Seventeen Wisconsin banks have undergone the extensive process of changing their name since Dec. 31, 2016, with two more announced in the past week. (See table at the bottom of this page.) In the heavily regulated financial services industry, a name change is more than just a rebrand (which is difficult in and of itself). Conducting market research and trademark screenings, filing with regulatory agencies to amend articles of incorporation, notifying clients of amendments to contracts, and informing customers and the community... It's a tall order! 

Why then, have so many institutions decided to invest significant time and monetary resources into changing their names? 

A common inciting event for a bank name change is a charter conversion. The costs associated with a national charter crept up over the past few decades, while the prestige of being a "national bank" dwindle with the expansion of interstate and digital banking. As a result, at least five Wisconsin banks in the past three years have made the decision to switch from a national to a state charter. This reduces their examination expenses while opening the door to additional earnings (the state allows for higher lending limits), but also requires the bank to remove "national" from its name. NBW Bank (f/k/a The National Bank of Waupun) and Fortifi Bank (f/k/a 1st National Bank of Berlin) are two examples. 

With the pace of mergers and acquisitions accelerating, M&A is another common reason for bank name changes. Especially in cases of a "merger of equals," creating a new name for the combined institution is often the best way to establish the bank with new and current customers as well as the community. For example, after acquiring River Cities Bank in 2019, Medford-based Time Federal Savings Bank has announced it will change its name to Prevail Bank on Feb. 24. That date coincides with the completion of their merger via the combination of the two banks' internal systems and the launch of the combined institution's website, www.prevail.bank. 

Growing the bank outside its original geography is another common motivation for a new name. Many financial institutions open with a name reflecting their geography. Once the bank expands outside those areas, it makes sense to update the name as well. One example of this is Bluff View Bank, formerly Bank of Galesville (as well as Seven Bridges Bank, Holmen and Bank of Trempealeau). By eliminating different names for different geographies, the bank is better able to connect with all its customers. 

Sometimes, a name change is just a name change. Rebranding can be a very effective way for any business to excite current customers and staff and generate new business from the community. It can also reflect changing values or strategic objectives. For example, IncredibleBank (f/k/a River Valley Bank) merged its digital-only web bank with its brick-and-mortar locations and formally adopted the digital bank's name. The new brand reflects the bank's successful "online community bank" strategy. 

Ultimately, a bank's decision to change its name comes down to connecting with its customers and community. In fact, 15 of 19 the banks with recent name changes/announcements have been serving their community for over a century. They are now serving entirely new generations of customers, so adopting a name that resonates with that new community just makes sense. Oconomowoc-based First Bank Financial Centre's announced change to Bank Five Nine is a perfect example. The business became an independent community bank in 1859, and the new name both modernizes the bank's brand and creates visibility in today's market, but also pays tribute to the institution's founders.

Seitz is WBA operations manager and senior writer.

New Name Old Name
American Bank of Beaver Dam The American National Bank of Beaver Dam
Bank First, N.A. Bank First National
Bank Five Nine (announced) First Bank Financial Centre
Baraboo State Bank The Baraboo National Bank
Bluff View Bank Bank of Galesville
Bristol Morgan Bank Bank of Oakfield
Ergo Bank Farmers State Bank
Forte Bank The First National Bank of Hartford
Fortifi Bank The First National Bank of Berlin
Forward Bank Forward Financial Bank
Great North Bank State Bank of Florence
IncredibleBank River Valley Bank
Marathon Bank Marathon Savings Bank
Monona Bank Monona State Bank
NBW Bank The National Bank of Waupun
Oakwood Bank Pigeon Falls State Bank
Partners Bank of Wisconsin Heritage Bank
Prevail Bank (announced) Time Federal Savings Bank
Town Bank, National Association Town Bank