After adopting a community charter in 2013, getting Community Development Financial Institution certification in 2014 and building a new headquarters in 2015, Red River Mill Employees Federal Credit Union is ready for its next big growth move — and it’s asking the public at large for help.

The Natchitoches, La.-based credit union is wrapping up a campaign to select its new name, taking submissions from area residents as to how the $8.8 million-asset CU should be rebranded.

CEO Kathy Deloney noted, however, this is far from the first time the credit union has rebranded, having changed its name several times in the past when the local paper mill underwent ownership changes.

“When we became a community charter we moved from Campti into Natchitoches to more centrally locate between the parishes we serve,” explained Deloney. “A lot of people didn’t know they could join — the name was kind of restrictive, I guess. It was Red River Mill Employees FCU and people said they didn’t’ know they could join, they thought it was just for the mill. Even though we’d advertised, they didn’t get that the name wasn’t exclusive to just the mill.”

Red River Mill Employees Federal Credit Union in Natchitoches, La. subsequently rebranded as Engage Federal Credit Union.
The headquarters of Engage Federal Credit Union, which was known as Red River Mill Employees FCU before rebranding.

If the credit union selects one of the names submitted by the public, the person who entered that name will win $500, though the contest states the new name may come from outside the submitted entries.

The current name-change competition was first opened to employees of the mill during the annual meeting, giving them a one-day head start over the rest of the community. In the few weeks the campaign has been running, the CU has received more than 400 suggested names.

“We’re trying to get names, ideas and get the community involved to let them know we’re changing our name and we want them to be a part of this,” she said.

Avoiding the 'Boaty McBoatface' problem

Because Natchitoches is located in an area with a lot of old plantation homes, rivers and brick streets, many of the suggestions that have come in have related to the city itself, fleur-de-lis, magnolia and other things related to Louisiana. While the credit union’s management and board will make the final decision on the new name, allowing public suggestions can carry an element of risk — just ask the Brits who allowed the public to help name a ship in 2016 only to wind up with “Boaty McBoatface” leading the pack.

So has Red River Mill Employees seen anything like that?

“There have been some interesting ones,” Deloney said with a chuckle, adding that she can’t share the more outlandish names until the contest ends and the winner is revealed at the end of June.

Many of the names that have come in have also included one particular word the credit union doesn’t want to be associated with — bank.

“Some of the entries submitted have used the word ‘bank’ when they submitted the name, so we know we have a bit of education to be done here,” said Deloney. She explained that hers is the only credit union based in the region, though one Baton Rouge-based CU does maintain a branch in Natchitoches.

“There’s not a lot of credit union activity in these parishes, even though we have quite a few in the neighboring parishes,” she said. “I just think people don’t quite understand what a credit union is yet, at least in our area.”

Even if getting the word out has been a challenge, the tiny credit union has already managed to do one thing many of its similarly sized counterparts have not — turn a profit. With just $8.8 million in assets and about 1,200 members, Red River Mill Employees FCU saw a net income of nearly $92,000 last year, down from more than $190,000 in 2016. It earned just over $30,000 during the first quarter of 2018.

Whatever the new name turns out to be, Deloney and her team are setting out to change that. Along with the rebranding — which will also include a new logo and new signage — the credit union plans to work with a pair of professional marketers for 12 months to spread the word, reintroduce the credit union and help educate the public about the CU difference

“We’re trying to play catch-up and get the word out about our credit union and how we’re different,” she said. “We’re CDFI-certified, so our main goal is to try to serve the underbanked and the unbanked. We’re doing that pretty well…We’re just trying to reach the community in a little bit different way. We’re not here to make money, we’re here to reach the people that fall through the cracks.”