Start-Up Banks Are Catching Millennium Fever

Article excerpt

In brainstorming names for a new bank in Gainesville, Fla., Andy Williams considered the time-honored "First National" and "Citizens" as well as the prestigious-sounding "Premier" and "Waterford."

Instead the bank opened last month as Millennium Bank. "It portrays strength, a state of modernness," he said.

Mr. Williams, Millennium's president and founder, is not the only banker inspired by the coming date change. Since mid-1997 five banks have been established with either "Millennium" or "New Century" in their names, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

This handful joined New Millennium Bankshares of Topeka, Kan., and Millennium Bank in San Francisco, which changed its name from First Indo-American Bank in 1995. Two more similarly named banks are being organized.

Bankers insist the names evoke a state-of-the-art image.

"When I think of the millennium, I think of a new era," said David E. Sparks, president and chief executive officer of Millennium Bank in Malvern, Pa., which opened in November. "I can't think of a better message than that for a new bank."

"We are going to have the technology customers are looking for," said Carroll Markley, founder of Millennium Bank in Reston, Va., which opened April 1. "And what better name than Millennium to bring all of that out?"

James McKeighan, chief operating officer of New Century Bank in Phoenixville, Pa., said board members feel the name tells customers that the bank can offer all the services of a larger institution, he said.

"The vendors will provide us all the same software that the big boys have," Mr. McKeighan said. "Our challenge is to show customers we can do it, and the name helps."

Branding consultants, however, are not so sure that banks should be taking their names from a calendar.

"I think it is a horrible idea," said Brannon M. Cashion, head of the financial industry group at Addison Whitney, a Charlotte, N.C.-based corporate identity firm. "In a few years the name will be obsolete. …