By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
An iconic Whatcom County institution is getting a facelift.
On July 23 Whatcom Educational Credit Union revealed its new brand.
The new look is a complete overhaul of WECU’s identity, from signs on branch locations, the look of ATMs, the logo, and member debit and credit cards.
“We have been working on a strategic rebrand of the credit union for quite some time,” David Jones, chief marketing officer for WECU, said.
The new logo de-emphasizes the full name of the credit union and instead focuses on what most people call it anyway — WECU. The new branding especially emphasizes the “WE” in WECU, and led to the credit union’s new tagline: “We are in this together.”
Gone is the old logo, which was first used around 50 years ago and was internally referred to as the “flying W.”
The new color palette consists of a bright blue, a soft white, charcoal gray, a lighter gray and a navy blue.
“We are kind of calling this the hues of home,” Jones said. “It felt very Pacific Northwest, but clean, contemporary, approachable.”
Keith Mader, program manager for public relations and content, said dichotomy of the bright and dark colors also represent Western Washington’s weather, which is usually either bright and sunny or dark and rainy.
“If we were in LA we might just have the light blue,” Mader said. “But we have a stark contrast.”
The new logo is transferable to merchandise including hats, mugs, and especially WECU’s popular pen, which is staying the same, except for the graphics change.
“That pen is an iconic WECU item,” Jones said. “We’ve ordered 3.5 million pens in the last 10 years.”
The rebrand process began after Jennifer Kutcher was appointed as the new CEO in 2014.
“That’s a natural leverage point for many organizations to step back and look at where they’ve been and where they’re going,” Jones said.
Major work on the new brand began 18 months ago. They started by asking questions — surveying employees, credit union members and the larger community.
“People articulated an emotional connection with us,” Jones said. “They see the credit union as being part of their community.”
Those surveys helped WECU define what it was it wanted to communicate with the new brand.
“The most important part of all that research is we didn’t just want to tell people who we were,” Mader said. “We wanted to become the best parts of who we already are.”
Next came the design work, then, before revealing the new brand to the world, WECU revealed it to its employees.
Two weeks before launch WECU rented out a theater at the movie theaters in Barkley Village and held a rally for 350 employees to reveal the new brand.
“At the end of the day, the brand is really supported and promoted by the employees,” Jones said.
To go along with the rebrand, WECU is launching a major ad campaign. It also debuted a new product — a 60-month CD at 3.5 percent annual percentage yield.
“That rate, as far as we know, cannot be beat nationally,” Jones said. “That’s our way of saying thank you not only to the members, for folks who want to open up these CDs, but also to the broader market as well. That should be a disruptive offer, locally.”
On top of that, to celebrate the rebrand WECU is donating $25,000 to the nonprofit Opportunity Council for its Project X-It, an educational program that helps families with young children with financial coaching and stability.
“Our focus as an organization is really honed in to the education vertical,” Jones said. “It really ties into our beginnings.”
WECU began in 1936 in Whatcom County. In the height of the Great Depression, few banks were lending money and loans were expensive and hard to come by. So a group of Whatcom County teachers got together in a room, and put all their savings in a shoebox. When someone needed money, they’d lend it to them from the shoebox. Today, WECU has almost 400 employees and 11 branches, but still follows that same basic model.
“We really haven’t, 80-plus years later, strayed very far from that core philosophy of people helping people,” Jones said.
That’s the basic structure of credit union as opposed to a bank.
A credit union is based on the cooperative model. Every member gets to vote on who serves on the all volunteer board.
“They represent directly the best interests of the membership,” David Jones said, “as opposed to a bank which is generally governed by a paid board, who has very specific responsibilities to shareholders and a bottom line.”
That investment in members is one of the things WECU hopes to communicate with the new brand, Jones said.
“We truly do understand that if it wasn’t for the members, we wouldn’t be here,” Jones said. “How we show up everyday and why we show up is really important.”