The road to BlueShore Financial: a premium financial brand transformation ten years in the making
Ten years ago, Vancouver-based North Shore Credit Union was a Canadian financial institution that “had lost its way,” according to President and CEO Chris Catliff. “We had no differentiated brand, and the credit union was floundering,” he says, looking back.
North Shore was competing for new members in an area that over time had shifted from a working-class logging and maritime community into one of the most upscale neighborhoods in greater Vancouver, B.C. Yet the credit union was unable to capture many of the affluent residents who lived and worked in this thriving market.
Fast-forward to today and you will find that visiting a North Shore branch is like stepping into a beautifully designed West Coast spa. It’s a carefully designed space, in which every detail matters and Concierges deliver extraordinary experiences in an environment that is decidedly un-bank-like and vastly changed from its blue collar past.
Armed with its distinctive Financial Spa™ branches, responsively designed website, and signature lifespring® financial planning service, Catliff and his team have created one of the most innovative premium boutique brand experiences in North America. The credit union was just named one of Canada’s 50 Best Small and Medium Employers for the third year in a row, reinforcing the value of the organization’s passionate internal brand and corporate culture.
Of course, this success has a little something to do with the fact that the organization embarked on an enterprise-wide brand strategy almost ten years ago to transform every aspect of it’s brand to appeal to a more affluent audience. Inspired in 2005 by the book Blue Ocean Strategies, the vision was bold and intently focused on becoming the financial provider of choice for the flourishing mass affluent market in the North Shore, British Columbia region.
In September, this high-growth financial institution in partnership with Seattle, WA-based strategic brand consultancy Weber Marketing Group, implemented one of the final phases of its 10-year-long brand evolution, launching a vibrant new name and identity, BlueShore Financial, along with a new promise to help members “Be Richly Valued”.
Brand transformation wasn’t easy
Just over a decade ago, the credit union’s image among existing and potential customers was the polar opposite of the new affluent and distinctive brand. “We were little more than a paper-based Savings and Loan,” CEO Catliff says. “People said we were nice and friendly, but not expert or professional.”
In 2004, Catliff engaged Weber Marketing Group to help guide his staff through the organization’s brand transformation and branch prototype design process. Mark Weber, president and CEO, adds to Catliff’s thoughts. “Back then, the credit union wasn’t providing an attractive offering for a key target they had defined as “Mass Affluent”, and they were missing an important opportunity to serve consumers right in their own market. There was little to differentiate North Shore from any other financial provider, so members walked across the street to other Canadian banks for their financial plans, insurance, and trusted advice.” He notes, “Like most credit unions a decade ago, market research showed their brand was perceived as a smaller, ‘mom and pop’ provider. They needed to radically reshape the limiting market perceptions of the their brand image, if they hoped to grow.”
Change began with a bold vision – and an innovative new branch model
Although the 72-year-old institution was formed to serve the area’s burgeoning shipbuilding business during the Second World War, and later shifted focus to support the deep-sea fishing trade, both industries had drastically declined by the time Catliff took the helm of North Shore.
When Catliff came aboard North Shore in late 2000, he knew he had to differentiate the credit union within the highly competitive Canadian financial industry. His eventual solution: a fairly radical “Blue Ocean” strategy that would transform a basic credit union offering into one that serves as a place for serious wealth management and focuses on clients with complex and sophisticated financial needs. That was a major concept for any financial institution, let alone a credit union.
In 2005 the strategy came to life as “Vision 2010,” an internal document Catliff wrote himself to guide staff as the organization grew from a community credit union into a “sophisticated financial boutique with a lifestyle brand.” The strategy required a deep commitment from a dedicated team hungry for change. Catliff tasked a select group of employees to work as a collaborative team with Weber Marketing Group to build a new business model and brand experience.
Weber reflects, “They wanted to build a totally innovative and not traditionally ‘credit union-like’ brand, in order to create a high-value offering. Together, we envisioned a premium image and boutique service, like the renowned Four Seasons Canadian brand. It didn’t exist anywhere in the market.” He added that Catliff and his team were pondering two related but distinct questions when his organization—were brought in to guide the innovation process.
“On the one hand, they were trying to figure out how they could build a distinctive, innovative, unique-to-the-market brand and branch prototype that would set them apart from the competition and attract the ‘Mass Affluent’ and “Emerging Wealthy”. At the same time, they were identifying the gaps in products, image and delivery systems, and wondering if a little credit union could pull it off amidst a cadre of mega banks.”
Birth of the Financial Spa™ experience
The initial and most visible result of the collaborative innovation in 2004 was the credit union’s now-trademarked “Financial Spa™” branch concept created by Weber Marketing Group, in concert with their architectural design partner EHS Design, to transform their brand experience.
The new branded prototype was rooted in providing clients a complete sense of financial wellness and an extraordinary level of premier service.
First showcased in upscale West Vancouver’s Park Royal mall, the spa concept focused on a distinctive and highly immersive “West Coast” contemporary aesthetic. It was filled with wood beams, stone, bamboo, hot tea and local artist created Vancouver seaweed glass. It was contrasted against hospitality-designed touch points, dialogue stations, wifi and digital video technologies.
That concept represented just the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the credit union’s 12 financial spa branches today have been tailored to their unique neighborhoods to celebrate the local community. In Whistler, for example, branches use “snow” walls, snowboard countertops, a mountain bike-themed Kid’s Zone, and signage evoking historical ski lifts to create a welcoming and richly engaging experience.
According to BlueShore’s VP of Retail Banking, Reg Marrinier, other details designed into the Financial Spa experience create a compelling ambience that appeals to affluent clients—such as soothing water features, welcoming “club zone” waiting areas, hot towels and an “Arts in View” program that showcases the talents of local artists.
Marrinier adds, “It was also critical that we hire and train the right team of accredited advisors, and then build the wealth product suite and financial offerings needed to deliver on our advisory promise. It’s been a long journey, but today BlueShore Financial is ranked as one of the biggest financial planning firms in Metro Vancouver.”
Dynamic digital e-signage and video in the interior windows and lobbies of the Financial Spa branches display active West Coast lifestyle brand imagery. Local images are showcase people in places that are familiar and refreshing, but not quite identifiable.
“We want people to wonder, ‘Where is that beach? I know I’ve been there.’ The imagery and the branch experience create a literal ‘wow’ from first-time guests,” notes Marrinier.
“We’re creating a very different experience by offering a cup of cappuccino and a silver tray with hot or cold towels, depending on the season. The result is a soothing environment in which to discuss one’s financial affairs.”
It’s clearly working, as BlueShore Financial has grown over 400% in the ten years since they launched their brand makeover.
Attracting affluent clients goes beyond branches
There’s more to the credit union’s transformation from traditional North Shore Credit Union to sophisticated BlueShore Financial than redesigned branches, of course.
“We were fortunate to have instituted CRM programs early on that allowed us to collect valuable information about our clients,” says Catharine Downes, Assistant Vice President of Marketing at BlueShore Financial. “This knowledge allowed us to assign the right clients to a dedicated financial advisor.
“Our clients are often time-starved, busy people, with two incomes and large mortgage payments. They are living a pretty good lifestyle, but are challenged to get their long-term investment and retirement savings plans in action. Alternately, some already have built a degree of wealth, but now need help to manage and preserve it,” added Downes.
“These clients represent the heart of our business and brand strategy, and we consistently hear in our surveys that we help them improve their overall financial well-being.”
Weber adds, “Many of BlueShore Financial’s clients didn’t have a financial plan or a trusted advisor to help them. That’s the ripe niche that they leaned the brand into that almost no other financial institution was serving effectively. BlueShore has worked incredibly hard to reshape their brand image and value proposition by evolving their premium client experience, enhancing channels, and building a compelling and holistic advisory offering.”
“Long before the name change was even considered, we worked to continuously enhance our brand imagery, define our language, and persistently emphasize the credit union’s wealth management and advisory services in our communications,” continues Downes.
“We knew three years ago that the organization needed to fully assess its brand and name equity and market perceptions as we prepared to move from wallet share growth strategy to expand our share of this niche target market.” Again the credit union engaged business partner Weber Marketing Group to lead the process.
The last mile: defining the name hurdle
The decision to change the credit union’s trade name from North Shore Credit Union to BlueShore Financial involved a long and complex process that engaged board, management, staff, clients and future prospects.
Weber Marketing Group led the board of directors and senior management in 2009 through a three-day long-range Brand Visioning Session in Seattle to define the next stage evolution of their premium brand strategy. Backstage brand tours of market leaders like Nordstrom, Starbucks and REI Co-op helped define a fresh understanding of how they could evolve their own premium brand.
The Weber team then helped lead North Shore through a comprehensive rebranding process, including market research to evaluate their name and brand equity and market image perceptions. Ultimately a series of naming and brand scenario options were evaluated until the board made a final decision to change names.
“It was not an easy decision to make, given the longevity and reputation of our 70-year-old-name, but deep research revealed that it was the right choice,” Catliff says. “Especially since the credit union had increasingly become a regional player, and our geographically-limited North Shore name no longer fit us.”
The geographic concern was supported by extensive research led by the Weber team. Reg Marrinier shares, “Research uncovered that the North Shore name presented a barrier to our ability to attract new clients and to our long-term growth. The public’s assumption being made in the market was that we only served and operated in the North Shore market, despite the fact that more than 50% of our existing clients live outside that area and 75% of our business, by dollar, is off the North Shore.”
Research also suggested that the “credit union” designation in North Shore’s name was a major hindrance, as too many target consumers believed that only basic banking services were available, or worse, that they needed to belong to a “union” to do their banking at North Shore. Marrinier adds, ”By changing to ‘financial,’ we more accurately reflect the breadth of advisory products and wellness services we offer, and we’ve aligned fully with our Financial Spa boutique brand.”
Brand management implementation: a road map is key to success
“Rebranding wasn’t an easy process to complete,” shares Downes, who describes it as being “a marathon, not a sprint.” “Three years in the making, it was a massive project, touching all aspects of our business, culture and operations. It demanded a highly orchestrated approach to ensure every single employee fully understood the scope of the change—from both a tactical and cultural standpoint, rebranding represented a major change management process for our associates and clients.”
Weber Marketing Group developed hundreds of new name options, testing those names via research and helping secure a national level trademark and domain names. A new brand strategy was created to outline the brand architecture and unique position, solidify key messages, define the personality and solidify corporate actions.
Weber Marketing Creative Director, Josh Streufert added, "the brand promise took months of work to create something worthy of the 10 year's the team had spent building this great brand. It was far more than a tagline or a slogan, the brand promise "be richly valued" is the ultimate expression of sophisticated personal care tailored to each individual. The brand promise works on so many levels to express a way of making people feel special, not empty words."
The Weber Marketing team began working with the organization nine months ahead of launch creating a multi-phased implementation strategy, and helping the client engage all stakeholders. From board talking points to online Q&A, to press kits and business partner VIP events, every detail was managed collaboratively.
Downes and her team, with the help of Weber Marketing Group, developed a world-class brand launch event for all 300 staff, held at the Vancouver Convention Center. It was the best attended event in the credit union’s 70-year history.
Once the new name and refreshed brand were revealed to staff, the Weber Marketing team rolled out their proprietary brand-experience training program and a distinctive new Brand Book to all 300 staff across two regions, in order to help them prepare to deliver a whole new level of premium brand experience modeled on the Four Seasons resorts hospitality approach. Weber VP of Client Services Karen McGaughey, who led several of the brand training sessions shared, "the BlueShore Financial training team has built one of the finest training programs of any of our financial clients. We worked hand in hand with their training leader, Shawn Needham to tailor our brand training program to integrate the new brand promise, brand language and employee brand guide to a new level. Employees are embracing the brand evolution with passion."
When the public-facing refreshed brand program and new name were rolled out, it was done in a “big bang” approach the day the credit union starting doing business as BlueShore Financial, rather than incrementally, to create rapid awareness, retain their name equity and reshape market perceptions.
Reaping the Rewards
All of the hard work the BlueShore Financial team with partner Weber Marketing Group put into differentiating the brand the last ten years appear to be paying off.
Although the credit union has about the same number of clients today (approximately 40,000), its assets under administration have grown by leaps and bounds—increasing from $700 million in 2000 to over $3 billion in 2013.
“It’s been a ten-year, all in, multi-million-dollar journey,” Catliff says, “but it’s been worth every effort—with the result being a five-star, choreographed brand experience for our clients. That experience is backed by expert financial advice and personalized, proactive solutions, delivered across all channels, including the financial spa branches, call centre, online and mobile environments all fully integrated.”
“Without our incredibly engaged employees though, our premium brand experience could never have been achieved,” added Catliff. And that is one of the accomplishments he is most proud of.
Since it started revamping operations, branches and its overall brand, BlueShore has been named to Business in Vancouver’s “Biggest Financial Planning Firms in Metro Vancouver,” as well as Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures list.
Founded in 1941, BlueShore Financial is a $3 billion credit union headquartered in North Vancouver, BC serving 40,000 clients across the Lower Mainland and Sea-to-Sky Corridor. www.blueshorefinancial.ca
Weber Marketing Group is a leading financial brand and marketing consultancy headquartered in Seattle, WA, with offices in Vancouver, BC and Atlanta, GA: www.webermarketing.com . Weber Marketing has developed brand programs, branded prototype environments and marketing strategies for some of North America’s largest credit unions, community banks and online financial providers.