A site for registered investment advisors (RIAs) recently featured an article on naming for financial advisors. In it, the author underscored the tendency of some practices to adopt names that are already being used by others.
He noted that among the most successful RIAs in America,
I find 16 (again, apparently unrelated) firms whose names begin with ‘Cornerstone.’ Five are Heritage Financial Something and four more are Heritage Wealth Something. In addition to the 18 firms beginning with ‘Summit,’ another seven start with ‘Peak,’ and eleven names begin with the synonym ‘Pinnacle.’
Many larger practices eventually decide to adopt a true brand name rather than continue to be known by their partners’ names. (See the reasons why many financial advisors choose to rename their firms.) Creating a brand name enables a firm to really stand out in an industry cluttered with founder names. But instead of choosing a unique brand name, the firms noted in the article chose to be the same as others. They chose to be different from most, but the same as some.
These RIAs are succeeding even though their names aren’t unique, so should it matter?
Absolutely. Here’s why.
Someone Else Owns the Trademark
For each of the commonly used names quoted above, there’s a practice that actually holds a trademark on the name. For example, the oldest version of CORNERSTONE in the financial planning area is CORNERSTONE CAPITAL SYSTEMS, filed in 2003. Without my getting too deep into the weeds, understand that generic descriptors cannot be trademarked. So the only protectable word in that practice’s name is CORNERSTONE. Therefore, it wouldn’t help to try to register “CORNERSTONE FINANCIAL,” for example, if you are offering similar services as the practice who holds the trademark on CORNERSTONE CAPITAL SYSTEMS. Your registration will most likely be denied.
What all this means is that if you adopt a version of a name that’s already registered, you’ll likely waste time and money by trying to register it with the trademark office. If you use the name in commerce regardless, you’ll be violating someone’s trademark. You’ll never truly own your firm’s name, and theoretically, the trademark owner could send you a cease and desist letter at any time.
For an industry as risk averse as financial services, a surprising number of practices are willing to adopt a name that they don’t own. It’s like buying a house with a cloud over its title.
When it comes to naming for financial advisors, I understand that there’s a certain comfort level in using a familiar name. Everyone wants a safe-sounding name that’s positive and aspirational. But sorry to say, those familiar, expected names have already been taken. (Are we running out of trademarks? Unfortunately, yes.)
But look at this challenge as your opportunity to be fresh and different. Your new brand name can and should set you apart from other firms. When someone Googles your firm’s name, they shouldn’t have to wonder which result is actually you.
For Predisposing Potential Clients
Hearing your firm’s name will likely be a potential client’s first brand experience. Make it count. Your name can and should express an inherent truth about what you will do for your clients. Or how you’ll work together. Or the feeling your clients will have knowing their financial future is in good hands. While it’s challenging to develop an available brand name that expresses a compelling promise or differentiator, it can be done. (See our Brands page for just a few examples of the many Ameriprise firms that Pollywog has renamed.)
And when you’re finished, you’ll own a valuable intellectual property that will be a long-term asset for your business.