In this special guest episode of the Believe in Banking podcast, Sean and Gina welcome Dan Rousseve, Chief Information Officer, and Angie Dvorak, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, of Everwise Credit Union, formerly Teachers Credit Union. In their dynamic discussion, Dan and Angie address the credit union’s storied history and the challenges of operating as Teachers Credit Union as they expanded their membership base beyond their educator origins. The conversation covers the important role that formal and informal research played in building consensus among the C-Suite toward a name change and touches on the growth potential with their new name, Everwise. Finally, they highlight just how essential it is to have an ownable brand name that is both inclusive and unique.
Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers and leaders featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn.
Sean Keathley: Welcome to our podcast for Believe in Banking. I am Sean Keathley, CEO of Adrenaline.
Gina Bleedorn: I’m Gina Bleedorn, president of Adrenaline.
Sean Keathley: Well, Gina, we have a very exciting podcast today as we have some special guests who are joining us. Let me introduce their organization first. Everwise is a $5 billion credit union headquartered in South Bend, Indiana. They operate in Indiana, Michigan, and Everwise is Indiana’s largest credit union, member-owned with 300,000 members in over 50 branches. They offer traditional financial services, checking, saving, mortgage, credit cards, as well as non-traditional services like investments. Formerly known maybe as Teachers, for those of you that have known their rich history and roots, they launched their new brand Everwise on June 26th of this year in the efforts of growing beyond their original educator roots. It better reflects the credit union’s mission, which is all about empowering and serving people. Gina, let’s introduce our guests, Dan and Angie from Everwise.
Gina Bleedorn: I’m very happy to introduce these two. We did not meet them as Everwise. Sean mentioned they were formerly Teachers Credit Union. They had shortened to the acronym TCU. They were known by both. I had the pleasure of meeting their Chief Information Officer Dan Rousseve, and now their Chief Marketing and Growth Officer Angie Dvorak. Dan and Angie, welcome to our podcast.
Dan Rousseve: Hello.
Angie Dvorak: Hello, Gina and Sean. Thanks for having us today.
Gina Bleedorn: We’re thrilled to have you. What we really want to talk about is the whole relationship because it’s been, in every way, ultimately, one of the most rewarding client relationships we’ve ever had. So please tell the story, Dan and Angie, of how we met and what you were facing when we met.
Dan Rousseve: Sure. So it was a long journey, and in 2018 as the Chief Information Officer, I had a unique responsibility of having Marketing and Public Relations report to me. Angie had just joined the credit union, and we were still trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to do to revamp the brand. There was a conference going on in Las Vegas that year that we decided we would go and tend and see if we could get some ideas for the brand. When we got out to the conference, we saw these really neat posters that had pictures of these two individuals with boxing gloves on.
It looked like there was going to be some big boxing competition. So we went to go see the presentation, and it turned out that it was Adrenaline doing a demo brand transformation project for a credit union. I’ll have to say that when Gina came on stage, I was a little disappointed because she’s clearly not a boxer. She would get her butt kicked in a boxing ring, but the ad got us in the room nonetheless. After we saw the actual demo that they did branding on stage, Angie and I, we’re like, “We got to talk to these people. We got to find out more.” So Angie tells this part of the story a little better.
Angie Dvorak: Well, it was amazing because we saw this transformation of what looked like a good financial institution, but we saw the options that Adrenaline had come up with and really adding life into this organization and just really making banking look exciting, which is exactly what we wanted to do. So this is where things got a little awkward. We waited outside of this room and waited, I don’t know, like a half-hour for Gina. I felt like a stalker, but Dan was insistent. He said, “No, we’re going to meet this lady, Gina. She looks like she has so many ideas that we could bring back to Teachers Credit Union.”
Dan Rousseve: Yeah, So I don’t think it was quite that awkward, but we waited outside. Gina came out, introduced ourselves and said, “We were really excited about what she saw. We don’t really know what we want to do with our brand, but we know we want to do something, and we’d love to talk more.” So that was the initial kickoff for what was and still remains a long-term relationship with Adrenaline. So I hope that summarizes how we met Gina.
It does, except the part I didn’t realize the only reason we met is because you were expecting a boxing match, but that makes sense and so good to know. Tell us a little bit then about what you told me, what we talked about, about the situation you were in with TCU at the time and the type of change you knew… even then, you didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but you knew you had to make one. What were the challenges? What was that situation?
Dan Rousseve: Well, Angie and I, we talked that we knew wanted to do something with the brand, but I grew up in South Bend and Teachers Credit Union and TCU, it’s literally a household name. So we were nervous and cautious about wanting to respect how large and well-respected and well-known that brand was in that market. But at the same time, we wanted to pump some energy into the brand and figure out, “How do we get excited? How do we draw some excitement around the brand?” When we went to the conference in Vegas where we met Adrenaline, truthfully, I don’t think Angie and I knew necessarily what we wanted to do, but when we saw you guys do it with another brand, it was like this, “Oh, my gosh, that’s so cool.” There was so much energy around it that we knew we wanted to do something different. So that’s where we started the journey internally of figuring out, “How do we go down this path?”
Well, and we had a lot of struggles. Heading up Marketing at the credit union was very challenging because here we have the name Teachers Credit Union, which obviously would imply that you would need to be a teacher. So the Marketing team was trying to be clever and trying to come up with new ways that we could really get past that. But any type of marketing we did, it’s like you had to start out from the beginning of making it clear that anyone could join the credit union. Not just that we felt like we needed to liven things up a bit, but we also had this big challenge with the name and just wondered, “Could this be this next path to really take us forward in a new way?”
Sean Keathley: Dan and Angie, I have a question for you around, I was around financial services since early 2000s. Teachers was iconic in the credit union world, and it is always challenging when the SEG is a group of people, not maybe a company name, ’cause sometimes the company names change and go away. Texaco or Western Airlines, and those credit unions have to change, but the idea of paying homage to teachers was something you didn’t want to lose track of. So at what point, Dan, did you deploy your first level of research, which was when you took your team to lunch or dinner, you asked your waiter about where they banked. Was that before or after you met Gina and Adrenaline?
Dan Rousseve: So that question I’ve been asking-
Angie Dvorak: Can I say he did this last night actually at dinner?
Dan Rousseve: That is true. I did this even last night at dinner.
Angie Dvorak: Still happening.
Dan Rousseve: Yes. But I’ve been doing that really since Marketing started reporting to me. I ask the question of a waiter or a waitress typically at a restaurant because I find that the data point to be really interesting ’cause rarely does anybody tell you how happy they are with their financial institution. It’s usually, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s just where my parents open me an account,” or whatever else. Really, when somebody wouldn’t say TCU or Teachers Credit Union, I would always ask them, “Well, why not Teachers Credit Union?” Nine times out of 10, the answer was, “Oh, well, I’m not a teacher.” So anecdotally it was like, “Man, everybody thinks they have to be a teacher to do this.” So after we’d met Adrenaline, I went to my boss, the CEO at the time and said, “Hey, I really think we need to look into whether or not a name change is appropriate for TCU.”
I was told, “Absolutely not. No way.” So I went away for a couple of weeks and then I would come back and ask him again, and, “Hell no.” Then I’d go away and come back. Finally, I got to a point where I just asked him, I said, “Look, I’m not saying we need to do something with the name, but what I’m asking is to do the research to figure out what does the data say? Is my anecdotal research just worthless or is there something here?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Will you fire me if I do this?” He said, “No, but you’re just going to waste a lot of time and money.” I said, “Okay, well, I feel strongly enough, I’m going to do this.” So we engaged with Adrenaline and hired a third-party research firm to do the research in our markets. When the data came back, it was pretty clear.
Angie Dvorak: Right. Our team, they’re, of course, very data minded, and it was really hard for some of those who really did not want to even engage in a conversation about changing our name. But when they would see the data that came in, there was really no way of ignoring it and just doing the status quo and seeing where we were.
Dan Rousseve: So when the data came back, it was compelling enough that both the CFO and the CEO who were I’d say the most hesitant, they looked at it and were, “Well, what’s the next step then?” I wouldn’t say that they were on board with the idea of rebranding the credit union, but they were far less resistant to moving forward and seeing where the journey took us.
Gina Bleedorn: I think one of the smartest things about the approach you took, and Dan, I remember you said, “We’re going to change the name of this credit union, or I’m going to get fired.”
Dan Rousseve: I’m still here.
Gina Bleedorn: You’re still here, and we did, in fact, change it, but there’s different ways to go about market research and the data that you’re talking about, sometimes you can just do the initial part where you ask members and potential members, “Do you think you can join? What are your association’s perceptions?” That makes a solid case. But you and Angie decided because you knew what you faced with certain executives and the board behind them, you had to make a solid case, and so we took longer. We went into more facets inclusive of an entire naming process and securing of legal names, which was a process in and of itself going through the would be names, seeing what’s cleared.
So the data that you actually had when you made your case was not only, yes, people would be fine with a change. Yes, there are major barriers to entry, but also we went ahead and created a strategy and new names, potential names for that strategy, and tested those against our existing name and against one another. So you had made this compelling case for change that ended with a solution, which at the time, was the name Everwise. I’m just telling you what you did so you already know. But I think that was a great approach. Some take it differently where we just do step-by-step and we look at the results. I think had we done that in your case, we would’ve got stuck in one of those steps.
Sean Keathley: So Dan, Gina has taught me something. It’s a little bit of a math equation, but the more emotion and resistance, the more strategy and research you need. I think it’s right, you two had the wherewithal to know that you needed real strategy and research. It’s a real uphill battle based on the deep history, the roots, the feelings that you would never want to not honor your history. But if you think about that research, was there any one piece of it, I like to maybe think of unlocks, when you saw that you knew maybe before everybody else knew, but Dan and Angie, you knew this was going to happen?
Angie Dvorak: Well, to me, it was when as Gina outlined that we didn’t just look at the Teachers Credit Union name, but we put it up against a few different versions, other names and starts of brand. Seeing the Teachers Credit Union name up against those and just seeing how much stronger they came across in the results, it made it clear that not only people aren’t sure that they can join, but that it maybe wasn’t even a brand that was appealing to people anymore. So there was really two issues going on that we knew that we needed to dig into.
Dan Rousseve: Yeah, I completely agree with Angie. I was a little worried that we were going to get the data back because we did go the additional step of having a couple of other options to test against our current brand. I was a little nervous that it was going to come back and be like 49, 51%. One of those things where you look at it and it’s going to be like, “Oh, well, you could go either way.”
Angie Dvorak: Yeah, or that, “Oh, I wasn’t sure I could join.” But the teacher’s brand was just really knock it out of the park when you compared it to some other brands and then where would we be? That would’ve been a really challenging situation to move out of.
Dan Rousseve: Right. When we actually went through the data with the research firm and the data scientists that did all the data, they were like, “To be honest with you, this is one of the most clearly cut data sets we’ve ever seen. You’ve got a problem with people not knowing whether or not they can join. When you ask them to compare your current brand against sample potential other brands, it was the least desirable out of even the sample set.” So the data was compelling, which made it a little bit easier to go up against, like you said, Sean, those emotional feelings that people were surely going to have about us wanting to change what was such a longstanding and well-recognized and a well-respected brand.
Angie Dvorak: Yeah, and none of this should take away from Teachers Credit Union. It started in 1931, has had such great support from teachers across the community and as we’ve even grown across the state. But over time, as our field of membership was able to expand, we had just a very small number. Under 10% of our membership was teachers. So we felt that it was really important that we also look at a name that could be more inclusive and really make it known that anyone could join the credit union.
Gina Bleedorn: I think one of the more compelling pieces of a different kind of data that you brought to the table was about your growth rate and how you were actually quite behind peer credit unions, other credit unions, but even your size peers. You did an ROI model about even if you could just increase it by a point or two and get up to average the difference in the business that it would make. So talk about that, because I recall with the board especially, it was hard to argue with that.
Dan Rousseve: Yeah. So we were looking at our growth numbers and realizing that there was definitely opportunity. When you’re looking through what are the various different levers that we could potentially pull to try to help our membership growth, it was hard to ignore the reality that when the data comes back and it shows that more than 2/3 of consumers didn’t think they could join Teachers Credit Union, that we had an obvious barrier to growth in that place. But to your specific questions, Gina, showing the board that even if we got to average from a growth perspective, we were going to be able to take the credit union so much further with a brand that would help us take the brakes off of growth.
We were spending so much time and energy communicating to people that they didn’t have to be a teacher to join that without that burden that we would have to cross, we knew we were going to take the brakes off of growth. That was definitely one of the compelling arguments for our board, was them understanding that we wanted to be able to level the playing field from a competition perspective and have people understand and come join and see the benefits of being with now Everwise, but not self-excluding themselves from being able to join the credit union because they just thought they weren’t a teacher, they weren’t eligible.
Angie Dvorak: Well, and we had tried other things as well. We shortened to TCU. That was the solution at the time, but it really didn’t solve anything because there is a college Texas Christian University who also goes by TCU. Again, from the marketing perspective, we have a lot of challenges. Anytime that we would be doing things in TCU, you’d come across that in social media when you’re doing things online and you’re having to compete with this big university who’s in sports. As Gina, I know we’ve talked, you never want to compete with sports. We think we all agree with that.
Gina Bleedorn: You did have a really cool previous URL. So not only was Google a challenge, because if you Googled TCU, you were, I think 27th, something like that in the ranks, because everything else was sports. But your URL, what was that? I think, Dan, you picked it?
Dan Rousseve: So, Gina, that predates me. But there was some confusion around being able to even find a URL or a website that people could remember or know, so we didn’t want a… TCU, great school, great athletic program, competing in that namespace was just going to be an unproductive long-term solution for us. So while we tried it for a period of time, it wasn’t going to be the answer.
Sean Keathley: The other thing I know is just hard to do. It’s not owning something. I think that’s especially important for your organization, given the unique culture, the commitment of people, and to know all that is being lost either because they don’t think they can be a part of it or confusion, you can’t have something out there that’s ownable. So the idea of using strategy to come up with a name that is inclusive, Angie, but also yours. That’s what you’ve ended up with, which is always the special sauce in rebranding.
Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking, a podcast series created to empower decision makers, influencers and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site, believeinbanking.com.