GMAC announced that it has changed its name to Ally Bank. As someone who has been involved in corporate naming, I have no interest in quibbling over whether or not it is a good or bad name. Naming is notoriously difficult. If the naming team did it right, there would have been specific criteria around the name type, a clear target audience, and, presumably, testing.
Ally is a decent, in fact, a strong word. The meaning is nice. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, because it’s similar to a woman’s name (pronounced all-ey) and of course the weight loss medicine alli. But it seems to have been “clean” in trademark screening and they were able to obtain the domain: http://www.ally.com. A simple domain like that is rare indeed. And there is a bank in the Phillipines, Allied Bank, which uses the tag-line, “Your ally. Your bank.” Legal wrangling must have occurred over that one.
The corporate color is a refreshing shade of purple, and the identity is simple, modern, but somewhat sterile and impersonal. The swooshy things don’t do much for me. But they seem to be trying to avoid the usual happy, smiley, diversity-centric Getty images that we see in bank branches, websites and ATM’s.
This new bank is doing and saying all the right things: big print, limited product array, differentiation from “traditional” banks, simple interface, etc. And I applaud the company for this.
Ally Bank is different from other banks right now, though, and it’s an important difference: as far as I can tell, Ally is currently in the business of only taking deposits. They are way overextended on the credit side from their heritage product–car loans. I have worked in banking, and believe me, it is much easier to be open, friendly and transparent about deposits than it is about lending money, which requires deep scrutiny of an individual’s creditworthiness. And significant documentation (even if the print is large). And an ability to say no. And an ability to repossess. Icky stuff. In other words, when it comes to lending, a bank cannot always be an ally.
I’m not trying to be jaded or negative or skeptical. I just have a memory of another fresh face that was going to reinvent banking by being friendly, open, convenient, and available to all. That bank was called WaMu. We know how that story ended. Let’s hope for a better outcome here.