Naming In The News

On business: New name may revive old game

Neal St. Anthony
Star Tribune
May 26, 2005

The company soon to be formerly known as American Express Financial Advisors will spend more than $27 million to promote its new name, "Ameriprise Financial," to coincide with the planned spinoff from its New York-based parent as an independent publicly owned company.

And maybe this name change will go better than its last one. Ameriprise "represents our American roots and the vastness of our nationwide network of over 10,500 financial advisers," CEO Jim Cracchiolo said Wednesday. "It also embodies the enterprising culture our people bring to bear in helping provide our clients the peace of mind that comes with planning for a secure financial future."

Ameriprise will be the firm's third name in 11 years. In 1994, after a decade of ownership by American Express, the former IDS Financial Services took on the parent's name and look in a bid to get high-end American Express card and travel agency customers to buy mutual funds and insurance from a marketer to the middle class.

It didn't work out that well from the start. "When traditional IDS customer called up and the answer was 'American Express ...,' the customer hung up," said Akshay Rao, chairman of the marketing department at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. "It took time and was costly."

Clients will probably have an easier time adapting to Ameriprise because "there is a continuity in the brand name," Rao said. But the name might be a liability in some international markets "where things American are not as popular as they used to be in the U.K. and Europe and even the Middle East," he said.

For now, the firm does virtually all of its business in the United States.

The Ameriprise Financial logo is based on a compass, designed to symbolize how the company helps its clients navigate toward their financial futures.

Bridget Levin, a partner in Nametag International, called Ameriprise a "safe choice."

"When you get into a situation like this, it's a very politicized process and there are many constituents to satisfy," Levin said, including the executive team, the marketing team, other employees and clients.

"They are trying to distinguish themselves from the [soon-to-be-former] parent company, but you can't embarrass the 'parents,' " Levin said.

Kim Sharan, Financial Advisors' chief marketing officer, said the new firm will drive home the name with a multimedia ad campaign that will top the $27 million price tag of its 2004 campaign, its most expensive ever.

The new name and everlasting mission of comprehensive financial planning, diversified portfolios and insurance to protect the downside might resonate with investors who still are trying to forget the 2000-vintage tech-stock disaster and other quick-money schemes run amok.

After all, old IDS was always dubbed the place you "get rich slow." "The history and heritage of what we have built, including our time as IDS, is quite differentiating," Sharan said. "Financial planning has come to the forefront [with target clients who have at least $100,000 to invest] We believe we are well positioned."

The Minneapolis-based financial planning and product company's insurance, annuity, mutual fund and related businesses will operate under the name "RiverSource."

Financial Advisors' renaming process began last winter with a list of several thousand names suggested by employees, and a list developed by Lippincott Mercer, its New York-based corporate-branding firm. After screening for meaning, trademark issues and names that could prove insensitive or silly to different cultures and nationalities, the list was narrowed to several finalists .

Financial Advisors, which employs 7,000 of its 8,000 corporate employees in downtown Minneapolis, oversees $400 billion in individual, institutional and other investments.

Its national army of 10,500 independent financial planners boasts more than 2.5 million clients. The company also is Minnesota's largest life insurer, and it owns Threadneedle Investments, a money management firm based in Great Britain.

Financial Advisors earned $735 million on revenue of $7 billion in 2004, enough to make it one of Minnesota's 15 largest companies.