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Industry Spotlight > Mergers and Acquisitions

Name Game

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In this space, we’ve already looked at how dramatically company mergers, acquisitions, reorgs, combinations, etc. can affect insurance and financial products and distribution.

But what about the impact on the consumer/advisor/company interaction?

It’s fairly choppy out there.

Many companies have undergone so much reinvention and renaming that it’s hard for ordinary folks to know whom and where their “providers” are.

Just go out and talk to non-industry people about this, and the problem will rain on you like cloudbursts on innocence.

I’ve been doing just that–asking people if they know the name of their bank, main insurance companies and brokerage firms–for several weeks. What a downer. Most say something like this:

“Well, I think it’s called XYZ Financial now, or maybe XZ. Way back, it used to be M&Z, but then Y&Z acquired them–think it was Y&Z–and next, X-Works Financial took over and started calling themselves something else–I don’t know what.”

Does it matter? William Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but where financial names are concerned, I have my doubts.

If you value branding, as most modern businesses do, the answer is that it matters a whole lot when consumers get fuzzy over the names and relationships of their financial providers.

That fuzziness opens the door to misperception, misunderstanding and mistrust. Why let this happen?

One woman I know said she recently noticed that the name of her original provider is different than today’s name. She said her beneficiary has a copy of the original contract in the old name, not the new company name. “What happens if I die and he goes looking for this company?” she wondered. She thought about the possible confusion that might result, so she decided to make sure the beneficiary receives copies of the current product documents.

That might seem a little over the top. Still, a good many people tell me they feel overwhelmed by all the 2000s-style recombinations and renamings–the “name game” as we will call it here.

It’s not just new names for old firms that bothers them, but it’s also new requirements and processes that newly merged entities impose; new employees to get to know; new logos to recognize; and new forms, phone numbers and similar details to file away.

Compounding this is the fact there are many new companies on the scene. “I don’t know if that company is brand new or if it’s an affiliate of an established overseas company, a branch of a company that moved down from another state, or what,” growled one man. In any case, he prefers to do business with the familiar.

This name game has other drawbacks, too. It makes it hard to look up an older product or service, for instance, if one never learned or doesn’t remember the issuing company’s newest name or corporate affiliation.

It makes it hard to recommend a well-liked product to friends and family or to reference it to the advisor, if the name of the company or product has changed and/or if the company has spun off the product to another entity entirely.

And, it makes it hard for disgruntled customers to settle down if they (or their attorneys) hit a snarl of corporate mergers, name changes, product winnowing and related entanglements when researching a grievance. The snarl raises doubt, if not suspicion: “Who is this company anyway? Are they trying to hide something?”

The answer is not to undo the mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, partnerships or other restructurings. The answer is to require everyone involved to communicate the new names and relationships with utmost clarity, and in multiple venues (advertising, mail, Internet, etc.). Then, ensure follow-through from the home office to an advisor’s office, and everywhere between.

This is a monumental task, even when a newly merged company keeps the corporate name and brands of an acquired entity, because it requires so much coordination and attention to detail. It’s expensive, too, considering the costs of strategy-setting; developing new artwork, brochures and documents; promoting new names and relationships of key brands; and aligning all this with distribution, phone system, direct mail, Web and customer needs.

Even so, clarity in this matter should be pursued doggedly. Without it, firms risk seeing brand value erode in the customers’ eyes. That will cut deeply into buyer satisfaction, ultimately hurting sales. The name game is not child’s play. It’s serious business and should be handled that way.


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