When Misys announced in April it would rebrand the life and pensions division as 'Sesame', the reaction of intermediaries was not a polite one. IFAs said being associated with a name linked to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, or even the children's TV programme Sesame Street, would create the wrong image for a responsible financial services firm because those images carried too many negative connotations.
Two months on Misys' argues the tide has swung back in its favour and only a handful of Misys network members are still unhappy with the name change to Sesame.
Julie Henderson talks to Martin Davis, commercial director at Sesame, to discuss the snipes, jokes and thinking behind the Misys IFA rebrand.
As soon as Misys unveiled the 'Sesame' name, senior management of the life and pensions division began their campaign to explain to its members and staff what the brand really meant and what it would mean to clients. Sesame was not intended to be merely a name change, but the arrival of a new culture within the firm.
Since April 29th when the name was revealed, Martin Davis, commercial director at Sesame, has been holding member roadshows all over the country, presenting their argument for the new brand to around 1500 IFAs: Sesame wants to be the support services company behind the scenes rather than the controller of its IFA members.
IFAs are aware that rebranding the IFA network is, in part, related to Misys' intended flotation of Sesame as a separate entity to the technology firm. Until now, argues Davis, it has never been clear what exactly the IFA network's position was in relation to its members because the boundaries between the company's aims and its activities seemed to be muddled - is Misys a service provider working for its members, or are IFAs simply the employees or tied agents for the parent?
"There was a general view that we needed to classify our business as different to that of our members," says Davis.
"We offer support services and our members need to see who we are. People still think of us as an advisers' firm. And we wanted to point out we are not a financial services firm. We are the support to financial firms.
"We wanted something different and new in a name and more than anything we need to demonstrate change, more for the benefit of our own staff than for the members. We wanted a brand that would make people sit up and ask what we do," adds Davis.
Selecting the name itself was actually one of the last decisions to be made, stresses Davis. More important was communicating to members and staff where Sesame would fit in to the IFA's working life and how they would influence business.
"When we were going through some of the rebranding process, the name was actually the last part of that process. First, we were trying to establish what the company stood for, what our values are as an organisation, how we want to be presented, how people should see us and what the company is about," says Davis.
"The names needed to say something memorable. To a member, the issue is secondary because the most important thing to them is their own name and branding. But a name change is the most important thing to our staff. We wanted to signal to our staff that things were changing because Misys was, until then, seen as anonymous, faceless and bureaucratic. We needed to signal that our staff would be there to help members develop their businesses, not tell them what to do or how to do it," he adds.
It might seem like a simple name change or rebranding, but the move to recreate Misys Life and Pensions as Sesame is a much bigger project which Davis hopes will ultimately improve the image of its members and give the IFAs their voice back.
Consumers are likely to know little about the Sesame name in the long-term unless it is the members themselves who point out their network background because the group has few plans to conduct consumer sales marketing campaigns for its members.
That is not the case in relation to the IFA trade sector, however, which may soon become much more aware of the fact that Sesame is the network behind 25% of the regulated IFA sector. Having taken the conservative line for some time now, the Sesame Group intends to start using the size and strength of the network for the benefit of its own members by acting as an IFA lobbyist.
"Our intention was not to take the name to the consumer. Consumers are bombarded by names inside the "independent financial service" industry so we wanted to make sure the name reflected our business, not that of the IFA. At the same time, if we are going to stand up and give our thoughts on pensions reform or Equitable Life by presenting a soundbite in the nationals, the consumer needs to see something they will remember. I think that when they hear the name, the consumer is more likely to remember us when the IFA mentions us," argues Davis.
It wasn't hard to miss the laughter and criticism from IFAs across the industry when the name was introduced. So what was the logic behind a brand which could be interpreted as meaning so many things? And what does Misys believe it should mean?
Davis says once the directors had established the core values and image the IFA network wanted to project, it began to consider whether the name should be 'descriptive' or 'evocative'.
"We wanted to demonstrate that we cared about the industry and that we care whether we're viewed as a responsible organization," says Davis.
"We wanted to be seen to be listening to our customers. We are looking at enabling our members to write more business and become more professional because the level of professionalism in the industry can look more like a cottage industry. We also wanted to look more closely at our customers, be more open, more transparent, and simplify a lot of what we do as a firm.
"Descriptive names generally apply if you need to advertise your company, for example, in the Yellow Pages. Our view is that everyone in the IFA market knows what we do – we don't need to take that route. When we go down the evocative route, we wanted to demonstrate the openness of the firm, we wanted something that was simple to understand and so that people could spell it."
In essence, says Davis, the core decisions about the name had to be that it was:
From an initial list of 30-40 names, just one stood out as the image Sesame wanted to project, says Davis, but it wasn't going to be easy to sell to staff and members. After all, it is the members and staff who have to adopt and use it.
"If you have customers who trust [the IFAs], why would they suddenly think we can't be trusted or that we're a 'bunch of muppets', just because the name has been changed?" says Davis.
"This is all about the members presentation. If the member tells the customer the name and then laughs or makes a joke, it is because of their reaction that the customer may not trust him. But if point out they are part of the largest players of support services in the UK, is a consumer going to question whether he wants to place business with the adviser?
"The name represents openness so if you have a problem, be open and tell us to our face and we'll all discuss it because it is the only way to change things and get the issues sorted. We are genuinely open to continue the debate," suggests Davis.
When those initial rebranding roadshows began, most advisers were against the name change because they simply didn't understand the relevance. But since he explained the company's aims and what it could represent, Davis believes there are now just 50 or so IFAs who are still unhappy with the title. And implementation of the name is just three weeks away on August 1st.
Rather than dismiss the matter and enforce a "we know better" policy, Sesame staff have been actively engaging in debate and discussion with members, in the hope of better understanding members' thinking.
At this stage, the network may not consider changing the name given the lack of remaining distrust of the name. But nothing is set in stone, suggests Davis, because the advantage of branding is things can be changed.
"The calls have still been coming in about this issue because we're not looking for a ringing endorsement because of the name. We want the endorsement to be when the customer remembers the group for the business they have done with the advisers. The whole aim is to put Sesame into the background of the industry," says Davis.
"In most research done, Virgin is one of the trusted brands – it is not Barclays or anyone else – it is because people know what they stand for. We know it won't happen over night. But it does put pressure on us to deliver the goods otherwise, we'll become similar to other brands such as Consignia, which was only the Post Office with a new name, and everyone knew it. If we're still in the same position and culture in 12 months as when we started, then we'll have failed in our drive to change things," he adds.
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