In response to an “identity crisis,” the Phoenix-based CU known for years as Desert Schools Federal Credit Union this week said it will change its name to Desert Financial Credit Union.

Founded in 1939 as a way to serve area teachers, in 1996 Desert Schools expanded its charter to serve anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Maricopa, Pinal and Gila counties, in addition to family of current members.

However, the charter change alone apparently could not overcome public perception linked to its name. According to a focus group conducted by the credit union in 2016, 60 percent of participants believed Desert Schools only serves teachers and students.

CEO of Phoenix-based Desert Schools FCU
Jeff Meshey-
CEO of Phoenix-based Desert Schools FCU

According to Jeff Meshey, CEO of the $4.3 billion credit union, this is a “common misnomer” he believes has impacted business opportunities.

“We were having a bit of an identity crisis,” Meshey said in a statement. “Our market research has shown that in order to grow our business, we needed to make clear who we serve. People got really hung up on the word ‘schools,’ but they showed an affinity for our brand at the same time. We tested several new potential names at the beginning of 2017, and Desert Financial resonated extremely well with our focus groups. We let the research decide and are already seeing positive feedback from our current members and interest from the general public.”

New foundation

In addition to unveiling its new name, Desert Financial officially announced the formation of the Desert Financial Foundation, the organization’s first-ever non-profit entity. The foundation will partner with Desert Financial in its upcoming “Year of Giving,” an initiative that outlines plans to give back $7 million to the community through grants, charity fundraisers and surprise giveaways, of which $5 million is earmarked to return to members in the form of membership rewards.

During a ceremony Wednesday, the CU presented 10 grants totaling more than $100,000 to local non-profits, including St. Joseph the Worker and Local First Arizona. Attendees – which included approximately 50 community leaders and non-profit partners – were told by Meshey each person in the room would receive a $1,000 donation in their name to a local charity of their choosing.

“Our credit union has always been known for giving back to the community,” said SVP of Marketing Cathy Graham. “Moving forward, we want to be very clear that the only thing that is changing is our name.”