Greg Bales

The Short, Unhappy Life of Optiva Credit Union

From late 2006 to early 2007, a lot of Iowa City ink was spilled over a proposal by the University of Iowa Community Credit Union to change its name to “Optiva,” a name which had been proposed by a branding agency and selected by the board for conveying optimism and tiva-ness. Those were heady days: mortgage-backed securities were hot and creaky and loans were easy to come by, Hillary Clinton was reality and Barack Obama a dream, and Facebook hadn’t yet flattened everyone’s relations to gathering around a news trough. Many people then said “I see myself in University of Iowa and Community, but not in Optiva, and I don’t like that,” and they took a series of moves that, despite long odds and unlikely circumstances, succeeded in embarrassing the credit union’s board of directors and killing Optiva. I chronicled some of that story in a series of blog posts at the time:

Now, five years after Optiva died, has revisited the story and written what may be the most comprehensive exposé of the controversy there will be.




March 15, 2012

There was a lot of talk back in 2006-2007 about how lame and stupid the Optiva name was. No one could figure out why the credit union would (1) volunatrily shed such a strong name like “University of Iowa,” and (2) pick a name that didn’t make any kind of connection back to the CU’s roots and heritage (e.g., “Hawkeye Credit Union.”

Well, there’s your answer. The university would have shot down “Hawkeye” or anything else that alluded to the school.

It was a lose-lose situation forced on the credit union. Hopefully now people can grasp the wider context of the situation.

It’s funny reading the other comments and blog posts you linked to. There were so many conspiracy theories and speculations — the CU wanted to be a bank, the CU wanted to pursue reckless growth, the CU should be faulted for process/transparency. The CU was stuck between a rock and a hard place. None of it made sense to anyone back then because no one knew the truth. The real story was actually about money, power and influence.

@TFB: I still remember how bitter feelings were about the way UICCU and its board went about proposing the name change, and I am sympathetic to Nick Johnson’s complaint at the time that more could and should have been done to get buy-in from the membership. I was one of those complainers (as you probably saw in the linked to above). Your story sheds good light on a lot of the behind-the-scenes political dealings, especially those surrounding the bankers’ association, that I and many others were ignorant of at the time. Thanks for that!

Another venerable member-owned Iowa City institution, the New Pioneer Co-Op, is proposing a major move in downtown IC from its old, too-small building to a new, yet-to-be-built high-rise nearby. Although it, too, is getting some blowback from the “change is bad” crowd, it’s also working to build support for the move via social media—the explosion of which has really changed the landscape for institution–person relations in the last five years. I do wonder how UICCU might have handled the name change today, both with the new media landscape and with the benefit of hindsight.

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