Abbey branches out with rebranding by Wolff Olins

Abbey National has pledged to ‘demystify money’ in the same way that Ikea has democratised interior design, following its rebrand as Abbey this week, with identity and positioning work by Wolff Olins.

The ambitious brand overhaul – costing an initial £11m this year, including £500 000 in fees to Wolff Olins – is billed as a ‘complete relaunch of the business’ by chief executive Luqman Arnold. With fewer and simpler products, an end to banking jargon and a focus on individual customers, the company intends to ‘turn banking on its head’.

The Abbey name will serve as the company logo, appearing variously in white or one of four colours – red, orange, blue and green. No single strapline is being introduced to replace ‘because life is complicated enough’, although the new approach is based on ‘helping people get on top of their money’, Arnold says.

A new format for Abbey’s 742 branches is planned from next April, with Wolff Olins working alongside architect David Adjaye.

Arnold insists the revamp is no mere cosmetic exercise, but a genuinely fresh start for a business that ‘lost the plot’ in the mid-1990s. Earlier this year, the company hived off loss-making operations to define its high street brand solely around personal finance (DW 6 March).

‘The new name and design are really just outward symbols of change-in-the-making inside’, he says. ‘[Other banks] talk about customer focus but behave as if they’re only interested in what’s good for them. Worst of all, banks have got in the way of customers and their money.’

John Besford, Wolff Olins creative director, says the logotype gives Abbey a ‘less institutional’ feel than other banks, which are ‘fairly static as organisations’. This more ‘fluid’ identity signals that Abbey will be ‘constantly changing’ in its bid to ‘totally reform banking’, he claims.

Wolff Olins consultant director Robert Jones, who led the project team, adds, ‘It’s about reinvention through the business, not just changing the facia.’

He says Abbey’s product portfolio has been rationalised and grouped under three headings: ‘cash, home and future’, which feature in a magazine-style ‘catalogue’ showing the different account types on offer.

According to Arnold, the aim is to guide customers toward the right kind of product before they make a specific choice. From a marketing perspective, he claims, the quality of Abbey’s advice will differentiate it more than price.

Abbey is making much of the friendlier, less bureaucratic tone of voice it will use in letters to customers. Most bank language is ‘confusing, irritating and patronising’, Arnold says. But he maintains Abbey will be able to remain distinctive, even as competitors improve their communications.

‘We know that other banks have figured out [it’s time] to do some things more simply,’ he says. ‘What’s different about us is that we’re applying that to everything we do.’

As the UK’s sixth largest bank, Abbey is small enough to implement the changes effectively, believes Arnold, but large enough – with 18m customers – to make a statement in the marketplace. However, he refuses to disclose financial targets for the rebrand and says it will be ‘the middle of next year’ before the project has a ‘positive impact on revenues’.

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