Sovereign Bank of New England
So the overseas execs at Grupo Santander are finally planning to change the name of their U.S. retail operation – known to all of us as Sovereign Bank – to reflect the name of the Spanish parent company.
Bad idea, guys. The Boston Globe reported today that Santander is implementing the change to make Santander more of a global brand. But most of Sovereign’s customers don’t care at all if their bank is “global.” In fact, in this era, that can be a bit of a downer.
There’s a reason why the Royal Bank of Scotland has kept the Citizens Bank name after all these years under the RBS umbrella. Alerting New Englanders that their bank is just a cog in an overseas conglomerate isn’t the best marketing strategy.
Sovereign has done relatively well in New England since it arrived here more than a decade ago through the antitrust ashes of the BankBoston-Fleet merger. The crimson-flagged company remains the third-largest retail bank, based on market share, in Massachusetts behind Citizens and Bank of America.
Bank of America, of course, eliminated the Fleet name when it acquired Fleet in 2004. But that makes sense when you consider all of B of A’s national ad campaigns, and its broad reach across the country. Santander won’t get a similar benefit when it converts the Sovereign name to Santander because the only retail bank franchise that Santander owns in the U.S. happens to be Sovereign.
Santander executives may not realize it, but the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue for English speakers. It may seem small, but I bet there will be some potential customers who avoid the bank simply because they can’t pronounce it.
Sovereign could have gone the other way. Of course, its roots are in Pennsylvania. But the bank essentially had been run out of Boston for years – arguably since local guy Joe Campanelli (now gone from the bank) was promoted to the top job in 2006 but certainly by 2008 when most of its top executives were based here. The bank could have focused on the employees that live and work here, instead of a faraway city on the coast of Spain.
Once Santander completed its acquisition of Sovereign, there was no question that the shots were being called out of an office in Europe, not one in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. But that doesn’t mean it makes sense for Santander to constantly remind everyone here of that fact.