NZ Credit Union accused of brand hijack

Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014

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The Co-Operative Bank has accused the New Zealand Association of Credit Unions of trying to hijack its brand, which it has recently spent a small fortune promoting.

New applications to the Trade Mark register reveal the NZACU wants to trademark the names "Co-op Money NZ", "Co-op Services NZ", and "Co-op Insurance NZ".

NZACU chief executive Henry Lynch confirmed the industry body was consulting with its members on a rebranding exercise.

He said it was designed to better reflect the group's members, with a new logo including a motif of three figures working together.

Lynch said the change would be finalised next month, and would affect only the NZACU and its insurance arm, not any individual credit unions.

The new name is similar to The Co-operative Bank, often referred to as the "Co-op Bank", which is the only bank in New Zealand to share its profits with customers.

Chief executive Bruce McLachlan said he believed NZACU was deliberately creating confusion and trying to leverage the strength of the Co-operative Bank brand.

"We will contest the change for that reason," he said. "The real issue here is in the world of banking and money . . . there

shouldn't be confusion in the market around who people are putting their money with."

McLachlan wouldn't go into specifics over what action would be taken, but said "they will be hearing from us".

"We will obviously take advice on this and determine what the appropriate strategy is," he said.

The Co-operative Bank has invested heavily in its own rebranding from the former PSIS, including its popular "another record profit" TV ad campaign.

McLachlan said the marketing spend was about $4 million in the last year, twice that of previous years. When asked about the similarity between the names, Lynch did not see a problem with using what he described as a "generic" term.

"New Zealanders are very familiar with co-operatives," he said.

We're a financial co-operative, so we've been using that terminology for donkey's years."

Lynch said the organisation would be sure to use the "Co-op Money NZ" name in full to avoid any confusion.

He also pointed out that NZACU was a service provider only to its members, and so was operating in "completely different markets".

There has been debate both here and overseas as to whether the name "credit union" was hindering the growth of the movement, which boasts just over 200,000 members who save and borrow from them in the same way people do from their banks, except that there are no shareholders to make profits for.

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These members do more than 67 million financial transactions per year, and have more than $658 million in credit union savings accounts.

Too many people, especially the young, have no idea what a credit union is, or mistakenly link it with trade unions.

Credit unions are effectively co-operative banking organisations, and in places like Australia, terms like mutual banking, and co-operative banking have been adopted as more modern and easily understood.

The trademarks at the centre of the disagreement are currently awaiting approval from the Intellectual Property Office.

- Sunday Star Times


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