Practicum:“The Re-branding and Repositioning of the Republic Bank Group: The Case of Republic Bank DR S.A.”
A brand is the sum of the customer’s experiences with the products or company – how the customer thinks and feels about what the business does. The brand is transmitted in every interaction with the customer over the lifetime of the relationship and is therefore built from the customer’s entire experience with the company, not just through the company’s communicated identity. It therefore plays a critical role in building trust and loyalty.
According to the 4-D Branding model devised by Thomas Gad (refer Appendix 1) the brand operates at four different levels in the mind of the customer. These four levels include the functional (the perception of benefit of the product or service associated with the brand), the social (the ability to create identification with a group), the spiritual (the perception of global or local responsibility) and the mental (the ability to support the individual mentally). These four dimensions are derived from the customer’s experiences at the brand touch-points and combine to form the customer’s overall perception of the brand.
The challenges facing brands today however are numerous, and in financial services the challenges are even more acute because of the intangibility of the facilities being provided. In the case of banks that operate in diverse territories, the major challenge lies in the ability to balance global or regional brand integrity with local cultural authenticity. These brands must be viable on a global or regional scale, but remain relevant at the local level.
The Republic Bank Group faced this dilemma as it expanded its operations to embrace several Caribbean territories with different cultures, preferences, languages and modes of behaviour. The branding challenge in such an environment can become quite complex, with the level of complexity multiplying across subsidiaries and divisions of the bank, product lines, markets and even advertising agencies. Controlling brand identity in such an environment can be exigent.
The case of Banco Mercantil, Republic Bank’s subsidiary in the Dominican Republic, however posed a different challenge. The viability of that brand was undermined by a combination of internal (mismanagement) and environmental (economic decline and near crash of the financial system) factors that led to the complete erosion of its brand equity in a relatively short space of time. The brand ceased to engender trust and confidence among its customers and while it still existed at the functional level from the point of view of providing banking services, it was devoid of credibility at the social, spiritual and mental levels.
Following qualitative research involving a population of 1200 households spanning the bank’s three major market segments (mass, private and corporate/commercial), the bank faced the decision of rebuilding the existing brand; re-branding with a completely new identity or adopting the identity and brand of the new shareholder. Subsequent to SWOT and force field analyses being conducted, the decision was taken to re-brand Banco Mercantil by adopting the parent or heritage brand i.e. Republic Bank Limited through the introduction of the name Republic Bank DR S.A. and reposition the operations to focus primarily on the private banking and corporate and commercial market niches in the Dominican Republic.
The re-branding exercise spanned two geographic locations and several stakeholder groups, from employees to customers and regulators in the Dominican Republic, as well as the shareholder in Trinidad and Tobago. May 5, 2005 was a historic day in Republic Bank’s history as it signalled the start of a re-branding process that should embrace the entire banking group. Such an exercise is critical at this time, as the Bank continues to broaden its footprint within the Caribbean, prepare itself for increased competition in the markets in which it currently operates, and positions itself to win the minds and hearts of regional customers.
Several considerations were apparent in the change of name of the Dominican subsidiary to Republic Bank DR, foremost among them being the cultural implications of adopting the new name and the values that were imbedded in the brand. While the values themselves were not alien to the Dominican society, there were some differences in their interpretation stemming from cultural and social indoctrination. The rigorous systems and procedures for example, which are inherent in the British banking system that Republic Bank inherited from its predecessor Barclays Bank, were not as stringently applied in the Dominican Bank. The non-application was less a display of deviant behaviour and more a response to cultural norms and values consistent with the Latin culture. A thorough understanding and appreciation of the divergence in the cultures of the Caribbean were critical to the formulation and execution of an effective communications programme during the change process from Banco Mercantil to Republic Bank DR, in order to ensure understanding and acceptance of the change.
The primary drivers for change in the case of Banco Mercantil were the absence of equity associated with the proprietary brand, arising from the loss of trust and confidence in the bank, the disillusionment of the bank’s employees which impacted performance and hence business viability in the short, medium and long term, and the strong desire to turn the bank’s fortunes around. These driving forces strongly outweighed any restraining forces that might have existed, including the loss of corporate identity and national pride. The force field analysis performed in the course of the study clearly revealed the need for change.
The change of name from Banco Mercantil to Republic Bank DR S.A. is historic in the Republic Bank context, as it is the first of Republic Bank’s acquired subsidiaries to undergo a retirement of its proprietary brand and the adoption of the overarching heritage brand. The Bank’s customary approach of maintaining the proprietary brands of acquisitions has resulted in the Republic Bank Group carrying a diverse portfolio of corporate brands in the Caribbean, culminating in a somewhat complicated brand landscape, and under-leverage of its heritage brand outside of its principal market, Trinidad and Tobago.
The re-branding of Banco Mercantil therefore provides the catalyst for, and the foundation upon which the re-branding of the Republic Bank Group may be undertaken. The major hindrance to the achievement of this objective however is the strength of emotion and national pride that still surround the brands of the acquired subsidiaries in Grenada, Guyana and Barbados in particular.
From a Republic Bank Group perspective there are also several important drivers advocating re-branding of the entire banking group. These include the increasing globalisation of business, the imminent introduction of the CSME and eventually the FTAA or other similar trade agreement; the Bank’s need to broaden its regional footprint to be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that would arise from increased globalisation, and the equity that would be derived from a significantly stronger and more cohesive brand.
Whether approached as a big bang or on a phased basis spanning weeks, months or years, a re-branding of the entire banking group would derive significant benefits in the long term from financial, identity, cost and control perspectives. In the final analysis, the eventual success would not only be measured by the presence of physical artifacts such as Republic Bank signage on branches and offices in all of the islands. It would also be measured by the Bank’s ability to leverage financially from its corporate brand in several areas of business, and to provide a consistently high quality of service in all markets. The long-term objective however would be the achievement of the vision of being the bank of choice for customers, staff and shareholders and in so doing capturing the minds and hearts of the Caribbean people.
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Given the highly competitive nature of the banking industry in the Caribbean and hence the confidential nature of the information contained in this study, reproduction or sharing of any information contained herein is strictly prohibited without expressed and written consent from the author and Republic Bank Limited.
- Origins and Purpose
The Republic Bank Group is one of the largest and most profitable financial services groups in the Caribbean. Originating from Barclays Bank and its predecessor Colonial Bank, Republic Bank has served the people of the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad and Tobago for 168 years.
This study seeks to reposition and re-brand the Republic Bank Group, as the Bank moves closer to its vision of being the “Bank of Choice in the Caribbean”. Re-branding of the Group is particularly critical at this time, as the Bank continues to prepare itself for increased competition in the markets in which it currently operates, as well as for further expansion within and outside of the Caribbean.
1.2 The Case of Banco Mercantil
In establishing a framework for the re-branding exercise, the study looks specifically at the case of Banco Mercantil S.A., Republic Bank’s subsidiary in the Dominican Republic, which was recently re-branded and repositioned in that market (May 5, 2005). The new bank, Republic Bank DR S.A. will focus primarily on the private banking and corporate and commercial market niches in the Dominican Republic, as it charts a path to profitability.
In conducting the study, attention was paid to the process that was required in the execution of the re-branding and the benefits to be derived by the brand arising from the change of name and identity. In discussing the re-branding of Banco Mercantil, the study analyses the corporate identities of Republic Bank and Banco Mercantil to ascertain their status and the existence of any disconnects that might exist. It also identifies the reasons for the Bank’s earlier hesitation at re-branding its Caribbean acquisitions, the cultural shifts that are required at both the parent and subsidiary levels, the move to commence the process in the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic and the foundation that is laid for an escalation of the re-branding process throughout the Caribbean.
The framework established for the re-branding of Banco Mercantil, and detailed in this study, may be used with appropriate adjustments to cater to cultural, social and political differences, to the re-branding and repositioning of Republic Bank’s other Caribbean acquisitions, namely the National Commercial Bank of Grenada Limited (NCB), The National Bank of Industry and Commerce Limited (NBIC) in Guyana and the Barbados National Bank (BNB).
1.3 Historic Step
The change of name of Banco Mercantil to Republic Bank DR S.A. is historic in the Republic Bank context, as it is the first of Republic Bank’s acquired subsidiaries to undergo an identity change, and would as suggested above, provide the catalyst for, and the foundation upon which the re-branding of Republic Bank’s Caribbean empire might be undertaken.
The study adopts an analytical approach to the re-branding exercise and draws upon the results of two surveys conducted in the Dominican Republic and Grenadian markets to test the corporate image of Republic Bank’s subsidiaries in those countries. It also employs several change management and corporate identity management models in its analysis of the current situations in the Dominican Republic and the Southern and Eastern Caribbean, and in devising recommendations for the Group’s re-branding. The historic background of the Republic Bank Group is described, the environmental landscape in the Dominican Republic examined and the mood for change in that country discussed, to put into context the decision to re-brand Banco Mercantil.
The study also employs Kurt Lewin’s model for change specifically in the execution of the re-branding of Banco Mercantil, and in so doing provides a framework for executing similar changes in other subsidiaries in the future. Fundamental marketing concepts articulated by Kotler and Jeannet and Hennessey were combined with more recent models related to branding by communications and branding experts such as John M.T. Balmer and Stephen Greyser as well as the use of the robust strategic models from experts such as Lewin, Mintzberg and Kammerer.
The mood for change in the Southern and Eastern Caribbean and the macro environmental drivers that have impacted the Bank’s hesitation at re-branding its subsidiaries thus far were also diagnosed and analysed, using Force Field Analyses. These examined the driving forces pushing for change of the brand, as well as those restraining forces working against a change and advocating maintenance of the status quo. Comparative SWOT Analyses were also conducted to determine the most significant areas of weakness and opportunity, and to devise strategies aimed at maximising the strengths of both the Dominican subsidiary and the Group.
An integral part of the change process involved in the re-branding of Banco Mercantil, was the analysis of that bank’s corporate identity, the corporate identity of Republic Bank Limited and a comparison of the results of both tests. This analysis was undertaken using the AC²ID Test model devised by Harvard Business School professor John Balmer. The test threw up some interesting, albeit not surprising facts, which influenced the decision to change the bank’s name, as well as the choice of name itself.
Republic Bank’s post-acquisition strategy previously advocated retention of the proprietary brand of the acquired subsidiary, rather than retirement of the weaker brand following analysis, or even retirement of the acquired brand in favour of the acquirer brand. This has resulted in the Bank carrying a diverse portfolio of corporate brands in the Caribbean, culminating in a somewhat confusing brand landscape, and little or no physical presence of its heritage or overarching brand outside of Trinidad and Tobago. While Republic Bank enjoys a strong corporate identity, high top of mind recall, strong citizenship recognition and a positive corporate image in its primary market, Trinidad and Tobago, its diverse portfolio of brands causes its corporate brand to be lowly leveraged in the other Caribbean territories in which it operates.
Its vision of being the bank of choice in the Caribbean could therefore be stymied by its brand’s low leverage and physical absence in the non-Trinidad and Tobago territories in which it operates. In those countries the heritage brand (Republic Bank) provides an endorsing role at best, and is essentially represented by the brands of its acquired subsidiaries. The brand proposition of each of the subsidiary banks also varies. The re-branding of the Group to achieve a strong, unified and consistent brand identity is of particular importance to Republic Bank at this time, as the Group seeks to buy a place in the minds and hearts of regional and global customers.
This study therefore produces the framework required for such a mammoth re-branding and repositioning exercise and in so doing provides a model that may be customised and employed in future corporate marketing exercises.
2.1The Republic Bank Group
Republic Bank Limited is one of the oldest and most successful indigenous financial services groups in the English-speaking Caribbean. Republic Bank evolved from the British bank, Barclays Bank Dominion Colonial and Overseas (DCO) and its predecessor Colonial Bank that was established in 1868 to provide banking services to the British expatriates involved in the island’s sugar cane industry, and later to the freed slaves and indentured labourers.
Today Republic Bank’s ownership is widely dispersed embracing over 10,000 individual and institutional shareholders. Republic Bank currently operates in eight Caribbean territories through 14 subsidiaries and offices in Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands, St. Lucia, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, and employs over 4,700 persons in the Caribbean.
With an asset base of US$5 billion (TT$28.6 billion) Republic Bank recorded after tax profits of US$105.4 million (TT$664 million) in its last financial year (2003/2004). The Bank’s earnings per share in that year was TT$4.17 with return on average assets of 2.44% and return on shareholders’ equity of 18.93%.
- The Republic Bank Vision
Republic Bank has identified the following vision:
“Republic Bank, The Bank of Choice in the Caribbean
for Customers, Staff and Shareholders.
We set the Standard of Excellence in
Customer Satisfaction, Employee Satisfaction and Shareholder Value”
2.3Expansion through Organic Growth and Acquisition
Republic Bank has employed a strategy combining organic growth and strategic acquisition to facilitate its regional expansion goals over the past 13 years, as it sought to grow its asset base, increase market share and increase profitability. Its first such venture was the establishment of a joint venture merchant bank, Acedo Mendoza Fincor, with the Mendoza family of Venezuela. This operation soon extended to include an office in Panama but the Bank’s shareholding was eventually sold to the Mendoza family at the start of Venezuela’s economic decline in the mid 1990s.
That first move at overseas expansion was closely followed by the acquisition of the majority shareholding in the National Commercial Bank of Grenada Limited in 1992. This was followed shortly thereafter by the establishment of an offshore banking operation in the Cayman Islands, the acquisitions of the Bank of Commerce in Trinidad and Tobago and the National Bank of Industry and Commerce Limited in Guyana, the establishment of an office in Havana, Cuba, and the acquisitions of Barbados National Bank in Barbados and Banco Mercantil in the Dominican Republic.
Republic Bank’s largest and most profitable operation at this time is in the country of its home base, Trinidad and Tobago. The Trinidad and Tobago bank alone operates 44 banking branches in the twin island republic and employs 2,790 persons, over half of the total number of persons employed by the Group. The strongest economies in which Republic Bank currently operates continue to be Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. The weakest economy at this time is the Dominican Republic in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, though it is showing signs of recovery, followed by Guyana in South America.
2.4The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts
Republic Bank’s organically grown subsidiaries all bear the same corporate identity, which is Republic Bank. The acquired subsidiaries of NCB (Grenada), NBIC (Guyana), BNB (Barbados) and Banco Mercantil (Dominican Republic) all bear their separate names and corporate identities, having retained their original brand names following acquisition.
The first three banks, namely NCB in Grenada, NBIC in Guyana and BNB in Barbados, were all “national” banks in their respective countries, with Republic Bank purchasing all or part of the governments’ shareholdings. As the “national” banks, they catered largely to the grassroots and middle-income population and in some cases emerged from the era of nationalism and political struggle in the Caribbean during the 1970s. In the case of each acquisition there was some negative reaction from those nationals who viewed the transaction as a sale of the country’s national heritage to an “outsider”. This sentiment
was strongly expressed during the initial stages of the BNB purchase, where the sale of the Barbados government’s shareholding in BNB threatened to become a political issue, in spite of the significant premium that was paid for the shares. That furore has since quelled, as the Barbadian public has been able to witness and experience the positive value that Republic Bank has brought to both BNB and to the financial sector in that country in the last year and a half.
Given the history therefore, it is understandable that there would be strong feelings of national pride and patriotism attached to the identities i.e. proprietary brands of NCB, NBIC and BNB, particularly among the grassroots and the middle-income earners in the respective markets.
It was for this principal reason – strength of national pride and patriotism, and the resultant possibility of customer migration and loss of business – that Republic Bank demonstrated its initial reluctance to initiate name changes in the territories, post acquisition.
Its post acquisition strategy had been to retain the existing management and employees, once competent, and to preserve the name and corporate identity of the bank, as a means of maintaining the goodwill and equity that were attached to the brand, and so prevent business loss. The Bank focused instead on aligning the systems and procedures of the acquired bank to those of Republic Bank, and providing the infrastructural, technological and intellectual support that would enable the growth and development of the acquired subsidiary, and, by extension the economy of the respective country. Little attention was placed on alignment of the corporate identities or of the introduction or promotion of the corporate identity of the parent company, Republic Bank Limited.
This approach of working alongside the subsidiary, rather than implementing drastic changes, triggered little outward disruption to the external environment, particularly customer relationships, and allowed the employees to focus gradually on the cultural shifts that were required to facilitate partial integration into the Republic Bank Group, while at the same time allowing them to retain their original identities.
The impact of Republic Bank on those overseas subsidiaries has however been felt over time by customers, the general public and competitors in those markets, as the subsidiaries adopted a more aggressive and energetic stance in their operations, marketing and customer service, growing market share by as much as 10% in one year in the case of BNB. Customers were aware that these changes were the result of the new ownership of the bank and the deepening of the relationship with the parent company, Republic Bank, even though this link was seldom emphasised in external communication. The majority of customers appreciated the changes, since they impacted positively on the levels of efficiency evident in the banks, manifest in the quality of the service that they received, and the broadening array of product offers to which they were exposed.
The subsidiaries themselves clearly recognised the value that their association with Republic Bank brought to bear on their bank’s success and customer interactions, particularly in the area of business facilitation. There is also a growing gratification in the association with a large, successful and powerful Caribbean bank, particularly at this time, when the business emphasis appears to be shifting increasingly toward integration and the benefits of larger size to cope with increased globalisation.
2.5The Mood for Change-The Dominican Republic
There is a positive mood for change in the Dominican Republic in relation to the re-branding of Banco Mercantil S.A., fuelled primarily by the country’s desperate economic situation and the virtual collapse of the financial system. The government and many Dominicans viewed as a welcome move, Republic Bank’s entry into the Dominican financial sector through its acquisition of Banco Mercantil in 2003.
It must be remembered that in the midst of Republic Bank’s entry, was the failure of several other commercial banks, principally due to rampant fraud and mismanagement facilitated by closed ownership – the majority of businesses in the Dominican Republic, including the major banks are owned by a few wealthy families – and a culture that appears to embrace less stringent ethical standards than those embraced by many countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. The Latin culture in the Caribbean, Central America and South America, is not as supportive of intense structures and systems as is the English culture. Hence the presence of strong systems to support business and demand strong ethical practice was almost absent in the Dominican Republic. Corruption was therefore rife. Additionally, the Latin culture’s focus on external appearances as an indicator of success and well-being, also belies the true financial status of organisations and little attempt is made to delve sufficiently deep to ascertain the reality. A thorough understanding of the divergence in the cultures of the Caribbean was therefore critical to the formulation and execution of an effective communications programme during the change process – i.e. movement from Banco Mercantil to Republic Bank DR.
Given the negative experiences of the immediate past, the employees and customers of Banco Mercantil were anxious for the presence of a professional organization with wide and diffused ownership, that would introduce systems and procedures to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, high levels of professionalism and business continuity. The regulators and employees alike were also determined to prevent a run on the bank and the consequential loss of jobs, while retaining and growing their existing customer base. Republic Bank’s good reputation as a sound and professional financial services provider in Trinidad and Tobago preceded it, and the Bank was well respected by the regulators, the small cadre of business and financial officials in the DR who knew of it, as well as by the employees who did their personal research on the Bank and its history and reputation.
2.6The Mood for Change -The Southern & Eastern Caribbean
The mood for change in the Southern and Eastern Caribbean is less enthusiastic than it is in the Dominican Republic. A survey conducted by NCB Grenada early in 2005 to test the bank’s corporate image revealed positive sentiments toward Republic Bank’s influence on the efficiency and general good performance of NCB, and mixed reactions to the possibility of a re-branding of the subsidiary. The underlying reason for this reluctance was the strong feeling of national pride and patriotism that continues to exist in the islands, for the reasons indicated earlier in this section. The reasons are more emotional than logical, and therefore more challenging to overcome, as branding is built to a greater extent on emotion and feelings, than it is on logic and reason. In spite of the strength of these sentiments however, there appears to be a listening to the possibility of change, as the Grenada survey indicated. A listening that Republic Bank should encourage as it contemplates a regional re-branding of the group.
2.7The Environmental Landscape in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a Spanish speaking country in the Northern Caribbean bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the North Atlantic Ocean and Haiti. With a population of 8.8 million people, the Dominican economy has had one of the fastest growth rates in the hemisphere over the past decade. The country enjoyed growth in Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) of more than 7% pre annum between 1998-2000.
Growth subsequently plummeted as part of the global economic slowdown. Although the country has long been viewed primarily as an exporter of sugar, coffee and tobacco, in recent years the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the economy’s largest employer due to growth in tourism and free trade zones. The Dominican Republic suffers from marked income inequality; the poorest half of the population receives less than one-fifth of GNP, while the richest 10% enjoys nearly 40% of national income. Growth turned negative in 2003 with reduced tourism, a major bank fraud and limited growth in the US economy, the source of 87% of export revenues. The inflation rate based on 2003 national statistics is 27.5%, with unemployment being 16.5% and 25% of the population living below the poverty line.
Predominantly Roman Catholic, the ethnic composition of the Dominican Republic differs from that of Trinidad and Tobago, with persons of mixed ethnicity comprising 73% of the population, whites 16% and blacks 11%. This ethnic composition was considered when formulating communication material related to advertising on the re-branding of Banco Mercantil. It will also be considered in the future in the production of standard external communication material such as mass media advertising for the Group.
3.Statement of Opportunity
Given Republic Bank’s stated vision of being the “Bank of Choice in the Caribbean”, the onset of globalisation which has opened up hitherto inaccessible markets, the imminent commencement of the CSME and FTAA which would open up the Caribbean to large, powerful and influential business competitors, coupled with the aggressive stance of competitive forces within the Caribbean itself, there is an opportunity at this time for Republic Bank to reposition and re-brand its regional subsidiaries, beginning with Banco Mercantil, its subsidiary in the Dominican Republic.
This study embraces several theoretic concepts in bringing about the re-branding and repositioning of the Republic Bank Group and more specifically the re-branding of its Dominican Republic subsidiary, Banco Mercantil. The study utilises a number of theories in change management, strategic business planning and corporate identity analysis in orchestrating the required change.
In analysing the corporate identities of Republic Bank Limited and Banco Mercantil the AC²ID Test devised by Harvard Business School Professor, John Balmer was used extensively. The AC²ID Test is a model used to assist companies in evaluating and understanding their corporate identities, to identify deficiencies and misalignments often arising from, but not limited to mergers and acquisitions, and to form the basis for realignment or correction of the misaligned corporate identities.
•The Acid test is a model used to assist companies in evaluating and understanding identify deficiencies
The test acknowledges that every organisation has more than one identity, and categorises these into five specific areas that help to shape the overall identity and eventually the image of the organisation. These identities are:
- ACTUAL IDENTITY – this comprises the current, distinct attributes of the company i.e. what it does.
- COMMUNICATED IDENTITY – what does the company communicate via Advertising, Public Relations, and Sponsorships?
- CONCEIVED IDENTITY – Stakeholder Perceptions – corporate image & reputation – how does the company appear to stakeholders?
- IDEAL IDENTITY – Optimum Positioning based on current knowledge of the company’s capabilities.
- DESIRED IDENTITY -Corporate vision from the perspective of the CEO and the Board of Directors.
The AC²ID Test was employed to evaluate and analyse the corporate identities of Republic Bank and Banco Mercantil in consolidating and guiding the process of changing the Banco Mercantil name and the adoption of the overarching brand, Republic Bank.
4.2Structure’s Influence on Corporate Identity
In identifying a link or relationship between organisational structure/hierarchy and corporate identity, the work of Olins, Ind and Kammerer were explored and applied. Olins identified three basic types of visual architecture used by organisations namely,
- the monol
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