If you saw the list of the top 10 banks in the United States, you’d probably recognize all of them—there’s a decent chance you’d be able to name at least half of them unprompted.

Very soon, a new name will be entering that prominent list, as a result of the BB&T and SunTrust merger. What that name is, no one yet knows, but its unveiling will be a historic event.

BB&T, a 146-year old entity, has been operating under that banner since 1913, while the SunTrust brand has been around since 1995 (although the institution has been operating under other titles since 1891). This translates into a combined 130 years of brand equity.

The new name will represent the most important new name in the banking sector since the creation of Ally Financial (the 19th largest bank in the U.S.) in 2010, which emerged as a phoenix after the demise of GMAC in the financial crisis. Interestingly, one of Ally’s main headquarters is in Charlotte, the future site of the BB&T/SunTrust “Newco” brand.

We often say in branding that a name is an empty vessel—one of many elements that can be imbued with any meaning. The best name in the world will not cover for a poor experience. But a great name can help an organization realize its ambitions, serve as a catalyst for realizing the integration goals, and establish a focal point for associates, customers and communities to rally around.


Our promise is in our name

Ally was a perfect name for a new bank brand at a time when consumers had been severely let down by financial institutions and needed someone on their side. Of course, a name alone achieves nothing, but Ally was clever in choosing a name inextricably linked to its promise. Using the filter of “what would an ally do”, Ally built its product offering, terms and conditions, and fees as a tangible manifestation of the promise. These “policies” disrupted the industry, helping Ally stand out against the big banks and emerge as a major player in the rapidly growing online banking category. Moreover, Ally continued to deliver on its promise, earning widespread industry recognition and awards for superior service.


From an Ally by your side to making banking Simple

As the digital transformation in banking accelerated and the financial crisis became a distant dot in the rearview mirror, another new brand—this time a bona fide startup— began making ripples, reflecting the next shift in what consumers expected from banks. Consumers no longer needed an ally, they just wanted banking to be simple. So borrowing the same formula, Simple was born. Starting and scaling a new bank from scratch is no easy feat, and Simple did not benefit from the jump-start of inheriting an existing customer base (as Ally did), which is why your average consumer may not have heard of it. Still, Simple made a big enough splash to convince Spanish giant BBVA to acquire it in 2014 to aid its own digital expansion.


Creating a new brand name for the digital era

The last few years have seen an incredible outburst of new banking and financial services brands (see table below). These range from other FinTech startups like Venmo, Chime and VARO, to sub-brands created by the behemoths targeting millennials, like Greenhouse by Wells Fargo and Finn by Chase. There’s also an enormous swath of parallel digital bank brands, developed by regional banks who are looking to acquire consumers outside of their existing geographical limits. These include Vio Bank (owned by MidFirst) PurePoint Financial, Bank Purely and Incredible Bank (no word yet on whether they’re keeping the promise in their name).


Digital natives
(online-only banks)
Extension of bank brand
Extension of bank brand
(endorsed or sub-brand)


The implication for the SunTrust BB&T team is that finding a great name—one that delivers on the brief that Mr. King (BB&T Chairman and CEO) and Mr. Rogers (SunTrust Chairman and CEO) will want—will be no small task. At the very least, this new name will be asked to convey touch, technology and trust, appeal to millennial customers and associates, and reflect the company’s core values—much like all of the naming briefs in the table above and options currently being conjured up in namestorm sessions across boardrooms and agency naming teams (including ours).

It’s likely that the organization will have to settle for some type of composite or derived name for the purely practical reason that most of the desirable real-world English language names will already be taken.

Finding the next “Ally” or “Simple” will be a daunting task. Once found, its success will be measured by its ability to serve as a spark and filter to transform the experience for customers and associates.

Gabriel Cohen
February 27, 2019 By Gabriel Cohen