. Hundreds of names were evaluated with very in depth criteria in order to find the best name that would pay tribute to our past and propel us into the future.
Member$Only: Are there any difficulties you’re anticipating?
Palotas: Change is never easy, period. We’re blessed to have our leadership, our wonderful staff and an exceptional membership who embrace change. This has been evident as we have grown in leaps and bounds throughout the years. Certainly, we don’t want anyone to mistakenly think that we’re changing our name due to a merger or being bought out nor due to any financial instability.
Cook: We want to be very clear: the Credit Union is in great financial shape as members will see through our detailed Annual Report that will be distributed in April. One of the reasons we can make this critical change now is because of our financial stability. Another difficulty could be that we might no longer be easily recognized in the community for a short time after changing our name. We'll do everything we can to gain awareness through word-of-mouth and continue to give members a reason to cheer us on.
Member$Only: Can you elaborate on how this should be looked at from a member point-of-view?be that we will no longer easily be recognized in the community for a short time after changing our name. We’ll do everything we can to gain awareness through word-of-mouth and to continue to give members a reason to cheer us on.
Palotas: Well, our members are justifiably concerned with costs during these tough times and certainly a name change can be expensive. With that said, I would hope members would be as worried as we are about the expense of doing nothing! In business, it’s vital to stand out from the crowd, especially in a crowded marketplace like finance or banking. We love our current name, but it does have its limitations. One limitation in our current name is that we can’t shorten it without infringing upon copyrights of one of the world’s largest companies. Another challenge is there are many financial institutions in Erie with a similar name. We have the expertise to change the name now, and we’re not a stagnant organization. The longer we wait the more costly it will become to make this necessary and inevitable change.
Member$Only: What are you doing to mitigate the costs?
Cook: We are doing many things to keep the cost down and significantly so versus other credit unions we have spoken with. In our case, we are doing most of the creative work in-house. We’ve also made a conscious decision not to change everything overnight. Any changes this represents to our signage and facilities will be spaced out over the entirety of this year and wherever possible into the next several years as items deteriorate and need to be replaced. This means the General Electric Credit Union name with remain throughout the community in an extended transition which benefits us financially and through increased community recognition.
Member$Only: When you think of the new name, what are you most excited about?
Cook: Our new name will elevate our image and help us appeal to even more people. It works on many levels, across many service industries and is attractive to a wide demographic, including young adults.
Palotas: The new name emphasizes us as a family-focused financial institution and I think it will be easy for people to understand. Plus it’s fun and engaging!
Member$Only: Is there anything else our readers should know?
Palotas: Yes, please come see us to pick up your FREE ticket to our Annual Meeting on April 20, 2013 at the Ambassador Conference Center. The business meeting starts promptly at 3 p.m. and we’re looking forward to discussing this more at length with you and answering any questions you might have at that time.
Cook: We do need you to get a ticket to attend the meeting so we can plan accordingly. We can’t wait to show you all that we’ve been working on! This name change is a celebration of what we’ve become, what we will yet be and it reinforces our commitment to exceptional member service for you and your family. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon!